Volume 16 Number 6
Seed for Big Apple
01 December 2003

In New York Melinda Lackey and Carlos Monteagudo are charting a vision to create widespread economic well-being in this incredibly diverse, powerful and poverty-stricken city.

The thought of tackling poverty in New York City is enough to overwhelm most people. Even identifying where to begin is daunting. This has not deterred Melinda Lackey and Carlos Monteagudo from charting a vision to create widespread economic well-being in this incredibly diverse, powerful and poverty-stricken city.

Lackey is a former professional ballet dancer turned grassroots activist, while Monteagudo is a practising psychiatrist who grew up in poverty. They were brought together by a Kellogg Fellowship that funded their personal leadership development. They went on to launch Solutions for Economic Empowerment and Dignity (SEED), as a multi-sector approach that addresses such impediments to rising out of poverty as access to childcare, health care, employment and education.

‘For me, SEED is rooted in a deep faith commitment,’ explains Melinda Lackey. ‘My first 28 years were mainly devoted to becoming the best ballet dancer I could be. The disciplined, repetitive practice trained me to appreciate beauty in the art of many bodies moving as one, in tempo. It honed my calling to serve a bigger picture than the reflection of myself in the ballet mirror.’

Lackey moved to New York City at the age of 17. ‘I was astounded by the way people rushed to work, and hustled to get places without looking at one another, and without noticable regard for the suffering so evident on every block. Would I also learn to overlook poverty?’

This question eventually led her to stop dancing and pursue how she might participate in a corps de ballet that creates equitable systems and institutions. She explains: ‘I have an unshakable belief in the inherent capacity of every individual to become a leader and co-create solutions.’ She is the co-founder of two previous organizations, Iris House-a multi-service support centre in Harlem created by and for women affected by HIV/Aids-and, more recently, Welfare Rights Initiative-a grassroots leadership training and student advocacy organization. ‘SEED builds on these learning opportunities and extends my commitment,’ she concludes.

SEED officially opened its doors in October 2002 as an incubator project of the Fund for the City of New York. Its strategy is to engage influential people in partnership with those who know poverty firsthand. SEED brings grassroots activist organizations together with leaders from business, government, media, academic, religious and other sectors. It cultivates shared understanding, vision and strategic organizing across professional, political and cultural divides.

SEED has begun work with the New York Women’s Foundation, a public charity with a membership of 9,000 donors which gives grants to 35 organizations. SEED is helping the foundation to engage its diverse constituency in advocacy on behalf of low-income New Yorkers.

‘SEED envisions a New York region in which all human beings have the opportunity to realize their full potential,’ says Melinda Lackey.
Steven Greisdorf

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