Social Justice Fund grants boost advocacy for affordable housing, voter registration
A total of $140,000 to seven organizations supporting wide range of causes
Pittsburgh, PA, Dec. 17, 2019 – Nonprofits working to secure more affordable housing in the Pittsburgh region and to increase voter turnout are among seven receiving operating grants from The Pittsburgh Foundation’s Social Justice Fund. Established in 2018, the fund benefits social justice activities and advocates in the region. Its purpose is to increase the influence of community members who challenge systems that perpetuate racial and economic inequity.
“Through this fund, our foundation is providing operating support to back the work of advocates and activists in the community who are dedicated to systems and policy change,” said Foundation President and CEO Lisa Schroeder in announcing the grants.
The Social Justice Fund ties directly to the Foundation’s 100 Percent Pittsburgh organizing principle, which prioritizes the needs of the 30% of area residents who live at or near the poverty level and can’t get access to the region’s economy. Programs and services are developed in collaboration with people and communities closest to the issues to develop solutions. The fund was established in 2017 with a $250,000 grant.
The second round this year of Social Justice Fund operating grants totaling $140,000 benefits these organizations:
- Abolitionist Law Center: $20,000. Abolitionist Law Center is a public interest law firm inspired by the struggle of political and politicized prisoners and organized for the purpose of abolishing class- and race-based mass incarceration in the United States. The Center engages in litigation on behalf of people whose human rights have been violated in prison, produces educational programs to inform the general public about mass incarceration, and works to develop a mass movement against the American penal system. The organization plans to expand its work in Allegheny County, building off past legal cases and recent investigations of conditions at the county jail.
- Black Dream Escape: $20,000. In response to studies that show that members of the Black community are five times more likely to suffer from sleep deprivation, Black Dream Escape is working to shift the narrative around the practice of sleep, rest and healing in Black and queer communities by creating spaces for people to meditate or rest. Black Dream Escape plans to respond to increasing demand for more places where people can rest by hosting events, increasing the awareness of the importance of rest and healing, and building a growing local and national coalition of experts of color in the Black Rest Movement.
- Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration - West: $20,000. Started in Philadelphia, the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration - West is the local chapter of a statewide coalition of grassroots organizations and activists made up of incarcerated people, their family members, friends and advocates who have been at the forefront of a movement to win parole eligibility for people serving life sentences in Pennsylvania. The organization plans to undertake several key actions in the upcoming months including organizing regular trips to state prison facilities to help members stay in touch with family, friends and Coalition members who are incarcerated; publishing a newsletter four times per year to distribute to people serving death-by-incarceration sentences from Allegheny County; informing the public and elected officials about death-by-incarceration sentences and advocating for criminal justice reform.
- Council for Cultural Equity and Emancipated Education: $20,000. In response to a growing concern from Pittsburgh Public Schools parents and staff that the commitment to improving outcomes for Black students is diminishing, the Council for Cultural Equity and Emancipated Education was established in February 2018 to advocate for the district’s Black and Brown students. The Council is a collective comprised of educators, activists, cultural preservationists, community representatives and artists. It is committed to long-term advocacy for children and families using Black psychology, African-centered pedagogy, culturally responsive pedagogy, therapeutic solutions to trauma, rites of passage and community uplift. The organization plans to teach high school students how to identify, research and advocate for issues impacting education justice in their schools. The Council plans to work with students at Milliones, Brashear and Arsenal Schools using a curriculum co-created with the Association of Black Psychologists.
- Penn Plaza Support and Action Coalition: $20,000. Penn Plaza Support and Action Coalition was formed in response to the eviction of more than 200, mostly low-to-moderate income East-Liberty residents who were displaced so developers could build retail space and luxury housing. Led by former Penn Plaza Apartments residents and their supporters, the Coalition has been at the forefront of the community’s efforts to get housing justice in East Liberty and the City of Pittsburgh. Penn Plaza Support and Action Coalition seeks to build on its robust early efforts to preserve affordable housing and increase community ownership of community development processes. The Coalition plans to host weekly coalition meetings, increase engagement with former residents, and prepare former residents to become tenants at Mellon’s Orchard South where most of the units have been earmarked as “replacement housing” for former residents.
- Take Action Mon Valley: $20,000. Founded in 2014, Take Action Mon Valley develops cross-sector partnerships to address violence and lack of culturally responsive social services available to the people of the Mon Valley. The group meets with families, law enforcement, politicians and the larger community to develop strategies to combat violence, increase the social and financial resources available to residents, and build stronger relationships with law enforcement. The organization plans to hire a director and two organizers who will enable Take Action Mon Valley to manage its two existing chapters, Duquesne and McKeesport, and to develop new chapters in East Pittsburgh, Clairton and additional Mon Valley communities.
- Voter Engagement Empowerment and Enrichment Movement: $20,000. Founded in 2017, the Voter Empowerment Education & Enrichment Movement (VEEEM) is a faith-based, nonpartisan organization with a mission of increasing voter turnout in Allegheny County, especially in underserved communities that have had low voter turnout rates. VEEEM’s goal to increase voter turnout in the 13th Ward, which includes Homewood and East Hills, to at least 50% by 2025. Only 18% of registered voters voted in this district in May 2019. The organization plans to engage in voter education, community canvassing and implementing a formal plan to transport voters to the polls on election day 2020.
More information about how the fund was developed is available at https://pittsburghfoundation.org/social-justice-fund.