A Season of Change
It’s April—a season of change, of new beginnings—but also of rough weather that makes us wonder if summer will ever come. I have been thinking a lot about change lately, thanks to the appointment of our newest Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. Despite her remarkable resume and history-making nomination, Judge Brown Jackson drew condemnation and scorn from some Senators—a reminder that when progress is made we often see how far we still have to go.
Earlier this month, New York legislators approved a new state budget, albeit a week late and some might say “a dollar short.” The final budget is full of frustrations and a few wins for our grantee partners. Fortunately, being knocked down doesn’t mean you’ve been knocked out. This is perhaps one of the most important rallying cries that we keep in mind as we invest in change for a fair and just Brooklyn.
Advocacy Work is Not for the Faint of Heart
In Brooklyn, where nearly 40% of residents are immigrants, it’s almost impossible to talk about equity and justice without talking about immigrants’ rights. Since 2016, through grants from our Immigrant Rights Fund, we have supported organizations ensuring that our immigrant neighbors' voices are heard, including the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC).
“At NYIC, we believe our strength comes from working as a collective, bridging gaps at the local level, and bringing people together from different religions, cultures, and walks of life to work towards a shared vision of what their communities need and deserve,” says Murad Awawdeh, the organization’s Executive Director.
NYIC’s work is necessary for improving the policies and systems that shape the broad contours of immigrant communities. This means connecting like-minded grassroots organizations, spearheading new campaigns, and ensuring that elected officials are held accountable by their communities.
A Lifetime Commitment to Fighting for Change
By way of background, Awawdeh is a seasoned advocate whose relationship with Brooklyn Community Foundation stretches back to his time as a youth organizer. As the son of Palestinian immigrants, Awawdeh grew up in Sunset Park. In 2010, he joined nearby nonprofit UPROSE, whose mission addresses social and environmental injustice through policy campaigns aimed at promoting community priorities. During this time, he received a special “Do Gooder” award from Brooklyn Community Foundation that celebrated local leaders as part of the Foundation’s launch.
“Brooklyn Community Foundation has been great at supporting people of color,” he recalls with fondness. “What’s more, it has been a strong supporter of our efforts to ensure that Brooklyn immigrant communities have the support that they need, and are able to unite and demand justice, equity, and fairness from the city as well as the state.”
Making Change through Legislation and Budgets
This time of year is especially critical for advocacy work—and for organizations like NYIC, its success is heavily influenced by budget cycles. The first part of the year, for example, is when New York City releases its proposed budget and the state budget is finalized, which then has an impact on which legislation gets passed.
Notwithstanding some setbacks in this year’s state budget, there’s still reason to be hopeful. For example, New York state is expanding its Essential Plan to provide healthcare coverage for undocumented people over age 65, although NYIC advocates pushed for coverage for all ages.
“If COVID has shown us anything, it's that we have an enormous amount of work to do on top of the work we were doing before,” says Awawdeh. “And the only thing that's holding Brooklyn back from its greatness is actually getting the real investment it needs from the local and state government. We have to ensure that people—regardless of where they were born or their immigration status—not only survive, but are able to thrive. We are only as strong as our collective and healthy as our neighbor.”
We’re also encouraged that the newly elected New York City Council is one of the most diverse elected bodies ever—with the greatest representation of women, immigrants, new Americans, and people of color in history. And this year, all lawful permanent residents are now eligible to vote in municipal elections—meaning that almost 800,000 New Yorkers will soon have their first opportunity to participate in the American democratic process and hold elected officials accountable.
Long-Term Change Requires Long-Term Partners
Change doesn’t happen overnight and setbacks are not a life sentence. Our partners will continue to fight for undocumented neighbors’ #CoverageforAll, #FundExcludedWorkers, and #UniversalChildcare, as well as for #FairPayforHomecare workers and other campaigns that will build equity for our communities. Indeed, long-term change requires long-term partners. As we confront the disproportionate devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, we must remain focused on changing the systems and policies that failed us.
If we are to achieve our vision for racial, social, and economic justice, I know it will come through changing the policies and systems that frame our lives. And this means investing in the movements and organizers designing new policies, spearheading campaigns, and holding elected officials accountable to their communities. Through your generosity and partnership, we will make it happen.
Learn more about Brooklyn Community Foundation's groundbreaking advocacy investment in Community-led Social Change here.