Press Release from the Tzedek Social Justice Fund:
The Tzedek Social Justice Fund (Tzedek) is excited to announce 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.
“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.
About the Awardees
Western North Carolina native Kathey Avery has been a nursing professional, health equity advocate, and social justice visionary for over 35 years. She provided antiracist education in her work with Building Bridges of Asheville, improved minority health access and care by serving over 7,200 clients as a contracted community nurse and director at Asheville Buncombe Institute for Parity Achievement (ABIPA), and partnered with UNETE to provide health education and support to migrant workers. As the Institute for Preventive Healthcare & Advocacy (IFPHA) and Avery Health Education and Consulting founder, Kathey strived to bridge healthcare disparities and racial divides in and across underserved WNC communities. Honored with the Carol McLimans Trailblazer Award (2021) and the Rosa Parks Award (2022), Kathey’s lifelong track record of compassionate care and community empowerment exemplify the Ella Baker Brilliance Award.
“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,’” says Avery. “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 has championed diversity, equity, access, and inclusion (DEAI) in Asheville’s autism and intellectual and developmental disabilities communities for 17 years. His work has highlighted intersectionalities often overlooked in organizational and social justice spaces. Collaborating with other advocates, community members, legislators, and N.C. Department of Health & Human Services, Vaya Health, Liberty Corner Enterprises, The Arc, FIRSTwnc, and Buncombe County grant committees earned Ray four White House invitations in 2023 alone. Ray is a Community Ambassador for Asheville-Buncombe Community Land Trust and leads the DEAI Committee at the Center for Craft. Ray’s dedication to collective liberation exemplifies 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 5-person committee of Tzedek staff and board members.
Learn more about Tzedek’s approach to social justice philanthropy here: