OAKLAND, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Family Independence Initiative, the national nonprofit committed to improving social and economic mobility in America, today announced four community groups as recipients of its 2013 Torchlight Prize. Each Torchlight Prize winner will receive a $10,000 prize that is awarded over two years.
“Too often in this country, low-income families are stereotyped as shiftless swindlers or helpless victims”
The Torchlight Prize was launched in 2012 to recognize and invest in self-organized groups of families, friends, and community members who have come together in meaningful ways to strengthen their communities. Each Torchlight Prize winner exemplifies Family Independence Initiative’s belief that powerful, sustainable, and relevant results can be created for families and communities when everyday people work together by pooling ideas, resources, and efforts to create positive change in their own communities.
“Too often in this country, low-income families are stereotyped as shiftless swindlers or helpless victims,” said Mia Birdsong, vice president, Family Independence Initiative. “The Torchlight Prize is changing this narrative. It showcases the knowledge, skills, and initiative that exist in under-resourced communities and the tremendous contributions they make to our country as innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders. By highlighting the potential of under-resourced talent and innovation, we hope to inspire direct investment into resident-led initiatives to amplify their impact and support residents in manifesting their visions for their own communities.”
This year’s Torchlight Prize winners are:
- Camp Congo Square, New Orleans, LA. Camp Congo Square was started in 2006 when a group of parents – all New Orleans residents – came together to collectively respond to the displacement of a large number of New Orleans families by Hurricane Katrina. The group saw an opportunity to help kids deal with the trauma of that experience, while instilling a deep sense of their heritage so that they could someday help to rebuild their city. The group created a summer camp centered on the history of Congo Square, a historical place within New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong Park where enslaved Africans and Native Americans often gathered on Sundays. The camp utilizes reading, writing, math, and open discussion to explore art concepts of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians while building knowledge and respect for different values, views, and beliefs of people throughout history.
- Freedom Inc., Madison, WI. Freedom Inc. was started as the Asian Freedom Project in 2000 by members of the Southeast Asian community in Madison, WI. It was created to provide an informal and safe space for young Hmong women to talk about the challenges they faced, including violence, racism, and immigration. Interestingly, individuals from other ethnic groups in Madison saw the special place that was being created and desired a similar safe place for themselves. The organization changed its name to Freedom Inc. to deliberately create such a space for all low- to no-income communities of color. As the organization grew, it chose to become a formal nonprofit to continue its work, while remaining “of and for the community.”
- Somos Tuskaloosa, Tuscaloosa, AL. Somos Tuskaloosa was inspired by two major events that hit the immigrant community of Tuscaloosa, Alabama on the same day in 2011: a devastating tornado that destroyed 7,200 homes and businesses across six miles, and an anti-immigration bill (Alabama HB56), largely considered the most regressive immigration law in the country. As a reaction to these natural and man-made attacks, Latino immigrants, clergy, and community members came together to form Somos Tuskaloosa, to send a message of inclusion, to push back against discrimination, to fight for immigrant justice, and to provide the supports that Latino families needed to rebuild their lives in Tuscaloosa. Somos Tuskaloosa provides a number of services to keep the community informed about the latest developments in laws and policies that affect immigrants, including leadership development training, "know your rights" workshops, and legal clinics.
- VietUnity, Oakland, CA. VietUnity was created in 2004 to support the leadership of Vietnamese youth, workers, and families to improve their lives and organize for justice within their communities. It was created from a vision to have progressive Vietnamese American organizers come together to share experiences, their work, and skills to better organize their communities against oppressive systems, such as racism and imperialism. Through alliance building, education, organizing, and collective action, VietUnity brings Vietnamese-identified people together to work on local issues that community members have identified as most important to their daily lives, including the need for affordable housing, education support, and employment opportunities, and issues related to gang and domestic violence.
“We recognize and congratulate this year’s Torchlight Prize winners not only for their innovative approaches to building their communities, but also for their unwavering passion and commitment to addressing some of the most pressing issues facing our nation, like immigration reform, race relations, LGBTQ discrimination, and the impact of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina,” said Mauricio Lim Miller, founder and chief executive officer, Family Independence Initiative. “The spirit of community collaboration to drive impactful change is as alive today as ever, and these groups are perfect examples.”
Torchlight Prize winners are chosen by a selection committee comprised of leaders from the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. The 2013 selection committee includes: Mauricio Lim Miller, founder and CEO, Family Independence Initiative; Michele Jolin, managing partner with America Achieves and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress; Patty Stonsifer, president and CEO, Martha’s Table; Charles Ogletree, a Jesse Climenko professor of law at Harvard Law School and founder and executive director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School; Wes Moore, youth advocate, author, and host of “Beyond Belief” on the Oprah Winfrey Network; and Daniel Boggan, former senior vice president and chief operating officer, National Collegiate Athletic Association.
ABOUT THE TORCHLIGHT PRIZE
Family Independence Initiative established the Torchlight Prize in 2012 to recognize and invest in groups of families, friends, and community members who have come together in meaningful ways to strengthen their communities. To be considered for the annual award, a group’s origins must be informal, and not initiated by an organization, nonprofit, or government program or service. In addition, winners must demonstrate a positive impact on their community, and they must live and act in the United States. The Prize is named after the Freedman’s Torchlight, one of the nation’s first black newspapers established in Weeksville, a self-sufficient and thriving community built by African Americans, for African Americans in New York before emancipation. Previous winners include Iu Mein Community, Club Social Infantil, and Black Dot Collective.
ABOUT FAMILY INDEPENDENCE INITIATIVE
Family Independence Initiative is a national advocacy organization recognized for its award-winning, family-led approach to catalyzing economic and social mobility for low-income families. Over the last decade, Family Independence Initiative has proven that low-income communities can increase their economic and social mobility when they are in environments that support self-determination and mutual support, and where access to resources is determined by strengths not deficits. Family Independence Initiative’s family-led approach, as radical and as old as our democracy, is inspired by the historical successes of poor communities in the U.S. For more information, visit www.fiinet.org.