New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service has announced the selection of its first class of New York City Social Justice Fellows — seven community organizers and advocates devoted to such issues as immigrant rights, HIV/AIDS, and youth empowerment.

Chosen through a competitive process, the advocates, who work to bring about grassroots engagement in the formation of public policy, will each receive a stipend of $42,000, a benefits allowance, and project seed grants, along with opportunities for networking, technical assistance, and research. This is the first year the fellowship is administered and operated by NYU Wagner’s Research Center for Leadership in Action.

“The program strengthens Wagner’s connection to exemplary community-based leaders who are working on leading-edge issues in marginalized communities,” says Millard Owens, associate director of the Research Center for Leadership in Action, who works closely with the Fellowship Program Coordinator, Sheila Harris, “while helping forge stronger linkages between the academy and practitioners.”

The Fellows, pioneers of community-based projects, aim for impact. Among the Fellows are: Manuela Arciniegas (The Legacy Circle), who will work to train teaching artists of the African Diaspora’s cultural arts and place them in residencies in their home communities; Andre Lancaster (Freedom Train Productions), who will collaborate with African-American playwrights to create plays dealing with HIV/AIDS; Andres Mares-Muro (Escuela Justicia y Libertad, or Justice and Freedom School), who will organize a school in El Barrio that will provide training sessions on community organizing for Spanish-speaking immigrants; and Gloria Ross (Taking the L.E.A.D. - Leadership, Education, Action, Development), who will work with gay youth of color in Greenwich Village in trainings and direct action organizing to keep public space available to them and to press for relevant social services.

In addition, Fellows include: Nathaly Rubio-Torio (Voces Latina), who will conduct a Latina immigrant peer education project to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS in Queens communities; Rashid Shabazz (Liberate and Reclaim Our Image), who is working on a citywide youth-led public awareness campaign to challenge and reverse negative stereotypes about young men and women; and Ijeoma Ude (Voices Unlimited), who will use popular education, poetry, spoken word and creative writing to engage immigrant women and girls in collective healing and collective action.

The women in Ijeoma Ude’s project will create digital stories about their experiences of gender violence to use as an organizing tool. “As a community worker and organizer, I grew frustrated hearing people’s individual stories of intimate violence - the shame they carried with them and the isolation they felt,” explains Ude. “This motivated me to think about creating spaces where we can heal through art, music and dialogue, and take action to prevent further violence in our communities.”

The 2006-07 Social Justice Fellowship class grew out of the former New York City Community Fellows Program founded in 1998 by the Open Society Institute, a component of the network of foundations sponsored by philanthropist George Soros. After supporting nearly 80 fellows, including Majora Carter, the recipient of a 2005 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” for her urban revitalization work in the Bronx, the Open Society Institute placed the fellowship program with NYU Wagner in late 2005. The Institute provided a $1.8 million grant.

“We do need to reinvigorate social justice advocates who can help us talk about and understand some of our most chronic social problems,” says Alvin Starks, associate director of the Open Society Institute’s Racial Justice Initiatives and Fellowship Programs. “The Research Center for Leadership in Action strikes us as the most respectful place to build a new generation of community leaders who understand the social justice dynamics of the 21st century.”

Established in 1938, the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service offers advanced programs leading to the professional degrees of Master of Public Administration, Master of Urban Planning, Master of Science in Management, and Doctor of Philosophy. Through these rigorous programs, NYU Wagner educates the future leaders of public, nonprofit, and health institutions as well as private organizations serving the public sector.

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