The David Prize
Cesar Vargas
DISRUPTOR, STATEN ISLAND

Fela Barclift
JEGNA, BROOKLYN

Jaime-Jin Lewis
INNOVATOR, BROOKLYN

Five Mualimm-ak
ORGANIZER, THE BRONX

Felicia Wilson
MENTOR, BROOKLYN

2020
REUSING NEW YORK
CITY'S ORGANIC WASTE
AND MAKING IT COOL
TO COMPOST
Domingo Morales
COMPOST GURU, BROOKLYN
Domingo was born in the Bronx and has lived in all five boroughs.
Shaped by his upbringing in public housing, Domingo’s obsession with composting and sustainability began with his enrollment in Green City Force, a non-profit that offers environmental programming to NYCHA residents. He came to see compositing as a path to community-building and neighborhood empowerment.
"RECYCLYING WASN'T AN OPTION WHEN I WAS A KID -- NEW YORK CITY'S PUBLIC HOUSING AUTHORITY IS DESIGNED TO BE WASTEFUL."
Domingo went from composter and educator to leading the largest human-powered compost site in America.
Following in mentor David Buckel's footsteps, Domingo became a Master Composter at Red Hook Farms. He organized more than 15,000 volunteers, doubled compost production to 200 tons per year, and became known for his expertise nationwide.
"Among our 500+ graduates at Green City Force, Domingo is not just a standout but a legend."
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Lisbeth Shepherd
Co-founder and Strategic Advisor, Green City Force
BRINGING HUMANITY
AND COMMUNITY TO
HOMELESSNESS IN A
SHELTER FOR REFUGEES
Edafe Okporo
ACTIVIST, MANHATTAN
There are more than 40,000 refugees in New York City and nearly 65,000 people experiencing homelessness.
Those applying for political asylum -- especially individuals who fear violence or death in their home countries -- find few resources to help them integrate into New York City while awaiting immigration decisions.
"I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Edafe is one of the most gifted young leaders I’ve been lucky enough to meet."
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Kevin Jennings
CEO, Lambda Legal
In 2017, Edafe became homeless after being detained for six months.
Through connections to activists and friends, Edafe eventually secured a bed and job. He saw the need to support other refugees arriving in New York City, and he committed himself to advocating and creating solutions for other vulnerable newcomers.
Edafe became the Executive Director of RDJ Refugee Shelter.
Edafe runs a 10-bed housing and support program in the basement of a church in Harlem. RDJ is the only shelter serving the specific needs of refugees and asylum-seekers in New York City, It offers culturally competent services and access to jobs as a core part of helping residents gain dignity and essential skills.
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REDEFINING COLLEGE
ACCESS AND GUIDANCE
FOR ALL YOUNG NEW
YORKERS
Cielo Villa
ENTREPRENEUR, QUEENS
Cielo's life in New York City started as an undocumented new immigrant from Peru.
She was laser-focused on getting to college and building a life in the USA from there. A top student, she leveraged leadership academies, resources and mentorships to figure out the college application process. Cielo saw there was also plenty of luck involved...and she questioned why luck was needed just to get to the next step in education.
"LACK OF INFORMATION IS A BARRIER TO HIGHER EDUCATION. IT SHOULDN'T HAVE TO BE THIS HARD TO SUCCEED."
Enter Road to Uni, a unique online platform that provides the critical resources and support students need to apply to and successfully access college.
Inspired by her own road to Wellesley College, Cielo has built a non-profit organization that provides around-the-clock answers to NYC students with college access questions. Bypassing overworked high school guidance counselors, Road to Uni streamlines key information, such as scholarship deadlines, internship tips, and financial aid requirements. The platform offers real-time messaging and includes 90+ video tutorials outlining every step of the college admissions process for students and parents.
"Road to Uni creates leaders like nothing I’ve seen before — leaders with the experience to effectuate real change."
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Kyle Lambert
Student, Stanford University, Class of 2024
INTEGRATING BEST-IN-
CLASS HEALTHCARE IN
TRUSTED COMMUNITY-
BASED ORGANIZATIONS
Dr. Suzette Brown
DOCTOR, QUEENS
Suzette became a pediatrician, inspired by her mom's commitment to their community.
Born to Jamaican immigrants, Suzette was raised in Brooklyn. Her mom founded a preschool that educated thousands of Black and Brown children. She and her twin sister, Nicole, both became pediatricians to continue their parents’ legacy.
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Suzette founded Strong Children Wellness alongside two co-founders, Dr. Nicole Brown and Dr. Omolara Uwemedimo.
Strong Children Wellness embeds socially responsive health care within trusted community-based organizations. Suzette is not only offering a new kind of support to families in NYC, but also aims to pilot an innovative value-based payment system.
"Suzette could be doing anything, but she chooses to focus on the most vulnerable children. "
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Bunny Ellerin
President, NYC Health Business Leaders
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LEADING A COOPERATIVE
WHERE UNDOCUMENTED
WORKERS CAN ACCESS
SAFE AND FAIR
PAYING JOBS
Manuel Castro
ORGANIZER, QUEENS
Manuel crossed the Mexican-US border when he was five years old.
As part of an undocumented family, Manuel grew up in fear of deportation, despite only knowing New York City as his home. Manuel advocated for immigrants like himself, now known as DREAMers, and became a key player in the movement.
Manuel became Executive Director of New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE).
NICE is a non-profit with a storefront in Jackson Heights that serves day laborers and newly arrived immigrants to New York City. The organization helps clients find safe and dignified work placements, access appropriate training, and organize to ensure fair wages and reduce wage theft.
"You will not make a better investment in the future of NYC than Manny Castro."
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Robert Courtney Smith
Professor, CUNY
Building on his work at NICE, Manuel is creating a cooperative job center with and for day laborers.
This new organization will be owned and managed by its clients -- newly arrived and undocumented workers in New York City. The co-op will source jobs, provide training, connect to legal assistance and increase wage transparency. Employers will benefit from a streamlined hiring process for quality labor.
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FIGHTING FOR
IMMIGRANTS IN
THE ARMED FORCES
AND THEIR RIGHT TO
STAY IN THE U.S.
Cesar Vargas
DISRUPTOR, STATEN ISLAND
Cesar dreamed of serving the country he called home -- the United States.
Cesar and his siblings grew up in NYC undocumented after crossing the Mexico-US border when Cesar was five. From becoming New York’s first undocumented attorney, to enlisting in the U.S. Army, to joining the Reserves and finally becoming a citizen, Cesar’s unique 30-year journey has created a patriot, a thought leader, and a fearless advocate.
"THE COUNTRY I FOUGHT SO HARD TO SERVE IN UNIFORM IS STILL LEAVING MANY - INCLUDING MY OWN FAMILY - IN THE SHADOWS."
The U.S. has more than half a million non-citizen veterans. There are 45,000 immigrants in active service; five thousand enlist each year.
Advocates estimate that hundreds of veterans from New York City and across the country are deported each year -- the true number is obscured by immigration authorities’ records. Immigrants are promised expedited citizenship when they enlist, but the reality is quite different. Long, complicated processes make it hard for members to gain citizenship, and too many soldiers live in fear of being deported.
Cesar is building a new network of support for immigrant veterans.
Backed by a coalition of lawyers, non-profit organizations, academic institutions, and representatives of local and state government, Cesar empowers immigrants-in-uniform to navigate two complicated systems: immigration and military law.
"Cesar isn’t afraid to swim against the tide. He has assisted 15 soldiers’ citizenship processes, aiding each of us."
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Sergeant Tiago Rocha
US Army Reserve
SPARKING ACADEMIC
EXCELLENCE AND
POSITIVE SELF-ESTEEM
AMONG NYC'S YOUNGEST
LEARNERS
Fela Barclift
JEGNA, BROOKLYN
Fela needed a preschool that combined academic excellence with a nurturing environment specially tailored to Black and Brown children -- so she created one.
Growing up in Bed-Stuy, Fela and her siblings were bussed to “better schools” outside the neighborhood where the hard truths of educational inequity -- mistrustful teachers, disproportionate punishments, social isolation -- battered their self esteem. When she became a mother, Fela wanted more for her children’s early education.
Little Sun People has shaped generations of New Yorkers. Over 40 years it’s become part of Bed- Stuy’s DNA -- an enduring investment in children.
Fela’s unique, Afrocentric preschool is founded on a groundbreaking culturally responsive curriculum that centers Black heroes and incorporates themes from grassroots organizing and social justice. Families and students are seen and celebrated, beginning their educational journey in an community of joyful learners.
"Fela is unique; she's a pioneer and a visionary, she’s been totally committed to this idea of education when few people were."
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Esmeralda Simmons
Founder, Executive Director Emeritus of the Center For Law and Social Justice, Medgar Evers College, CUNY
"THE WORK OF UNDOING RACISM IS SLOW AND URGENT, BIG PICTURE AND MINUTIAE. AT THE CORE, IT REQUIRES LOVE. "
Little Sun People is poised to grow beyond the school’s four walls.
Fela’s plans include expanding the Little Sun People model into an elementary and middle school. She’s also codifying her special curriculum and culture to reach schools across the city. And because learning should happen 24-7, Fela and her team have built supports for parents to extend the curriculum at home.
ENSIVIONING A
CHILDCARE SYSTEM
WHERE PROVIDERS,
FAMILIES, AND
CHILDREN CAN THRIVE
Jaime-Jin Lewis
INNOVATOR, BROOKLYN
Our city relies on 7,000+ family childcare providers to nurture and teach the youngest New Yorkers.
Small childcare centers provide a lifeline to families working low-wage jobs and long or inconsistent hours. 93% of these businesses, which are usually in-home and serve fewer than 16 children, are owned by Black, Latinx and Asian women working an average of 57 hours a week to keep kids safe and busy. These providers provide a safety net, but lack of one of their own.
Jaime-Jin founded Wiggle Room, a technology company that connects parents, caregivers, and employers.
Wiggle Room brings family childcare centers onto a central marketplace platform, streamlines their business operations, and connects them with new clients. Parents can search and schedule based on voucher status, language, affordability, and location preferences.
Jaime-Jin is inspired by her mom, a legendary educator known as “Miss Donna,” and all the early childhood caregivers who help raise the next generation.
She started out in the restaurant industry, watching colleagues with families struggle to make ends meet. Today Jaime-Jin is building Wiggle Room, drawing on her background in urban planning and leadership of The Center for Racial Justice in Education to create an accessible system that respects both working families and owner / providers.
"I don’t know anyone who hustles harder for marginalized communities, to make sure others have what they need." "
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Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs
Founding Organizer of Women's March
CREATING ESSENTIAL
COMMUNITY FOR
JUSTICE-IMPACTED
YOUTH SERVING
SUPERVISION SENTENCES
Five Mualimm-ak
ORGANIZER, THE BRONX
Mr. Five knows the criminal justice system.
Five spent 12 years incarcerated, sometimes landing in solitary as punishment for having too many postage stamps or a pencil (it’s hard to be an artist when drawing tools get classed as weapons). Since returning home, he has devoted himself to helping justice-involved youth avoid and recover from system involvement, tirelessly advocating and building innovative pathways for kids.
The Youth Anti-Prison Project (YAPP) is an effort to bridge the service gap for young people with long community supervision sentences.
Five has created safe space in YAPP’s two Bronx homes, offering housing, scholarships, and mentor-assisted support to youth returning home. YAPP works directly with probation & parole officers by bringing them onsite to build trust and compliance.
"NO YOUNG ADULT SHOULD HAVE TO SURVIVE ALONE IN NEW YORK CITY."
"Five is a person who fights for us to have a better tomorrow. He is our voice and his encouraging words are backed by his actions."
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Mike "Mikey" Cole
Founder of Mikey Likes It Ice Cream
INSPIRING FOSTER
CARE ALUMNI TO
SUPPORT YOUNG
PEOPLE "AGING OUT"
Felicia Wilson
MENTOR, BROOKLYN
Felicia is a lifelong New Yorker and an extraordinary graduate of the foster care system.
After living in 63 different foster homes over 17 years, Felicia has seen the underbelly of NYC child protection. She got to college, despite little support, and since aging out has completed her Bachelors and Masters, and is pursuing a doctorate. Felicia has a fierce vision for what foster youth truly need to reach independence and a powerful plan to achieve it by enlisting foster care alums.
1,000+ young people age out of the NYC foster care system every year.
Young people who ‘age out’ are 19-21 and leaving the system to independence (neither returning home nor adopted). Foster Care agencies struggle to help youth navigate this transition -- only a lucky few get a housing voucher or much beyond a Metrocard.
"WHEN WE USE THE WORD 'FOSTER,' WE DENY THE FACT THAT THESE ARE REGULAR CHILDREN THAT DIDN'T PICK THIS OUTCOME."
In 2021, Felicia developed a new model for supporting young people aging out.
What About Us is a roadmap for the essential skills and resources a young person needs to leave care and thrive, including housing and education, employment and financial literacy. Felicia’s secret weapon is the team of foster alumni she’s enlisted to deliver the program -- supporting kids by keeping it real.
"Felicia is committed to foster care youth, she is a hard worker and doesn't give up when she receives a "no." "
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Leah Angel Daniel
Executive Director of Fostering Greatness

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