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St. Louis-based organization honored with nationwide award

J.M.K. Innovation Prize winners for 2021

The Freedom Community Center in St. Louis won a biennial J.M.K. Innovation Prize that includes a cash award, technical assistance funds and a resource network to support them through the challenges of a startup organization.

A St. Louis-based organization is among ten recipients awarded cash prizes and technical assistance by the J.M. Kaplan Fund.

The Fund recently announced the results of its nationwide search to identify and elevate transformative, early-stage projects in the fields of social justice, the environment, and heritage conservation.

After a collaborative review of 2,826 applications — more than double the total submissions from the 2019 cycle — the Fund awarded its biennial J.M.K. Innovation Prize to ten exceptionally promising, visionary organizations with the potential to make a significant, lasting impact on America’s most pressing challenges.

The 2021 awardees reflect particular attention to healing trauma, protecting our planet, and racial justice. The Freedom Community Center in St. Louis is among the 2021 honorees:

Freedom Community Center
Mike Milton
The Freedom Community Center (FCC) is a Black-led organization in St. Louis, Missouri, that was founded to dismantle systems of oppression, particularly the police and criminal punishment system, that inflict trauma on Black communities. Creating a movement of survivors using three overlapping strategies—community-building, transformative justice, and organizing for change—FCC is working toward a future of compassion and investment for Black citizens, centered on collective power, communal healing, true accountability, embracing repair, and nonviolence.

The other 2021 Prize awardees are:

  • Black Women Build – Baltimore, Shelley Halstead
  • Cambium Carbon, Ben Christensen and Marisa Repka
  • Co-op Dayton, Lela Klein and Amaha Sellassie
  • Every Campus A Refuge, Diya Abdo
  • Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program, Sara Sindija and Brandon Smith
  • HEARD, Esperanza Dillard and Talila “TL” Lewis
  • Nuns & Nones, Brittany Koteles
  • Respond Crisis Translation, Ariel Koren and Fernanda de Oliveira Silva
  • Wikitongues, Daniel Bögre Udell and Kristen Tcherneshoff

Each awardee will receive a cash award of $150,000 over three years, plus $25,000 in technical assistance funds, for a total award of $175,000. Awardees also join a resource network designed to support them through the challenges of a startup organization, participating in twice-yearly convenings and benefitting from peer learning, mentoring, and strategic counsel throughout their prize term and beyond.

Now in its fourth cycle, The J.M.K. Innovation Prize is awarded biennially to ten innovators with potentially game-changing ideas to address pressing needs within the Fund’s program areas, whether supporting vulnerable communities, slowing climate change, or preserving the places communities care about most. The Prize’s unrestricted funding is designed specifically to support untested pilot projects or nascent efforts, which involve a certain amount of measured risk but may ultimately lead to large-scale, transformative results.

The 2021 award recipients were selected through an extensive evaluation process that included 497 first-round reviewers — committed volunteers who carefully assessed each and every application — followed by a second-round review by thirty subject matter experts.


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