The Tzedek Social Justice Fund (Tzedek) is excited to announce that Renée White and Marta Alcalá-Williams are the winners of this year’s Tzedek Brilliance Awards.
Tzedek Brilliance Awards honor Asheville’s leaders who have engaged in impactful, intersectional efforts to further racial justice and LGBTQ equality or to combat antisemitism. As opposed to the majority of Tzedek’s grantmaking that funds organizational work, Brilliance Awards are designed to cultivate the well-being of individual brilliant community leaders by recognizing and rewarding their past work to make Asheville a place where everyone can thrive.
The Tzedek Brilliance Awards are a one-time, no-strings-attached grant of $50,000.
Renée received the Ella Baker Brilliance Award in honor of a Black community leader in Asheville who has empowered and organized others to address systemic oppression.
An Asheville native, White has served as the East End/Valley Street Neighborhood Association president for ten years. She has led neighborhood advocacy for community investments and public policy changes for the historically African American neighborhood deeply impacted by the community destruction caused by urban renewal.
White is also one of the key organizers of the annual East End/Valley Street Community Heritage Festival. She has spearheaded neighborhood clean-ups and beautification, neighborhood food distribution, and even community Covid-19 testing. White serves as the Vice President of Asheville Buncombe Community Land Trust and is a board member of the Rosa Walker Advancement Initiative.
She has been active in the awarding of Isaac Coleman Economic Community Grants, the development of Buncombe County’s Racial Equity Action Plan, and the E. W. Pearson Project Collaborative, which has led to the creation of Buncombe County’s Legacy Neighborhood program. She also recently was closely involved in the Preservation Society’s purchase and saving of the Capadocia Fire-Baptized Holiness Church. [See related story, “Cappadocia Church Saved by the Preservation Society“]
“I am honored to receive the Brilliance award and to be recognized for the work I do to make impactful positive change and to help people of all walks of life,” White says. “Equality is for all, and everyone should be included. There is no room for exclusion. Each day I work toward making the world better for generations to come. I am grateful for letting my little light to shine and planting seeds that will grow for years. This award means that my work has not been in vain but recognized in a mighty way by so many people.”
Marta received the Pauli Murray Brilliance Award in honor of a community leader who, like Pauli Murray, has been involved in a wide variety of social justice efforts and who leads with the knowing that all struggles for liberation are connected.
Alcalá-Williams has worked for over thirty years in Asheville to create a culture of equity, racial justice, and collective liberation. As Executive Director of Equity and Community Engagement for Asheville City Schools, she engages principals, teachers, and parents to adopt asset- and justice-based thinking and practices. She partnered with Black mothers in Hillcrest to start Motheread, which brings diverse books to life through rich discussions about racial equity and collective liberation, and she co-founded Marvelous Math Club, in partnership with UNCA’s Dr. Sam Kaplan, which centers the gifts of each student leader, parents, and guardians in the Pisgah View community.
As a leader of the Racial Equity Institute (REI) Asheville Core Team, Marta has a deep commitment to bringing life-changing racial equity workshops to hundreds throughout Western North Carolina. She also volunteers with the Keep It Moving Coalition, leading conversations about racial equity for residents who have participated in REI or Building Bridges.
“I’m honored and humbled by receiving this award,” says Alcalá-Williams. “I can look back at a time when I allowed assumptions and a saving mentality to influence how I related to people in our community. Through truly listening and growing alongside community members I’ve learned to partner with community leaders and connect to resources. It hasn’t always been easy but being in genuine relationships connects us as lifelong learners.”
The Grantmaking Process
Tzedek (previously the Amy Mandel and Katina Rodis Fund) was founded in 1991. Currently, Tzedek’s organizational grantmaking funds Asheville nonprofits, grassroots and movement organizations, funder collaboratives, cooperatives, and community groups with fiscal sponsors that engage in systems change, community healing, and the redistribution of money, resources, and power.
The Brilliance Award winners were selected by three Tzedek staff and three Tzedek Community-led Grantmaking Fellows, community leaders who design and implement Tzedek’s participatory grantmaking process.
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.
“What we know is that there is amazing work that happens in this community that is not recognized. The two winners captured the essence of what we were trying to highlight in terms of the two different awards,” says Libby Kyles, Tzedek’s Director of Community-led Grantmaking.
“The struggle against systemic oppression requires many strategies and approaches. Conventional philanthropy often supports organizations, while ignoring the many strides made by individual leaders who have dedicated their lives to growing communities and who often work behind the scenes to keep the more visible collective work moving. The Brilliance Awards are a move to acknowledge and resource these efforts, in addition to collective work.” says Tzedek Executive Director Marsha Davis.
Learn more about the Tzedek approach to social justice philanthropy at tzedeksocialjusticefund.org.