When you ask Jose Ortiz, Jr. what drives his passion for getting New Yorkers into meaningful work, he goes back to his youth.

While his background was “baked in living in poverty” Ortiz, Jr., who is Afro-Latino, saw another side of life when he got an Oliver Scholarship to an elite prep school.

The scholarship gave him a first-hand look at the economic disparity between his communities — starting in public housing on Coney Island and then living all over the Bronx — and other communities of great wealth.

Jose Ortiz, Jr. Photo: Walter Smith Photography / Supplied

“It really stuck with me,” he said. “It has driven me and made me more than passionate about the role that work plays in building someone out of that experience, and helping to achieve more wealth for their families and really empower them.”

As the chief executive officer of the New York City Employment and Training Coalition (NYCETC) non-profit, he’s made it his life’s work so far to support New Yorkers to get the training and education they need to thrive.

On Thursday, that work was rewarded with the announcement he’d been granted around $400,000 for NYCETC by the Power Fund.

The Power Fund is an initiative started by New York poverty-fighting organization Robin Hood to elevate nonprofit leaders of color whose work increases mobility from poverty. It now has multiple corporate investors supporting its efforts, and its latest awards round focused on funding Latinx leaders.

Addressing disparities

The Latinx community makes up around 18% of the U.S. population, yet only around 1% of philanthropic dollars are directly invested in Latinx organizations, Robin Hood said.

“”I applaud Robin Hood and the other investors for thinking of ways to not just invest, but to change power dynamics,” Ortiz, Jr. said.

“That is what it comes down to, investing in people of color and also investing in people of color who are on the precipice of power, to build leaders and build a larger Afro-Latinx middle class.” 

Protesters rally in front of housing court in 2020. Photo: Kevin Limiti for BK Reader

Through NYCETC, the funds would be used to push for an inclusive economic recovery effort in New York City.

The nonprofit is working on an agenda for the next administration and candidates that prioritizes workforce development, affordable housing, food security, transit and infrastructure accessibility, systemic issues around gender equality, land use and the racial and social disparities “that prevent folks from benefiting from good economic growth.”

Nowadays, Ortiz, Jr. is based in Downtown Brooklyn with his wife and two kids. He’s been living in Brooklyn for more than a decade, where he says the community has always felt like home.

But it has also been a place where historic racial inequities were laid bare during the pandemic.

Unemployment in the borough increased by more than 350% year-over-year in 2020, according to IMPAACT Brooklyn. COVID-19 was found more than twice as deadly for Black and Latino people than for white people, and minority-owned businesses have struggled to get financial support.

Building for an equitable future

Part of NYCETC’s immediate work is to build back better for groups hit the hardest. Right now, the coalition is working on policy issues like closing the digital divide, getting childcare for working parents and addressing basic needs like housing and food security.

Gisele Castro. Photo: Robin Hood

Also receiving around $400,000 for her organization was Gisele Castro, the Executive Director of exalt, which helps young people break out of the school-to-prison pipeline.

The awards also include a $50,000 “self-directed” leadership grant for the leaders to spend on their own development.

The Power Fund is fueling leaders of color who are putting New Yorkers on pathways to economic mobility, Robin Hood CEO Wes Moore said.

“The two newest Power Fund leaders bring two critical ingredients to our grant making success: lived experience and offering deeply impactful solutions for our communities.”

Last year, IMPACCT Brooklyn and One Brooklyn Health System were named among five of the first non-profit organizations to be awarded financial gifts from the Power Fund. Read more here.

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Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a freelance writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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