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Walentas Family Foundation’s `David Prize’ announces finalists for $1M prize

Areas include child care, education, homeless advocacy, economic development

June 29, 2021 By Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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This week, The David Prize, named in honor of Brooklyn developer and philanthropist David Walentas and sponsored by the Walentas Family Foundation, has announced 22 finalists for the annual $1 million prize for extraordinary individuals who are making New York a better and brighter place, announced its 2021 cohort of finalists. 

These finalists were chosen out of approximately 10,000 individuals. The applicants come from every corner of the city, with 92 percent of New York City zip codes represented. Categories include child care reform, immigration and criminal justice, human rights, homelessness and more. This year’s five winners, who will each win $200,000, will be announced in October.

David Walentas, originally from Rochester, New York, came to New York City in 1968 and was one of the main forces in transforming a then-neglected Brooklyn neighborhood, now known as DUMBO, into a thriving innovation hub and one of the city’s top destinations. In 2012, David Walentas and his late wife, Jane, established the Walentas Family Foundation to focus on education, the arts, and civic development in New York City. 

Jed Walentas. Photo by: Kate Attardo

The David Prize will recognize people that epitomize the “Only in New York” motto, in that their work approaches a uniquely NYC issue and addresses it with the flair and guts that parallel the city’s spirit. 

“Last year’s David Prize finalists were all extraordinary people with extraordinary visions for our city, and this year is no different. The 22 finalists we identified this year all represent the tenacity and resilience of New York City amazing people coming together in order to improve the lives of their neighbors,” said Jed Walentas, who founded the David Prize in honor of his father.

Here are the finalists and their ideas:

Child care

  • Jaime-Jin LewisFighting for a more durable and dynamic childcare system where providers, families, and children thrive.
  • Gladys Jones — Advocating for representation, fair pay, and benefits for thousands of family childcare professionals who provide essential services throughout NYC.

Education and Youth Services

  • Fela Barclift — Partnering with parents and community to foster self-esteem and unassailably positive identity through an Afrocentric/Culturally Responsive curriculum built on 40 years of experience in early childhood education.
  • Felicia Wilson — Advocating for youth and young adults transitioning out of the NYC foster care system to receive the resources and supports needed to thrive through the lens of an alumna, from financial literacy and housing to mental health care and life skills training.
  • Darnell Benoit — Using technology to help newcomer immigrant youth build relationships, encounter unexpected influences, and engage in educational activities outside school.
  • Gabrielle Prisco — Building a community/coworking center for young people and youth non-profits to share resources, imagine and build programs together.

Criminal Justice

  • Sharon Richardson — Dismantling barriers for formerly incarcerated survivors of domestic violence through creative arts, training, mentorship and counseling
  • Mr. Five Mualimm-ak — Bridging the gap of services for justice-impacted young adults serving multi-year community supervision sentences within NYC.

Advocacy for the homeless

  • Ana Maria Martinez de Luco — Developing a self-sustaining community of mobile homes for people in need, such as those experiencing homelessness, especially those who suffer from severe alcohol disorder.
  • Shams DaBaronAdvocating for homeless New Yorkers by working with advocates, elected officials, shelter providers, non-profits, and policymakers to build more housing and tackle out the roots of homelessness.


  • Cesar Vargas — Building a coalition to provide competent legal counsel to immigrants (and their families) who are serving in the Armed Forces as they navigate immigration and military law.
  • Ravi Ragbir — Reimagining freedom for people of color and immigrants targeted by the criminal and immigration systems by using the defense committee model to expand the idea of Sanctuary beyond physical space.

Economic Development/Sustainability

  • Ken Lewis — Building an ethical, driver-centered ride-hailing company to help 50,000-plus NYC rideshare drivers build economic stability and transform the for-hire industry.
  • Chris Hackett — Take trash. Add science. Produce clean fuel.
  • Alexis MenaCreating circular food systems in East New York where urban agriculture and the arts cultivates food sovereignty, economic reparations, and social capital for Brooklyn and beyond.
  • Troy Walcott — Striking Spectrum workers launching a cooperative to build community-owned broadband networks that bridge the digital divide for 2.2 million low-income New Yorkers.

Creative expression

  • Michael Angelo Roberson — Uplifting the House Ball scene as a beloved community of Black/Latino LGBT folks through radical education, chosen family and public health advocacy.
  • Yin Q — Developing Body of Workers, a platform for sharing art, stories, and media by and for artists and content makers in the sex industries.
  • Caridad De La Luz — Using the power of spoken word and indigenous practices to uplift, unify and heal diasporic Puerto Rican, LGBTQ and BIPOC at “El Garaje,” a trucking garage in the Bronx that doubles as an art and wellness cultivation center.
  • Kristin Wallace — Creating a platform to teach empathy and understanding of our neighbors in Staten Island — New York’s forgotten borough.

Health care

  • Carmen Mojica – Highlighting the interplay of maternal health and community in the Bronx with a bilingual program emphasizing childbirth education, reproductive literacy and lifelong sexual health.
  • Liz Jackson — Redesigning the diagnostic process for chronic, invisible illnesses, by centering the knowledge of ill people and communities.

The Walentas Family Foundation has created several philanthropic programs directly benefiting Brooklyn communities, including the Cultural Space Subsidy Program, which supports local and creative retailers; the Neighborhood School Grants Program, which funds creative programming for students; and the Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program, which awards rent-free studio space to artists for year-long residencies. Two Trees has also commissioned several public art projects in Brooklyn, including the ‘OY/YO’ sculpture at Brooklyn Bridge Park, and murals by human-rights organization El Puente.

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