BVBJ Announces New Awardees
September 8, 2023 – The Black Voices for Black Justice Fund (BVBJ), a pooled philanthropic fund with 18 funding partners, today announced its fifth round of awardees. Each of the 20 new awardees will receive at least $20,000 to use in whatever way they believe, based on their lived experience, will do the most good in advancing racial justice.
“Progress does not happen overnight and the road to racial justice is long and challenging. It takes significant action from generations of dedicated, passionate leaders like these unsung heroes,” said Governor Wes Moore. “Congratulations to the awardees. I am deeply proud of their selfless commitment to service. Under their leadership, the reality of racial justice will come further into view.”
The latest cohort of awardees includes Black leaders from 11 states with five based in Baltimore, given BVBJ’s desire to support leaders serving the city’s youth after the block party shooting over the Fourth of July weekend. There is also strong representation from New York and the South, including Atlanta, GA; Jackson, MS; and Montgomery, AL. With more than 115 Black Voices for Black Justice Fund awardees to date, all are celebrated for their leadership in changing systems of oppression, violence and inequality.
BVBJ was created in 2020 to address under-investment in Black leaders and Black-led organizations by major donors, both to remedy racial disparities concerning access to philanthropic dollars as well as to support social entrepreneurs who bring unique perspectives and expertise to tackling America’s most pressing challenges. BVBJ amplifies clarion voices concerning racial justice; connects emerging and established Black leaders to one another; and supports Black-led efforts to build meaningful economic and political power for their communities – including disparities in access to healthcare, jobs, education, justice, and the right to vote. Co-chairs are Governor Moore, Tenicka Boyd, Jean Desravines, Shavar Jeffries and Kerry Washington.
The 20 new awardees are: Mike Battle, Kevin Beckford, Dr. Janet Dewart Bell, Joel Bervell,
Charlea Bing, Michelle Browder, Leah Angel Daniel, Shamoyia Gardiner, Miranda Walker Jones, Taylor Marshall, Jacquelyn Martell, Joyce McMillan, Cortney Robertson, Diwee Sewell, Nadine Smith, Keishamata Strong, Knicole Taylor, Maliyah Womack, Cassandra Overton Welchlin and Nique Williams. More information about the award is at: https://blackvoices.org/.
Round 5 Awardees
Democracy and Voting Rights
Dr. Janet Dewart Bell
LEAD InterGenerational Solutions, New York, NY
Dr. Janet Dewart Bell is a social justice activist, strategist, scholar, public speaker, and author with a doctorate in leadership and change from Antioch University. She is Founder and President of LEAD InterGenerational Solutions, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing democracy and social justice by promoting democratic principles and leadership from an intergenerational lens. Dr. Bell is also the executive producer and host of the LEADing Justice podcast, which tackles the most challenging issues through provocative and informative discussions on elevating truth, democracy, and justice. A veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Bell has been a senior executive and key strategist at several national organizations and serves as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Baruch College and was a Visiting Research Professor at the University of Pittsburgh, where she co-taught a constitutional law course with her late husband, Professor Derrick Bell. She founded the Derrick Bell Lecture Series on Race in American Society at New York University School of Law, now in its 28th year, and the Derrick Bell Fund for Excellence at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Her book, Lighting the Fires of Freedom: African American Women in the Civil Rights Movement, is a groundbreaking collection of profiles of Black women leaders in the 20th century fight for civil rights. Her forthcoming work, Blackbirds Singing, celebrates the tradition of Black women’s political speech and labor, enabling the voices and visions of Black women to speak across generations to build power for the world. Dr. Bell is an award-winning television and radio producer with an Emmy for outstanding individual achievement and a Peabody Award for programming on preserving the African and African-American culture and history of Sea Islands for National Public Radio. Dr. Bell serves on the boards of Antioch University; the Authors Guild Foundation; and the Women’s Media Center, which she chairs.
Common Defense, Raleigh, NC
Nique Williams is a visionary leader with a strong commitment to public service and movement organizing. She is the North Carolina Organizing Fellow at Common Defense, the largest grassroots movement of U.S. military veterans fighting to preserve the values of equitable democracy. She joined Common Defense as a community organizer and has already shown leadership in collaborating with community groups and organizations in her home state of North Carolina to secure a progressive future for working-class communities. Williams is a co-founder of Common Defense’s newly formed Racial Justice Committee, where she works to expand the organization’s programmatic and campaign portfolio to leverage the power of veteran voices in the service of racial justice nationwide. With Williams at the helm, the Common Defense Racial Justice Committee will recruit Black veteran existing members and new recruits into the committee to build progressive power among Black veterans and raise their voices to meet the challenges of today. Through legal advocacy work, she processed over 100 cases before the Veterans Affairs Review Board and the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, helping to ensure that veterans and their families receive the benefits they deserve. She earned her Juris Doctor from North Carolina Central University School of Law.
Education and Youth Leadership
Restoring Inner City Hope, Baltimore, MD
Mike Battle is the co-founder and CEO of Restoring Inner City Hope (RICH), a nonprofit committed to loving, inspiring, and empowering the residents of Baltimore. Growing up in Cherry Hill, home to the largest low-income housing project in Baltimore, Battle has seen his share of despair, struggle, and compromises made for survival in a neighborhood long plagued by gun violence. Battle founded RICH to serve as a resource for the Cherry Hill community, providing events and programming throughout the neighborhood, starting in 2011 with the first Cherry Hill Prayer Walk. This one-mile walk has grown into multiple community events, such as a back-to-school event that has provided backpacks, food, and haircuts to nearly 700 South Baltimore youth, as well as outreach opportunities and partnerships with other local nonprofits. Battle plans to open the first-ever youth-operated juice bar in the neighborhood which will provide healthy and affordable food to the community.
Pretrial Justice Institute, Washington, DC
Kevin Beckford is an education advocate, racial equity practitioner, and social entrepreneur. In his current role as Senior Associate at the Pretrial Justice Institute, he is focused on pretrial system reform. He co-founded and serves on the board of The Hustlers Guild, a nonprofit that uses hip hop to expand access and opportunity to Black and Latinx youth from low-income households in partnership with violence prevention organizations, detention centers, celebrities, pro-athletes, and Fortune 500 companies. The Guild has reached over 7,000 students since 2018. Beckford was a 2020 Atlantic Fellow for Racial Equity. He previously worked as an advisor to Secretary Julian Castro at the Department of Housing and Urban Development; in the White House Presidential Correspondence Office and as a high school and middle school history teacher in Philadelphia. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in African-American Studies and Political Science from Yale University, his Master of Philosophy in African Studies from the University of Cambridge, and his Master of Science in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.
Leah Angel Daniel
Fostering Greatness, Buffalo, New York
Leah Angel Daniel is a changemaker, author, speaker, and advocate. She is the founder and CEO of Fostering Greatness, a Buffalo-based nonprofit that works to support transitioning foster care youth, young adults, and alumni of color in western New York. Daniel is an alumna of the foster system and is passionate about ensuring that youth with foster system experience have the skills and support they need to succeed. Daniel has partnered with organizations in the Buffalo area, including the Redlich Horwitz Foundation and the Partnership for the Public Good to address the housing, employment and mental health struggles of young people aging out of foster care. She is also partnering with Fair Futures to bring education, college, and vocational supports to young people in the foster system in Buffalo and with the Independent Contractors Guild of WNY, to ensure the inclusion of students who are forgotten, underserved, underemployed, unemployed, and overlooked into the advanced manufacturing workforce. Daniel just wrote her first book, a memoir, I Shall Not Be Moved, My Extraordinary Journey From Trauma To Triumph. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in Executive Leadership.
Strong Schools Maryland, Baltimore, MD
Shamoyia Gardiner has built a career working at the intersection of education, advocacy, and youth development, with her teaching experience serving as the catalyst for her commitment to policy. She is Executive Director of Strong Schools Maryland, a nonprofit working to ensure that all Maryland students have access to a world-class education system. Previously, she served as the Education Policy Director at Advocates for Children and Youth, a former organization that improved the lives and experiences of Maryland’s children through policy change and program improvement. She was a Policy Research Analyst at the Family League of Baltimore and led project-based work with the Institute for Higher Education Policy, the DC State Board of Education, Atlanta Public Schools, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Atlanta Civic Site. She is a board member at Building Our Nation’s Daughters and The Intersection and serves as a coordinating “mama” with A Revolutionary Summer. She was named a Peter Jennings Award winner for her efforts to advocate for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. Gardiner earned her Master of Education Policy and Leadership from American University and her Bachelor of Political Science from the University of Florida.
Miranda Walker Jones
The Little Bit Foundation, St. Louis, MO
Miranda Walker Jones is CEO and President of The Little Bit Foundation, a nonprofit committed to breaking down barriers to learning for students living in poverty through partnerships and programs that serve the needs of the whole child. Little Bit serves 14,000 youth in 48 schools in the St. Louis Metropolitan area with college and career readiness, educational programs, wellness services and has delivered more than 430,000 essential items – including new coats, uniforms, shoes, and grocery boxes – to students in the community. Jones previously served as District Director to Representative Cori Bush’s St. Louis congressional office. She also served as COO and Vice President of Youth, Family and Clinical Services for Better Family Life, where she developed and led programs that served approximately 8,000 students each year. She has served on the Board of Education for the Jennings School District since 2004, currently serving as President. Jones is a former councilwoman and mayor pro-tem for the city of Jennings. She is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia and Washington University Brown School’s Inside the CEO leadership program.
DFER NY, New York, NY
Jacquelyn Martell is an education activist, organizer, and political strategist, with unique experience straddling union organizing and education reform. She is Executive Director of DFER NY, a national political organization that supports elected Democrats who prioritize a high-quality education for all students. Martell was instrumental behind the scenes in getting the New York State Legislature to pass the Early Mail Voter Act to bring New York one step closer to universal, no-excuse absentee voting. This bill, passed in the final days of the 2023 legislative session, could have an outsized impact on expanding access to voting in the nation’s fourth most populous state. A dedicated advocate for children and families and community cultivator, Martell previously served as the New York State Director of Advocacy at Achievement First, where she led advocacy initiatives, community engagement efforts, and government relations for 23 public schools. She cultivated critical relationships with the community, elected officials, and key stakeholders in a $35 million school expansion initiative in Brooklyn – providing high-quality public education options to more than 8,000 students throughout New York. Previously, she served as a labor organizer for 32BJ SEIU and served as a deputy director for the New York Women’s Chamber of Commerce. She also served as Senior Program Manager for Women’s Entrepreneurs NYC, the first major municipal initiative to address the entrepreneurship gender gap. Jacquelyn also is an avid marathon runner, having completed five marathons to date.
Just Making A Change for Families, New York, NY
Joyce McMillan is a thought leader, advocate, activist, community organizer, and educator. She is Executive Director of Just Making A Change for Families (JMACForFamilies), a nonprofit working to abolish the current punitive child welfare system and to strengthen the systems of support that keep families and communities together. She is also the founder of the Parent Legislative Action Network (PLAN), a coalition of parents directly impacted by the child welfare system, attorneys, social workers and academia who are committed to reducing and ending the child welfare system harms and transforming the way society supports families. McMillan has led child welfare family engagement and advocacy efforts at Sinergia Inc. and at Child Welfare Organizing Project, where she educated the community about restorative practices to empower, affirm, transform and heal communities of color that have been traumatized by systemic injustices. She is an Advisory Committee member at The Center for New York City Affairs at The New School, where she has a visiting fellowship exploring ways to strengthen parent voices in child welfare.
I Believe In Me Girls, Baltimore, MD
Cortney Robertson is the founder of I Believe In Me Girls, a nonprofit with a mission of empowering girls through group mentoring and leadership training that supports them in becoming responsible, productive, and successful members of their community. It also offers enrichment opportunities, such as “Healthy Harvest Heroes,” a program developed as a way for mentees to create and sustain a community garden in an effort to encourage healthy eating habits and “Soaring for Success” a college readiness program that provides workshops to 7th through 12th grade students to support them in preparing for post-secondary success. Robertson volunteers at PHILANTHROPIK, a Baltimore nonprofit that partners with organizations such as the Baltimore Chapter of the NAACP, the Greater Baltimore Urban League, Ronald McDonald House and the City of Baltimore Mayor’s Office to support community efforts in and around Baltimore. Robertson was recently highlighted as a Community MVP on CBS News Baltimore for her work.
The Get Ready for Obstacles in the World (GROW) Program, Baltimore, MD
Diwee Sewell is an avid youth advocate who believes the people closest to the problems are closest to the solutions. He is the founder and Executive Director of Get Ready for Obstacles in the World (GROW) program, a nonprofit that mentors youth ages 9 to 17, with a focus on character-building and life skills. GROW builds up the men so that they can establish the leadership that has been missing and puts them in position to be mentors, or “narrative changers” with access to resources and opportunities that empower them. GROW has several programs to help youth develop, including a jobs program “Learn to Earn” and a financial literacy program “Cashapp Classroom” where young adults receive monetary incentives to learn life skills, algorithms to boost credit scores, and more. GROW also provides mental health services to the community through their Psychiatric Rehabilitation Program.
Passion Outreach Center, Madison, IL
Keishamata Strong is Founder and President of Passion Outreach Center, a nonprofit dedicated to putting a support system in neighborhoods to enrich the lives of underprivileged community members. She and her husband have donated 10 percent of their income to fund the organization, which has served over 100 children. During the pandemic, Strong started an online after-school program to assist children with navigating remote learning. She was able to provide 16 students with Chromebooks and gift cards for food during the program, which helped students improve their grades. To date, Strong has supported over 50 families by raising funds to provide back-to-school supplies, clothes, and essential items for the school year. Strong formed partnerships with six local organizations, including Metro East Diaper Bank, Pajama Program, and Toys for Tots. Passion Outreach Center is partnering with Teens Against Killing Everywhere (TAKE), a nonprofit that works to build a stronger, safer, healthier East St. Louis. Strong’s goals for Passion Outreach include building a community center that will provide educational programs, recreational activities, academic support, and hope for a brighter future.
Empowering Minds of Maryland’s Youth, Baltimore, MD
Knicole Taylor is the co-founder and Executive Director of Empowering Minds of Maryland’s Youth (EMMY), a nonprofit with a mission of empowering children with life skills through mentoring, learning experiences, and artistic outlets. EMMY was developed to help build and sustain a positive self-image, while fostering critical thinking and reflection. Their goal is to transform youth into young adults who have confidence, determination, self-awareness and self-love. EMMY’s programs include community service, academic tutoring, health and nutrition, career development, and more. Taylor is also the founder of Empowered Women in Business International, an organization committed to empowering women in business and Program Director of Empowered to Stand Health Services, an accredited community health organization with a mission to empower, educate and motivate individuals, families, and communities to stand independently and collectively with confidence. Services offered include nutrition education, financial management, job readiness, and more. Taylor received her Bachelor of Science in Social Work from Sojourner-Douglass College.
Girl + Environment, Atlanta, GA
Maliyah Womack is a passionate advocate for environmental justice and racial equity. She serves as the Community Manager at Girl Plus Environment, a national nonprofit with a diverse community of Black and Brown women and non-binary individuals from across the country. The organization’s mission is to educate, empower, and engage women of color about environmental, racial, and health inequities. Through organizing free workshops and community events, Womack actively works to educate and engage countless individuals, developing practical strategies to implement equitable initiatives that make a tangible difference in Black and Brown communities. Her commitment to creating positive change is evident in her role as one of the first Community Organizing Fellows for Defend Our Future, a national organization mobilizing young people to combat the climate crisis, promote environmental solutions, and hold policy makers accountable for a healthier, climate-stable future. As a Fellow, Womack collaborates closely with the rising generations in the Washington DC area, inspiring the next generation to become environmental champions. Her dedication to both environmental and racial justice runs deep, and she envisions making an even greater impact in the future by establishing her own nonprofit which aims to uplift young Black women and men, empowering them to drive lasting change in our society.
Equality Florida, St. Petersburg, FL
Nadine Smith is an award-winning journalist, organizer, and civil rights activist who has been fighting for racial justice and LGBTQ equality for over three decades. As a college student, she co-founded the International Gay and Lesbian Youth Organization and co-chaired the largest March on Washington for LGBTQ rights. In 1997, she founded Equality Florida, the largest civil rights organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, serving as Executive Director since its inception. With Equality Florida, she led the charge against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, fighting its enactment through grassroots organizing, coalition-building, and powerful television and social media ad campaign highlighting the potential racist and anti-LGBTQ impacts in classrooms. Smith’s work serves as an inspiration and blueprint for LGBTQ organizations around the world. She currently serves as Chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ Florida Advisory Committee and is a Trustee of the Florida Chamber Foundation. In 2022, she was named to the Time100 annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. She was also named one of the state’s “Most Powerful and Influential Women” by the Florida Diversity Council; received the League of Women Voters’ Woman of Distinction Award, and was named one of the 100 Most Influential Floridians by Influence Magazine.
Cassandra Overton Welchlin
Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable, Jackson, MS
Cassandra Welchlin is the Executive Director of the Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable that works to shift power at the voting booth and policy table. She’s an award-winning community organizer, social justice activist and licensed social worker who has spent her life championing working-class women’s rights to equal pay, affordable childcare and health care, among others, in her home state of Mississippi, the South and nationwide. In 2015, she co-founded the Mississippi Women’s Economic Security Initiative, which is rooted at the intersection of race, gender, and economic justice. It engages women, particularly low-income women of color, with deep connections to grassroots organizing to create a leadership infrastructure that will set the stage for long-term movement-building. Welchlin earned a Bachelor of Social Work from Jackson State University and a Master in Sustainable International Development from the Heller School of Social Policy at Brandies University.
General / Other
Black N Tampa, Tampa, FL
Driven by her passion for equality, Charlea Bing is a powerful voice in the ongoing struggle against inequality. After the murder of George Floyd, Bing published the first issue of Black N Tampa magazine in order to provide a comprehensive guide to local Black organizations, restaurants, and businesses that she wanted the Tampa community to support. Bing participated in Black Lives Matter protests across Tampa Bay, restored a Belmont Heights community garden to combat food insecurity, and taught an interactive course on protest that empowers demonstrators and fosters connections with other organizers. Bing created “Black N Therapy,” a free mental health program for Black women and men that she hopes will become a well-known and trusted organization in Tampa’s Black community. She provided free tutoring services for predominantly Black elementary schools in Hillsborough County. She is pursuing a degree in African-American Studies from Florida A&M University.
Joel Bervell is a Ghanaian-American medical student at Washington State University as well as a social media medical educator. Bervell is known online as the “Medical Mythbuster” because he discusses health disparities in an easily digestible way, busts medical myths, and fights health disparities in medicine through education about racial disparities, the hidden history of medicine, and biases in healthcare. His TikTok and Instagram (@joelbervell) platforms have over 760,000+ combined followers and 120+ million impressions. Bervell was named by TikTok as the top 2021 “Voice for Change” and featured as one of 10 “Changemakers” on their Discover List. His public speaking engagements include the Congressional Black Caucus, Clinton Foundation, Food and Drug Administration and Google. He is a member of the White House Office of Public Engagement’s Healthcare Leaders in Social Media Roundtable and former American Medical Association Medical Student Digital Fellow. He was selected by the National Minority Quality Forum as a 2022 40 Under 40 Leader in Minority Health and received the National Medical Association’s Emerging Scholar Award, the highest academic honor presented to a student by the National Medical Association. Bervell earned a Bachelor’s in Molecular Cellular Developmental Biology from Yale University and a Master’s in Medical Sciences from Boston University.
Not Just A Smile, Charlotte, NC
Taylor Marshall is the Founder of Not Just A Smile, a North Carolina-based mental health organization dedicated to spreading awareness on mental health in minority communities across the Charlotte Piedmont-Triad area through social advocacy, education, and community service. Not Just A Smile strives to create hope and opportunity for those struggling to find themselves. Marshall’s organization has covered the cost of therapy for minority communities, donated mental health kits to local schools, and more. Marshall earned her Bachelor of Psychology from North Carolina A&T. She is currently pursuing a Master of Clinical Mental Health Counseling at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
More Than Tours, Montgomery, AL
Michelle Browder is the founder and director of I AM MORE THAN…Youth Empowerment Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. She owns and operates More Than Tours, a business that has provided educational tours to nearly 10,000 underserved students from marginalized communities of color. For nearly 35 years, Browder has used art, history, and “real talk” conversations to mentor marginalized and disfavored students through visual arts and the spoken word. She has created art programs used by juvenile detention centers in both Montgomery and Atlanta, and her art has been shown in galleries across the country. She opened a gallery and restaurant called PJR’S Fish and BBQ Restaurant that employs high school students, returning citizens, and people who are homeless. Browder is also the lead artist and visionary of The Mothers Of Gynecology Monument, a 15-foot monument that honors three enslaved women – Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey – and uses their story to raise awareness about past and present racial disparities in healthcare.