COVID-19 lockdowns ignited a global increase in domestic violence. When the cases started to skyrocket in Brooklyn, Black Women’s Blueprint stepped up its interventions.

The Crown Heights-based nonprofit dispatched its Sistas Van, a “mobile healing unit,” throughout the community. It enabled the organization to reach more women trapped in abusive situations or who needed groceries and other resources.

Denise Rodriguez, Shabieko Ivy and Sevonna Brown with the fully loaded Sistas Van. Photo: Mateo Ruiz Gonzalez for BK Reader.

“Brooklyn Community Foundation (BCF) has been exponentially supportive for Black Women’s Blueprint and for getting Sista Van on the road,” Sevonna Brown, executive director of the organization, stated.

On April 1, BCF released a report from its “radical” listening tour, named Brooklyn Insights 2020. The report shares the experiences of the foundation’s community-based partners that were on the ground at the height of the crisis, as well as the solutions its partners suggested going forward.

Black Women’s Blueprint is one of more than 200 organizations that partnered with BCF to help Brooklyn residents survive the deadly pandemic and the economic crisis that it caused.

At the start of the pandemic, BCF launched the $3.3 million Brooklyn COVID-19 Response Fund to assist 246 community-based organizations working in impoverished communities of color. The neighborhoods included Brownsville, East New York, Flatbush and Bushwick.

A second phase, which began in fall 2020, increased the total of the COVID-19 funding to almost $7 million. At the same time, BCF started an eight-week listening tour with its partners.

The purpose of the tour was “to identify and invest in community-led solutions to achieve structural change and to address ongoing structural needs,” BCF VP of Programs and Partnerships Marcella Tillett said at a virtual meeting on Monday.

It revealed some of the frustrations community-based organizations experienced at the height of the crisis.

Pastor Gilford Monrose. Photo: Screenshot Brooklyn Community Foundation Video.

“Food was politicized during COVID-19,” Pastor Gilford Monrose of the 67th Precinct Clergy Council in Flatbush stated.

He said elected officials received food for distribution in their district. Instead of working with established food pantries located in those neighborhoods, some politicians funneled the groceries to their preferred organizations, which often had no knowledge of food insecurity or channels of distribution in the highest pockets of poverty.

Renee K. Smith, Brooklyn Insights 2020 community engagement consultant, praised the ability of community-based organizations to adapt quickly to changing conditions amid the crisis.

“They pivoted at the drop of a dime to really ensure that community members got what they needed,” she said, adding some of the organization’s partners shifted normal operations to meet real time needs.

She pointed to Sunset Park-based Mixteca, which supports the Hispanic community in the areas of health care, education and immigration law.

Mixteca was providing cooked meals to community members until they realized that what residents really needed were grocery items, such as rice, beans and grains. That prompted the organization created its first food pantry.

BCF released videos that highlight the work of several partnering organizations that received funding. They focus on various groups, such as vulnerable seniors, undocumented immigrants and single mothers.

At the virtual meeting, BCF announced a new funding opportunity, Community-led Social Change Grants, as part of its COVID-19 Response Fund.

It provides multi-year funding of up to $75,000 per year for five years for organizations addressing systemic injustice and structural oppression in Brooklyn through advocacy, community organizing and power building, and community collaborations through coalitions.

An informational webinar and application clinic is scheduled for April 19. Those interested in submitting a proposal can RSVP here online. Award decisions are expected on June 30.


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Nigel Roberts

Nigel Roberts is a New York-based, award-winning freelance journalist. During his career, Nigel has written for several newspapers and magazines. He has extensive experience covering politics and was a...

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