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(Asheville, NC) – The Amy Mandel and Katina Rodis Fund (AMKRF) is excited to announce that Sheneika Smith and Nicole Townsend are the winners of the first ever Tzedek Brilliance Awards.
The Tzedek Brilliance Awards are a pilot initiative designed to invest directly in leaders who have consistently shown up for Asheville, NC. Recipients will receive an individual award of $200,000, disbursed over two consecutive years. Because AMKRF honors each individual’s wisdom about how best to spend the award, there are no restrictions on the funds.
The Tzedek Brilliance Awards are designed to sustain ongoing efforts to transform Asheville into a community where everyone thrives. These awards support impactful, intersectional approaches to dismantling systemic oppression which are focused on racial justice, LGBTQ equality, and combating anti-Jewish oppression. As a compliment to the fund’s grantmaking that sustains organizational work, the Brilliance Awards are designed to cultivate the wellbeing of brilliant community leaders by investing in their spaciousness, autonomy, and vision.
“The brilliant community work happening here is both humbling and awe-inspiring. Each self-nomination reflected such deep passion and commitment to Asheville. I am so inspired by the sheer dedication of local leaders working toward making this a place where everyone can thrive,” says AMKRF founder Amy Mandel.
AMKRF was founded in 1991 to support international, national, and regional organizations working for social justice. AMKRF’s vision is a world of equity and full human rights for all people. Gradually since 2011, AMKRF has increasingly focused on sustaining organizations and leaders based in Asheville through grantmaking and capacity building. Grantees have included Nuestro Centro, Center for Participatory Change (CPC), Hood Huggers International, Compañeros Inmigrantes de las Montañas en Acción (CIMA), Youth Outright, Asheville Jewish Community Center, Youth Transformed for Life (YTL), and CoThinkk.
Inspired by transformative grantmaking models that shift the power dynamic between funders and grantees, the Tzedek Brilliance Awards represent a trust-based, community-grounded approach to grantmaking.
About the Awardees
Sheneika Smith is an Asheville native who passionately seeks to utilize her leadership, spirituality and creativity in order to shape a Black renaissance across Western North Carolina. She is widely known for founding Date My City (DMC), a social organization that seeks to enhance the cultural identity of Black Asheville by fostering social cohesion, increasing civic participation, and centralizing Black leadership. Through DMC, Smith discovered that by curating racial healing events and experiences, deeper connection and trust set the stage for sustainable Black unity programs and collective liberation action. In 2017, Sheneika was elected to the Asheville City Council and sees her victory as part of a greater momentum wave and shift to Black leadership–the birthing of a major 2020 movement. With funds from the Brilliance Award, Sheneika plans to sustain her family (housing, healthcare, life insurance), develop her personal and professional capacity as a business owner/spiritual leader/professional, address the unique educational and socio-emotional needs of her daughters, and to grow and scale Date My City.
The last eight years of life, since we returned to Asheville, my daughters and I have seen some lean times.” Smith says. “Yet, we continued fighting with and for the community, believing that hard work and self-determination would bring us much success. This award is a wonderful testament of faith and perseverance which my girls will never forget!”
Nicole Townsend has been organizing in Western North Carolina since 2010. Her introduction to queer organizing spaces came in 2010 after a string of hate crimes took place in Asheville. She began to use poetry and spoken word as a medium to connect folks to the work that needed to be done to combat the phobias and isms. In 2012, she directed a film entitled “Color ME Brown: Conversations with unmuted voices” – which uplifted the voices of Black and Brown folks navigating through Asheville. Since then, her organizing work has been heavily rooted in WNC and has focused on environmental justice, sustainable food policies, police accountability, and Queer & Transgender liberation. She currently serves as a Regional Organizer at SONG where she co-leads The Black Mama’s Bail Outs, as well as supports the leadership of Queer and Transgender folks in Buncombe County and across the South. Nicole is on the board of Asheville Writers In Schools and Community, and is also making an impact as a member of the Human Relations Commission of Asheville. With funds from the Brilliance Award, Nicole plans to pay off debt, fix her car, put money into savings, travel, support the work of Queer & Transgender folks, invest in her own leadership development, and fund a project that will be made public during the fall of 2019.
“Had it not been for my friend, I would not have considered applying for the Brilliance Award,” says Townsend. “I am deeply grateful that others see me as a leader. I am excited to have the financial means to redistribute funding to my community.”
Building the Brilliance Awards
AMKRF is exploring expanding this awards program with the support and sponsorship of other individuals and funders. To learn more, please contact Heather Laine Talley, Co-Director of Social Justice Education and Community Engagement, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about the Tzedek Brilliance Awards here: http://tzedeksocialjusticefund.org/tzedek-pilot-programs/tzedek-brilliance-awards/