“100 Most Influential Urbanists” you don’t know about, but should!

When we saw Planetizen’s “100 Most Influential Urbanists” list last week, our reaction went something like: “Cool!” followed by, “Wait, we know a ton of influential urbanists who aren’t on this list…”

With all due respect – nah, adoration – to the likes of Jane Jacobs, William H. Whyte, and Janette Sadik-Khan, we’d like to present the following list of 100 more great urbanists whose work you’re less likely to have heard of. Oh, and they’re all ioby project leaders!

Jane Jacobs wrote,   “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

We want to make sure that everyone has a voice and a role in creating our cities together, not just those of us who are Planners with a capital “P,” or who have written books on urbanism, but those who bring their life experience of living in neighborhoods to shaping them.

(This list is in random order, by no means a “Top 100,” and it certainly doesn’t include every great ioby Leader. It’s just a sampling to celebrate.)

 

America Aceves, Boyle Heights Los Angeles, CA: America’s community organization, Proyecto Pastoral, is leading the Pico Aliso neighborhood in making its streets safer for pedestrians, despite being surrounded by six freeways and acting as a gateway into downtown Los Angeles.

 

 

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Kevinee Gilmore, Maple Heights, OH: A former “foster kid” herself, Kevinee founded Foster Share to provide mentorship, community, and temporary housing to young people who have aged out of the foster care system but could still use support on their way to full independence.

 

Jackson Koeppel, Highland Park, MI: When the city repossessed over 1,000 street lights from Jackson’s already underserved neighborhood, he co-founded Soulardarity: a membership-based, community-owned solar power nonprofit that’s installing its own new solar street lamps to light the way.

 

Sister Ana Martinez de Luco, Bushwick Brooklyn, NYC: Sister Ana co-founded Sure We Can, a nonprofit community space where neighbors of all stripes—especially “canners,” people who collect cans and bottles for redemption—come together through recycling, composting, gardening, and the arts.

 

 

Mindy Fullilove, Washington Heights, NYC: You may already know equity and urban planning thought leader Dr. Fullilove as the author of Urban Alchemy: Restoring Joy in America’s Sorted-Out Cities and Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America and What We Can Do About It, but she is also one of the leaders of Hike the Heights, an annual volunteer-planned and community-run hiking event that connects over 2,000 local residents with their beautiful parks, a sense of environmental stewardship, and each other.

 

David Chi Chi Troung, Miami, FL: David led a coalition of local organizations and businesses in hosting a “public space festival” aimed at inspiring residents to activate pocket parks in their downtown corridor.

 

Lynne Serpe, New Orleans, LA: This food-obsessed city has no municipal compost system, so Lynne is diverting tons of waste from its landfills by piloting Compost Now!, a community compost drop-off service at New Orleans Public Library branches.

 

Frampton Tolbert, Gowanus Brooklyn, NYC: With his colleagues at the Center for Urban Pedagogy, Frampton raised over $12,000 to fund Bronx students’ investigation into public transit pricing and their production of a documentary video about it.

 

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Bianca Butts, Greater Buckeye Cleveland, OH: Buckeye is home to lots of great people, but sadly not to a lot of fresh food. Juicing devotee Bianca decided to be the change she wanted to see in her neighborhood, and started UJIMA re-fresh, a “Buckeye born, Buckeye bred” healthy juice brand, named for the third principle of Kwanzaa: collective work and responsibility.

 

Cynthia Mendoza, Observatory Hill, North Side Pittsburgh, PA: Cynthia organized the Mastering Motherhood Outdoor Workshop, an opportunity for   moms of color   to learn tangible skills—including meal planning, home budgeting, DIY cleaning products, and meditation—to help run their homes more efficiently, healthfully, and peacefully.

 

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Linda Wallen, Pittsburgh, PA: An artist and three-time ioby Leader, Linda most recently gathered kids and seniors together to create whimsical ceramic pigeons and apply them to public stone and masonry surfaces in her Spring Hill neighborhood.

 

Lindsey Millar, Mayflower, AR: Editor of the Arkansas Times, Lindsey partnered with his colleagues at InsideClimate News to bring needed press coverage to an underreported ExxonMobil oil spill near Little Rock. Their reporting drew national attention to the story, which was subsequently covered by The New York Times, NPR’s Diane Rehm Show, and MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show. Maddow opined: “I think the Arkansas Times should be considered for a Pulitzer for their excellent and indispensable coverage of the Mayflower oil spill.”

 

Kenny Gong, San Francisco, CA: When he was a teenager himself, Kenny led the charge to bring programming from the LYRIC Center for LGBTQQ Youth into his city’s public schools to help create a culture where no students are bullied and all know how to care for each other.

 

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Karyn Williams, Samelys Lopez, & Naomi Doerner, Brooklyn, NYC: As  founders of Velo City, urban planners and cyclists Karyn, Samelys, and Naomi used cycling to engage youth  of color in thinking, talking, and acting on urban design and planning for social change. 

 

Nya Wilson, Gowanus Brooklyn, NYC: As Communications Coordinator of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy (GCC), Nya led the effort to raise over $28,000 to buy the GCC its own truck for hauling compost, gardening tools, planters, and volunteers between its worksites. GCC works with STEW-MAP (a map and searchable database of the thousands of NYC civic groups engaging in environmental projects) to connect with other community stewardship organizations.

 

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Troy Lancaster, South Bronx, NYC: For over a decade, Troy has been making sure the avian patrons of the Dred Scott Bird Sanctuary get the food and shelter they need during the cold months, whether they’re migrating south or staying put for the winter.

 

Martha Lopez-Gilpin & Jules Corkery, Astoria Queens, NYC: Co-founders of Astoria Park Alliance, Martha and Jules have spent years advocating for (and winning) car-free programming and better trash cans in the park, both of which have elevated their neighbors’ quality of life.

 

 

Joyce  Moore & Justin Garrett Moore, Indianapolis, IN: This mother-and-son team co-founded Urban Patch with one simple but powerful mission: to help make the American inner city better. They have developed, funded, and implemented many urban gardening, housing preservation, and education programs in their native Indianapolis—and they kicked off We Started Here, ioby’s multimedia storytelling series.

 

Donovan Finn, Jackson Heights Queens, NYC: Founded ten years ago by Donovan and seven of his neighbors who were concerned about their lack of nearby park space, the Jackson Heights Green Alliance spearheaded a Play Street that closed 78th Street to traffic in the summer months. Their efforts have since blossomed into the year-round 78th Street Plaza, a place for public recreation, concerts, and a greenmarket.

 

Stacey Murphy, Brooklyn, NYC: Stacey founded BK Farmyards, a cooperative of urban farmers in Brooklyn dedicated to social justice through urban agriculture. Her team has helped to create over an acre of new farmyards in Brooklyn.

 

Anne Pope & Sheryll Durrant, Flatbush Brooklyn, NYC: Anne founded and directs Sustainable Flatbush; Sheryll led its Urban Farm and Garden Program and community outreach efforts before becoming the manager of the Kelly Street Garden in the Bronx. In both communities, they bring people together to learn about and advocate for sustainable living in their neighborhoods and beyond.

 

Carlos Velásquez, Boyle Heights Los Angeles, CA: Carlos led the Multicultural Communities for Mobility project “Nuestra Avenida: Cesar Chavez Reimagined,” an activation of the vibrant corridor in Boyle Heights that helped spark community interest in what their neighborhood could be like.

 

Jennifer Lytton-Hirsch, St. George Staten Island, NYC: Jennifer and her cohorts at the Community Association of Tompkinsville Park Promoting Fun and Whimsy organize the St. George Day Festival, a come-all event that celebrates community, resource sharing, peaceful conflict resolution, and the appreciation of our natural resources.

 

Oren Yaniv, Kensington Brooklyn, NYC: A member of the Prospect Farm community garden, Oren is working to turn a former industrial lot into a healthy food-producing mecca for his neighborhood.

 

Douglas Purviance, East Harlem, NYC: Did you know that Grammy-winning jazz trombonist Douglas also volunteers with Planting Hope, a gardening program for at-risk youth in East Harlem? Well, now you do.

 

Michalyn Easter, North Memphis, TN: Michalyn helped to give North Memphians an official voice in the development of their neighborhood’s 2.5-mile Chelsea Greenline. Then she started a 311 phone banking group that meets regularly to make service requests to the city, improving residents’ health, safety, and quality of life.

 

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Betsy MacLean & Yanet Rojas, NYC: Betsy worked with the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation and The Peoples Food Project (PFP) to turn a vacant lot into Pollos del Pueblo (The People’s Chickens), a place for residents to get fresh organic eggs, learn about urban agriculture, and congregate as a community. Yanet, a passionate community gardener and beloved neighbor, passed away in 2015. Among her many other lasting contributions, she led PFP in the Pollos del Pueblo project.

 

Lyla June Johnston, Black Hills, SD: Leading a team of 50-plus volunteers, Lyla (a poet and musician herself) organizes the  annual Black Hills Unity Concert to join native and non-native people alike in prayers for reconciliation, celebrations of unity, protests against injustice, and songs of hope.

 

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Danny D. Glover, Macon, GA: After watching the family and community gardens of his childhood disappear, Danny decided to open Georgia’s first urban “agrihood,” a neighborhood designed with large-scale community agriculture at its heart. In Danny’s case, that means transforming 12 disused parcels of land in Southside Macon into five acres of urban farmland.

 

Paula Z. Segal, NYC: Paula says she founded 596 Acres “accidentally” in 2011, but we’re more apt to call it “serendipitously.” The organization helps make communities aware of the land resources around them, and champions resident stewardship of land to build more just and equitable cities.

 

 

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Alexandra Payne, Newark, NJ: SWAG Project, an urban farming, food justice, and educational endeavor in Newark’s South Ward, was co-founded by Alexandra as a community-driven effort to mitigate the underlying challenges that worsen inequality—most specifically, a lack of great local food, and residents who don’t know one another.

 

Hadley Arnold, Van Nuys Los Angeles, CA: To bring her neighbors together with cyclists and designers to reimagine Van Nuys Boulevard at its fullest potential, Hadley spearheaded “Connect the Dots | Van Nuys.” The project boosted residents’ involvement in solving her city’s transit, public space, and water-supply problems.

 

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Reverend Leah Lewis, J.D., Cleveland, OH: Why has a person’s complexion become such a hallmark for anger, fear, sociopathology, separation, and oppression? Reverend Leah is delving into these questions to dispel misconceptions, find common ground, and promote racial healing.

 

Melissa Wong & Sandra Hong, East Williamsburg Brooklyn, NY: Seeking a physical (not online) place to meet, connect, and start new conversations amid the hustle and bustle of NYC, Melissa and Sandra founded New Women Space. In its first year, the venue hosted over 100 unique events organized by groups with different interests but the shared value of inclusivity.

 

Yancy Villa-Calvo, Memphis, TN: Barrier Free is Yancy’s socially engaged public art installation about the impact of barriers. A direct response to the Border Wall proposal and other policies that threaten to divide vulnerable Latino families, it asks residents to participate by imagining that a loved one of their own has gone missing, and by sharing their dreams for a barrier-free world.

 

 

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Robert Gatewood, Collinwood Cleveland, OH: To help gamers and non-gamers dispel the stereotypes they often hold about one another, Robert is creating Full Spectrum: GamerHaven, a creative space that will blend coworking, education, and tech in a friendly environment that encourages people to learn, work, and play together.

 

Layman Lee, Brownsville Brooklyn, NYC: For Make Music Brownsville, Layman and her team recruited local musicians to perform on the ultimate public stage—the sidewalk—to celebrate their neighborhood, the reopening of a local youth-run farmers market, and the area’s green spaces.

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Sarah Newstok, Memphis, TN: Sarah, led both a $500 campaign to outfit a dangerous intersection with crosswalk flags as well as a $68,000 campaign to fund The Hampline, the celebrated two-mile bike and walking trail that links several Memphis neighborhoods and allows residents to more safely and easily access many city amenities.

 

Ade Neff, Leimert Park Village Los Angeles, CA: When Ade, an avid cyclist, found there was no affordable place within eight miles of his home to make his own bike repairs, learn about bikes and bike routes, or meet fellow cyclists, he founded the Ride On! Bike Co-Op to offer one.

 

 

Marie Singleton, Lithonia, GA: Marie went above and beyond her regular volunteer work at Lithonia City Hall to raise money to improve a downtown bus stop with simple touches like a bench and trash can, and with a public event that helped draw attention to the many other much-needed transit upgrades in her bus-dependent community.

 

Tanisha Douglas & Caitlin Gibb, North Miami, FL & NYC: Tanisha and Caitlin founded S.O.U.L. Sisters (Sister Organizing for Understanding and Leadership), a collective that works to empower young, at-risk women of color to interrupt cycles of poverty and violence.

 

Binh Dam, Atlanta, GA: As a newcomer to Atlanta, Binh was disappointed to find bus timetables were often absent from downtown bus stops, so he raised funds to install temporary schedules at several of them. This relatively small effort led to something much greater when he became a founding member of MARTA Army, an innovative new citizen group that works with the city’s transit agency to improve the rider experience across the system. The MARTA Army was critical to supporting new transit riders when i-85 collapsed.

 

Daniel Peterson, Memphis, TN: A lifelong basketball devotee, Daniel knows firsthand the huge positive impact a refurbished basketball court can have on individuals and neighborhoods. Now his organization Project Backboard is on a mission to—quickly and cheaply—gussy up all 52 of Memphis’s public basketball courts.

 

Misty Iwatsu, North Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, CA: Misty led FIG JAM, a free, family‑friendly, educational, and cultural event that honored her community’s rich heritage while creating buzz and neighbor-generated visions for its promising future.

 

Blaze Jones-Yellin, Far Rockaway Queens, NYC: As Eastern Regional Coordinator of the Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) Ambassadors, Blaze leads high school students in helping NYC residents build healthy coastal ecosystems to protect against storms and rising sea levels.

 

Jane Weissman, Lower East Side, NYC: Jane led an ioby campaign for “La Lucha Continua The Struggle Continues: 1985 & 2017,” an exhibition and series of public programs commemorating 26 political murals painted in 1985 and 1986 on New York City’s Lower East Side that portrayed six issues of acute concern to the area’s residents and the artists.

 

Mia Arias & Alba Peña, South Los Angeles, CA: These urbanists involved young people from the neighborhood in all phases of their project “YES (Youth Envisioned Streets) for a Healthier South LA,” a day-long pop-up event that demonstrated how new interventions along the neighborhood’s Central Avenue could promote healthy lifestyles and a “complete streets” philosophy.

 

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Shatia Jackson & Kristen Bonardi Rapp, Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn, NYC: Shatia and Kristen put their heads together to reclaim a long-vacant lot in their neighborhood—a designated food desert—and transform it into a community garden that grows food, provides a community hub, offers gardening and nutrition education, and emphasizes total inclusivity.

 

Aylene McCallum, Denver, CO: Director of Downtown Environment for the Downtown Denver Partnership by day, ioby Leader in her other waking hours, Aylene raised over $35,000 to help get her city’s Arapahoe Street Protected Bike Lane project off the ground.

 

David Eppley & Tim Thomas, Prospect Lefferts Gardens Brooklyn, NYC: Blogger Tim and artist David partnered to funnel community resources and support into refurbishing “The Flatbush Trees,” a cluster of iconic but neglected cement and sheet metal sculptures at the northern gateway to their neighborhood.

 

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Grace Freedman, Boerum Hill Brooklyn, NYC: Tired of seeing her neighborhood’s subway station languish in decay as brownstone prices and new apartment towers rose all around it, Grace led her neighbors in a civic design pop-up event to capture improvement ideas from some of the station’s 13,000 daily users.

 

Colleen Corcoran, Los Angeles, CA: Colleen tackled the problem of L.A.’s infamous pedestrian unfriendliness through a signage system that gives walking times to local landmarks, shows the distance between neighborhoods, and—best of all—works to change the perception that Los Angeles is impossible to navigate on foot.

 

Gretchen Zalkind, Uptown New Orleans, LA: Gretchen led the fundraising effort for a lending library in her neighborhood that would allow residents to borrow tools for doing simple home maintenance tasks, tending their yards and gardens, building furniture, and learning new skills—all free of charge.

 

Eddie Bricker, Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn, NYC: After residents tried for decades to access a city-owned vacant lot in their neighborhood—which is saddled with many environmental burdens—Eddie and his neighbors finally succeeded in turning the unused space into a community amenity for gardening, composting, and enjoying nature.

 

Germane Barnes, Opa-locka, FL: While Germane has a Masters of Architecture and many other design credentials, his idea to encourage bus ridership in Miami Dade County was simple, yet novel: make bus shelters that protect commuters from the hot and rainy weather, give them a place to sit while waiting, and provide them with phone charging stations. Commute = instantly better.

 

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Jennifer Lyle, Detroit, MI: Using her grandfather’s recipe, fresh ingredients, and lots of love, Jennifer makes the most sought-after “lemon butta” pies in Detroit. She raised money on ioby to buy a commercial juicer that would allow her business, Lush Yummies Pie Company, to make more pies, take more orders, and hire more Detroiters.

 

Tim Kovach, Cleveland, OH: The Cleveland Refugee Bike Project, Tim’s brainchild, is providing newly settled refugees with bikes and bike training, giving them an economic lifeline to new employment, educational, and social opportunities in Northeast Ohio.

 

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Naomi Montalvo, Elizabeth, NJ: Teacher Naomi built what’s become known as “the most popular pre-k garden club ever” at her school. Her students love growing plants and watching wildlife come out to play, while they learn about the vital importance of pollinators.

 

Joan Southgate & Jeanne Van Atta, Cleveland, OH: This retired social worker and a volunteer from the nonprofit she created joined forces to fund new research into the history of the Underground Railroad in Cleveland.

 

Melissa Henao-Robledo & Sara Partridge, East Riverside Austin, TX: Two landscape architects leveraged their expertise to design and implement a bus shelter/community garden/rainwater collection structure in their drought-plagued city.

 

 

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Randy King, Cleveland, OH: At 16, Randy started the Cleveland Bike Library, a bike sharing program that combats climate change, encourages healthy habits, and promotes independence of mobility by giving students the chance to ride a bike to and from their public school.

 

Karen & Mike Minnis, Orange Mound Memphis, TN: Karen and Mike have won the state of Tennessee’s Small Farmer Of The Year Award for their Landmark Farmers Market. With its produce, they also run a neighborhood food pantry.

 

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Melvin Parson, Ann Arbor, MI: He didn’t set out to become a farmer, or a one-man LLC, but now Melvin is growing his We The People Growers Association to cover more square footage, grow more healthy and delicious food, and provide more jobs to his neighbors in Ypsilanti County—especially men and women who are returning from incarceration.

 

Cynthia Connolly, Cleveland, OH: Cynthia is a delegate to the Native American Cultural Garden in Cleveland, and is raising funds (as we speak!) to restore the garden to pre-contact times, using native Ohio plants, as well as sustainable construction and maintenance practices.

 

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Veronica Vasquez, Lower East Side, NYC: 17-year-old Veronica wants to dash the stigma of living in public housing and give her neighbors “something to be proud of” in their own backyards, by creating a community garden on the grounds of her Manhattan apartment building.

 

Jorge Cubas, Mott Haven South Bronx, NYC: South Bronx Farmers Market board member Jorge led an ioby campaign to open the market more often to residents of the poorest congressional district in the country, where almost fifty percent of children live below the poverty line.

 

Ivette Lopez Bledsoe, 39 miles of Northeast Georgia: After moving from her native Georgia and enjoying the pleasures of a Colorado greenway for nearly two decades, social worker and health counselor Ivette decided to lead the charge to raise over $60,000 on ioby to jump-start the construction of the 39-mile Firefly Trail, which will one day link the towns of Athens, Maxeys, and Union Point.

 

Nina Mohammed, San Bernardino, CA: Nina raised almost $10,000 on ioby to support the San Bernardino Bicycle Hubitat, a program she directs that offers bikes and bike repair tools and education to the the 200-plus people in her area who ride a bicycle to and from the San Bernardino Transit Hub on a daily basis.

 

Brandon Seng, Traverse City, MI: Michigan Farm to Freezer, Brandon’s small business, takes the age-old practice of preserving the summer’s bounty for enjoying in the winter and partners with Goodwill Industries to employ workers returning from incarceration, recovering from addiction, or transitioning from homelessness.

 

Fay Hill, Springfield Gardens Queens, NYC: Fay says she’s busier than ever in her retirement. Case in point: last year, she led an ioby campaign to fuel a holiday coat, clothing, and toy drive for underserved children in her neighborhood—all gifts to be given at the annual tree lighting in their local Springfield Park.

 

Piper Carter, Detroit, MI: Piper, creator of The Foundation of Women in Hip Hop, also organizes Dilla Youth Day, an annual community event honoring one of Detroit’s most prolific music producers, J Dilla. This year, she raised money on ioby to bring thestudioArena Mobile Maker Space to the event: a place for young people to get hands-on experience with creative technologies like 3D printing, computer programming, and robotics.

 

Lucille White, Cleveland, OH: As a veteran crossing guard grandmother of 19 (!) who’s lost lost two nieces to hit-and-runs, “Miss Lucille” cares deeply about the wellbeing of the young people in her neighborhood. That’s why she convened a dozen middle and high school students to help design and implement desperately needed traffic calming interventions in their community.

 

Alina Bloomgarden & Wynton Marsalis, Rikers Island, The Bronx, NYC: Yes, THAT Wynton Marsalis, in partnership with Alina, the originating producer of Jazz at Lincoln Center, founded Music on the Inside to bring the rehabilitative power of music to young men and women living in New York City’s main jail complex.

 

Sarah McEwen, Hinds County, MS: With her teammates at Friends of the Mississippi River Basin Model, Sarah is leading the preservation of this unique and historic scale replica of the basin—which German POWs helped to construct, and which advanced the field of hydraulic engineering—for future generations.

 

Joyce McMillan, East Harlem, NYC: Joyce led the Child Welfare Organizing Project in upgrading their kitchen facilities so they could partner with the Food Bank for New York City and offer healthier food to the families who attend their programs.

 

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Avital Aboody, San Diego, CA: Through a combination of observation, research, and just plain asking around, Avital secured an underutilized parcel of land in a commercial district that she and her neighbors revamped into a beautiful community space for play, leisure, and gardening.

 

Chi-Ming Yang, West Philadelphia, PA: Chi-Ming organized an ioby campaign to raise money—and interest—for The Mill Creek Farm, a half-acre educational urban farm that grows organic produce for residents at affordable prices, and accepts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for payment.

 

George Wolfe, Los Angeles, CA: With his organization L.A. River Expeditions, George is transforming public perceptions about, and access to, nature in his city by offering recreational-educational boating adventures for kids down the Los Angeles River.

 

 

Karen Golightly, North Midtown Memphis, TN: Her genuine and abiding interest in street art has given Karen a place at the male-dominated Memphis graffiti-writers’ table—even though she’s an over-40, white mom of three. Working together as a team of more than 60, they created Memphis’s largest collaborative mural, beautifying a drab flood wall and breathing new life into the neighborhood they share.

 

Signe Mortensen, West Harlem NYC: Signe works with the West Harlem Empowerment Coalition to bring annual Empowerment Fairs to the neighborhood. The fairs connect youth and families with vital local resources—and are so effective, other neighborhoods are replicating them.

 

Deborah Frazier, North Memphis, TN: Deborah and her team at Sew Much Love provide homeless women with barriers to traditional employment the skills to create, design, market, and sell their own creative products, helping them achieve self-confidence and financial stability.

 

Steve Cunningham, Jersey City, NJ: Team Wilderness is the experiential summer program Steve founded to help underserved local high school students find confidence in themselves, consideration for their peers, and passion for the natural environment.

Thelma Thomas, Eartha Corker, & Maria Flowers, East Harlem NYC: This trio put their green thumbs together to build a garden on the grounds of their public housing complex’s senior center that would beautify the block, discourage littering, and provide fresh produce to residents.




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