Hester Street (HST) is excited to announce the first cohort of Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) we are partnering with through the Surdna Foundation’s Radical Imagination for Racial Justice (RIRJ) initiative. This effort aims to scale projects and initiatives that imagine just and equitable solutions to systemic racism by supporting community-based arts and cultural organizations nationwide working at the intersections of environmental, racial, and social justice alongside low-income communities of color. As a participant of RIRJ, Hester Street is regranting funding to select CBOs to advance projects that promote racial equity; providing technical assistance focused on making these projects a reality; and supporting innovative collaborations across the cohort. 

Following an invited proposal process, Hester Street selected four CBO partners for our inaugural RIRJ year: Friends of WHEELS (Manhattan), The Point CDC (The Bronx), WeACT (Manhattan), and Casa Pueblo (Puerto Rico). These CBOs will be working on a variety of innovative place-based projects with HST’s support, ranging from a youth-driven green corridor in Washington Heights; to a governance framework for community-led solar in the South Bronx; to a reimagining of energy efficiencies for building designs across NYC; to a multimedia platform highlighting energy independence in Puerto Rico. These groups will work closely and collaboratively with HST over the next year.  Together we will develop new models to advance racial equity and create innovative approaches for justice-based philanthropy. We will also build strategies to measure, evaluate, and communicate their individual and collective impact across issue areas and geographies. 

The primary objectives for HST’s RIRJ initiative are to:

Build Collective Impact through place-based projects that create, deepen, or expand an organization’s work and reinforce existing social networks and community assets.

Amplify and Expand Project Reach through Hester Street’s technical assistance, supporting each CBO’s unique needs, desires, and creativity.

Connect the Dots to Measure Impact through values-based and quantitative indicators that Hester Street co-designs with grantees to tell the real story of the project’s outcomes.

In January 2021, HST hosted its first virtual cohort convening with the selected CBOs to share goals, challenges, and opportunities for their work, while exploring ongoing collaboration methods. CBOs gathered for a ‘show and tell’ of their work and immersed themselves in ‘collective speed dating’ to learn about each organization and find commonalities in their missions and desired outcomes. The convening resulted in a series of actionable ideas and strategies, from hosting site tours to building advocacy campaigns around environmental justice issues. Beyond each group’s project work, the convening created a space for critical conversations around the urgency of environmental justice in today’s social and political climate. As one participant put it, “we must recognize that environmental justice and social justice are not mutually exclusive – the fight for justice and equity are umbrella values that drive every one of us”.

RIRJ is made possible with support from the Surdna Foundation’s Thriving Cultures new multi-year regranting effort geared towards supporting artists of color nationwide and challenging the traditional philanthropy structures. The Foundation’s 11 regranting partners, including Hester Street, were chosen to distribute Surdna’s funds to artists, collectives, and neighborhood organizations and work with communities to imagine and practice racially just systems and structures at scale. 

“Hester Street is excited to take on this unique program to advance our vision for community-led change driven by and for BIPOC communities,” said Nisha Baliga, Hester Street’s Co-Executive Director. “This is our chance to directly allocate resources to some amazing CBOs that are building power and delivering impact in their neighborhoods, while working at the intersection of arts and culture to address one of the most pressing issues of our time – climate justice.” 

More information on the CBO partners and their innovative projects can be found below. Stay tuned for more information on RIRJ, our evolving programming, and our collective impact on racial and environmental justice in New York and Puerto Rico! For a Spanish translation of this announcement, please see here. 

Friends of WHEELS (FOW), based in Washington Heights, Manhattan, is an education and advocacy non-profit dedicated to college, career, and leadership futures for Washington Heights youth. Through the RIRJ program, FOW will collaborate with Black, Latinx, and youth of color from five local schools, small business owners, community members, and partner organizations to address climate injustice in their neighborhood

The RIRJ will fund the second phase of its Clear Air Green Corridor project, where students will prototype a greenway to Highbridge Park. Youth will engage community members to reimagine 182nd street by designing bilingual signage, painting street murals, producing short films and podcasts, and planting gardens. Friends of WHEELS’ work in Washington Heights explores an innovative model for youth-led neighborhood change and community stewardship.

“In the midst of COVID-19 and the unequal impact and response it has had on our community, young people from WHEELS recognize the importance of open and green spaces as critical infrastructure for building healthy and just communities.” – Génesis Abreu, Youth Environmental Leadership Program Manager, Friends of WHEELS 

WE ACT for Environmental Justice, based in West Harlem, Manhattan, has been committed to building healthy communities of color through environmental research, organizing, education, and advocacy since 1988. WE ACT envisions a society with equitable environmental protections, increased environmental health, and engaged residents who make decisions that impact their community. 

The RIRJ grant supports WE ACT’s more extensive research and advocacy efforts for improving the NYC Cooling Center Program. WE ACT will collaborate with community members, designers, and artists to develop new forms of signage to increase awareness around, and advocate for, the use of the City’s cooling centers. Also, the project will rethink how energy efficiency can be incorporated into the future design of buildings in New York City.

“We strongly believe community-driven policy solutions are necessary for achieving climate justice for our hardest-hit communities.” – Sonal Jessel, Director of Policy, WE ACT for Environmental Justice 

The Point Community Development Corporation, based in Hunts Point in The Bronx, has supported Hunts Point residents through a variety of local development programs over the past 20 years. As part of the RIRJ program, The Point will expand its existing Be-A-Buddy Program, which engages a multigenerational network of residents in strengthening their community’s climate preparedness through arts and cultural storytelling.

With RIRJ support, The Point will utilize an arts-based advocacy approach to create a new community ownership structure for energy infrastructure and outreach practices in their Community Shared Solar Project. With the RIRJ Program’s support, both the Be-A-Buddy Program and the Community Shared Solar Project seek to undermine Hunts Point’s systemic barriers to climate resiliency by promoting autonomy, community-based networks, and arts advocacy.

 “We are confident that the  models we are piloting will be able to offer our most vulnerable residents support in the areas of energy and food security, mental and emotional health, and other emerging needs like lack of technology and physical mobility.  By bringing together a diverse set of residents, we look forward to working closely with [those] in need of a variety of resources.” – Danny R, Peralta, Executive Managing Director, The Point CDC 

Casa Pueblo de Adjuntas, located in the town Adjuntas in the Central Mountains region of Puerto Rico,  is a community-based environmental justice organization with 40 years of history. The RIRJ grant supports Casa Pueblo’s existing initiative to transform Adjuntas into the first resilient and solar-powered municipality of the Island. Casa Pueblo will use community asset mapping and community outreach to expand their social responsibility and solar project to additional small businesses in the town as an engine to help low-income families reach energy security.

Collaborating with their network of local artists, businesses, and cultural platforms, Casa Pueblo will develop a structure that uses radio programming, storytelling, and a community data system to organize Adjuntas residents around energy self-sufficiency. The solar station Radio Casa Pueblo 1020AM (the only radio station in the region) and newly developed cinema will be spaces for community members to explore artistic storytelling, broadcast progress, and celebrate their town’s cultural and natural beauty.

“Abrazamos nuestra cultura y el conocimiento para la transformación de nuestra comunidad hacia una menos dependiente, por un desarrollo local justo y sustentable.”

“We embrace our culture and knowledge to make our community self-sustainable, advancing fair and just local development.”   -Arturo Massol-Deya, Executive Director, Casa Pueblo de Adjuntas