The Tzedek Social Justice Fund (Tzedek) is excited has announced that Kathey Avery, BSN, RN, CN, NCM, and Ray Hemachandra are the winners of the 2023 Tzedek Brilliance Awards.
The Tzedek Brilliance Awards are a one-time, no-strings-attached grant of $50,000 honoring Asheville leaders who have engaged in impactful, intersectional efforts to further racial justice, promote LGBTQ equality, and dismantle 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.
Kathey Avery received the Ella Baker Brilliance Award, which honors a Black community leader in Asheville who has empowered and organized others to address systemic oppression.
Ray Hemachandra received the Pauli Murray Brilliance Award, which honors a community leader who, like Pauli Murray, has been involved in a wide variety of social justice efforts and who leads with the wisdom that all struggles for liberation are connected.
Inspired by transformative grantmaking models that shift power dynamics between funders and grantees, the Tzedek Brilliance Awards invest in innovative individuals driving meaningful social transformation in our region.
While the Brilliance Awards spotlight two exceptional social change catalysts, we recognize the depth of talent, dedication, and passion within our Asheville communities. Our financial resources may be finite, but our gratitude and admiration are boundless. Every individual who steps up to make a difference is invaluable, and this is undoubtedly true for all the nominees who shared their stories and impacts with us. Thanks to all who participated in this process.
“Choosing Brilliance Award recipients is always challenging because there are so many deserving people doing incredible, impactful social change work in Asheville, including this year’s recipients. But it’s not just what they’ve done; it’s how they’ve done it. Bridge-building in pursuit of collective liberation is the heartbeat of Tzedek’s work. While we spotlight their efforts today, we also deeply honor and celebrate everyone working towards a brighter, more just Asheville,” says Tzedek Executive Director Libby Kyles.
About the Awardees
Western North Carolina (WNC) native and nursing professional Kathey Avery has been a health equity and community visionary for over 35 years. She served as an organizing committee member and group facilitator at Building Bridges of Asheville as well as a contracted community nurse and Director of Clinical and Community Connections at Asheville Buncombe Institute for Parity Achievement (ABIPA), where she helped serve more than 7,200 clients. Kathey also partnered with UNETE to provide health education and support to migrant workers.
As the founder and CEO of the Institute for Preventive Healthcare & Advocacy (IFPHA) and as the founder and owner of Avery Health Education and Consulting, Kathey has tirelessly worked to bridge healthcare disparities and racial divides in and across underserved WNC communities.
Her strategy is to empower Community Health Workers (CHWs) to address community health needs, as demonstrated by the success of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded HELP2Day pilot project, which addressed various challenges ranging from food to housing insecurity. The program now serves six local residential communities, setting a new benchmark for community health. Kathey continues championing CHW integration in community health programs through outreach, education, and consulting.
Kathey actively volunteers on numerous committees and boards, including Dementia Friendly of WNC, the WNC Health Equity Coalition, and the Racial Justice Coalition. Her long list of accolades, most recently including the Carol McLimans Trailblazer Award (2021) and the Rosa Parks Award (2022), is a testament to her relentless pursuit of justice for all people in all spaces and places. Yet it’s her lifelong track record of compassion, connection, and empowerment that truly embodies the spirit of the Ella Baker Brilliance Award.
“I am honored to have my life’s work recognized as a Brilliance Awardee,” says Avery. “Improving the health of our communities is imperative to a happy, productive society. In this work, I am guided by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s wisdom that, ‘Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death.’ Health inequity is a form of systemic oppression I work to overcome every day in every way.”
As a Black, Jewish, and Asian-Indian American, Ray Hemachandra’s commitment to collective liberation has been shaped not only by his unique lineage but also by his experiences as a devoted single father to his son, Nicholas, who is intellectually disabled and autistic. In working as an author, speaker, consultant, and educator, Ray has been a transformative force in Asheville’s social justice scene for over 17 years. His advocacy in Asheville has focused primarily on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) for those with autism and intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).
While living at the intersection of multiple identities is challenging, leaning into this complexity is Ray’s superpower. Ray has advanced BIPOC, LGBTQ, and IDD community agency by illuminating intersectionalities—such as neurodiversity, substance use, and mental health—often overlooked or dismissed in organizational and social justice movement spaces.
A champion of system and information accessibility and language justice, Ray has been a steadfast human rights advocate in nonprofit and government sectors at both local and state levels, including in his formal board service and advisory roles and collaborating with the NC Department of Health & Human Services, Vaya Health, Western Carolina University, Liberty Corner Enterprises, Camino Research Institute, Family Support Network of Western North Carolina, FIRSTwnc, and Buncombe County grant committees as well as a Tzedek Social Justice Fund Community Grantmaking Fellow.
His work has not gone unnoticed. Ray’s wide-reaching efforts earned him four White House invitations in 2023 alone. Ray currently serves as a Community Ambassador for Asheville-Buncombe Community Land Trust and is on the national board for the Center for Craft, leading its DEIA Committee. No matter the place, space, or purpose, Ray’s passion for community, solidarity, and justice shines through, exemplifying the intersectional legacy that roots the Pauli Murray Brilliance Award.
“I’m humbled to receive the Pauli Murray Brilliance Award from Tzedek,” says Hemachandra. “I truly think it’s a recognition of the efforts of so many people in our community I work alongside, learn so much from, and who inspire me with who they are, how they show up, and what they get done. I’m grateful for each of them—all of you—every day.”
About the Grantmaking Process
A total of 41 nominations were submitted for consideration. After in-depth consideration and conversation, Brilliance Award recipients were selected by a five-person committee of Tzedek staff and board members.
“True change is driven not just by organizations but by the fierce individuals often operating behind the scenes. People power progress—plain and simple. Traditional philanthropy tends to overlook these community pillars. The Brilliance Awards are a paradigm shift, recognizing and supporting the individual changemakers fueling these movements as well as funding collective work,” says Tzedek Executive Director Libby Kyles.
Learn more about Tzedek’s approach to social justice philanthropy at tzedeksocialjusticefund.org/social-justice-philanthropy.