The greatness behind this city or any thriving metropolis lies in its innovative individuals willing to take risks to improve and make better their home town.
And five of these individuals will take home $200,000 – no strings attached – as part of the second annual David Prize, named for Brooklyn developer David Walentas, which is seeking entrants nominations through Friday, Dec. 4.
The $1 million Prize is open to any individual working in the city’s five boroughs whose vision is to change New York City to be a better and brighter place — whether socially, economically, culturally, environmentally, artistically, or otherwise.
“From the very beginning, the [Walentas] Foundation’s goal was to activate the unseen entrepreneurs who — like my father in the 70s — have big plans that no one believes in quite yet. Through The David Prize, we have the opportunity to back these thinkers and support our city with a bottom-up approach,” said Jed Walentas. “I believe in New York, I believe in New Yorkers, and I believe in neighborhoods. The best thing I can do is give resources to people who can change the city in ways none of us have even dreamed of yet.
Last year’s Inaugural Class of David Prize Winners included:
Cielo Villa, who was born in Lima, Peru, before moving with her family to Ridgewood, Queens. Villa built a free online resource, Road to Uni, that acts as a supercharged, hyper-accessible college counselor, open to all and offering concrete tips and tricks, essay help, and support services in a flexible, real-time format. By solving for NYC’s chronic guidance counselor deficit, she demystifies the application process and levels the playing field for every under-resourced NYC high schooler with a college dream.
Domingo Morales: Born and raised in NYCHA housing, Morales has dedicated his life to transforming NYC’s trash — 1/3 of which is organic! — into a useful resource and a driver of community empowerment. While leading Red Hook Farms’s composting operation he became an expert in food chemistry and safe, healthy waste management. He is developing a ‘how to’ compost guide and sharing expertise in support of composting processes across the city.
Edafe Okporo: Five years ago, Edafe was a visible advocate for LGBTQ rights in Nigeria, despite its laws criminalizing same-sex relationships. Violence forced him to flee to the US, where he entered an asylum process that left him homeless. Edafe came into leadership at the RDJ Refugee Shelter, a model for ending street homelessness in New York City built on partnerships with faith institutions and fueled by targeted advocacy.
Manuel Castro: A New Yorker, a DREAMer, and the son of a day laborer, Castro has made it his mission to help undocumented workers in Queens, where predatory “employment agencies” and anti-immigration sweeps are all too common. As director of the New Immigrant Center for Employment (NICE), he is building on his experience to reimagine a new kind of worker center. This center will be an immigrant-run and owned cooperative that supports workers by helping them find safe, dignified jobs, while holding employers accountable.
Dr. Suzette Brown: Suzette is a pediatrician seeking to change the way healthcare is delivered in NYC’s poorest neighborhoods. Her company, Strong Children Wellness, uses a ‘reverse integration’ concept, embedding pediatric clinics within existing social service locations. This blended approach means that a comprehensive team of doctors, therapists and more, can address the varied needs of children and families, making it easier and better for all involved. Suzette and Strong Children Wellness are also piloting a value-based payment system for pediatric care.
“I have never had more faith in the future of New York City after meeting the finalists for The David Prize. In a year that has shaken New York City to its core, it’s inspiring to meet people who epitomize the city’s passion, grit and creativity. They will help us get back on our feet and become better than ever before,” said David Walentas.