Human Services


Responding to a double crisis with an eye to the future
View of sky scrapers in New York with the Empire State Building in the center.

FIERCE is a New York City-based nonprofit dedicated to building the leadership and power of LGBTQ youth of color. While it runs many programs aimed at skill and community building, it also works to provide basic needs that queer youth of color often lack, such as a safe place to live and freedom from police harassment.  

When the coronavirus pandemic hit New York, it presented a major danger to FIERCE’s members, 13-24-year-old youth of color, numbering around 500. Because queer youth are more likely to not be accepted by their families, they often live in hostile homes and face higher rates of homelessness. When it became necessary to shelter in place, not all of their members had a safe place to do so. FIERCE worked to identify those folks who might be in shelters or unhoused.  

“COVID-19 has forced and will continue to force people to need more aid and ongoing support,” said Mustafa Sullivan, Executive Director of FIERCE. “We now go out to shelters or where our members are and just give them direct cash or food.” 

Soon after, another crisis hit: the murder of George Floyd by a police officer set off protests around the world. FIERCE was already active in advocating for police accountability and reform, as its members have faced over-policing and harassment. But with the groundswell of protests after the murders of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many others to name, FIERCE had to figure out how to guide its members in responding to the moment, in the midst of the pandemic.  

“The question was, how do we respond safely?” Sullivan said. “We’ve been at this for a long time, but it was more urgent and more complicated this time.” 

FIERCE joined with other organizations to form groups to attend protests, and also held digital organizing, learning, and arts-focused healing sessions. 

But the changes FIERCE needed to make to respond to the moment came with expenses, such as renovating their space to make it possible for members to social distance, and finding new ways to distribute food, such as a refrigerator at street level stocked with food for the taking.  

Through a board member, FIERCE heard about NFF’s first-ever grant program administered by its recently formed Social Innovation and Equity Council. The council re-granted funds from Fidelity Charitable Trust intended to aid nonprofits with their pandemic response, particularly those that are community centered and serving people of color. Using the principles of Trust-Based Philanthropy, the council had minimal reporting requirements and no restrictions on how the funds could be used.  

It was a perfect fit for FIERCE to have the resources it needed to respond to the ever-changing conditions. The ease of the process was welcome given the challenging times.  

“The grant application took very little time and was easy to manage,” said Sullivan. “To me it is a welcome shift that philanthropy should make as a whole instead of complicated applications processes that are overly detailed.” 

Although there are many issues FIERCE has had to figure out how to contend with since COVID-19 hit, the organization is used to thinking big.  

“We are all about systems change and building up our young people to lead us there,” Sullivan said. “So that is what we will keep doing, even in the face of new challenges.” 

This story was written as part of NFF's 40th anniversary celebration.


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