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A Community

The Martin Luther King housing projects in Harlem are less than a mile from the wealthiest zip code in America. The apartments along Fifth Avenue facing Central Park from 59th to 89th street sell for $3 million to $30 million. Agnes Gund, a banking heiress and president emerita of the Museum of Modern Art, lives in one of those apartments. Agnes is a renowned collector of modern art who recently surprised the art world by selling the Roy Lichtenstein masterpiece that long hung over the mantle in her Manhattan apartment for $162 million, one of the 15 highest prices ever paid for artwork. She then further shocked the nonprofit world by donating $100 million from the sale to create the Art for Justice Fund, which on its website calls itself a movement to end mass incarceration“I thought I should do something about something that to me is so wrong about our system,” Gund said. With that simple statement, Agnes Gund recognized the plight of the poor community that lived a universe away from her posh surroundings but only a half mile from her front door.

Mass Incarceration

The American criminal justice system (distinguished as the jailer of more of its citizens than any other country on earth) holds more than 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 901 juvenile facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 76 Indian Country jails, as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U. S. Territories.

  • Every year, 641,000 people walk out of prison gates, but people go to jail over 11 million times each year. Jail churn is high because of the 630,000 people in local jails, 443,000 have not been convicted. Many drug offenders cannot post bond and are held for long periods awaiting trial. Of those convicted, 240,000 people are in prison for non-violent drug offenses. In total, almost 1 million people in jail have either not been convicted of a crime or are there for a non-violent drug offense.
  • In addition, 840,000 people are on parole.
  • 7 million people are on probation.

Ethnic Imbalance

The Statistics:

  • 64% of the American population is white and whites make up 39% of the prison population.
  • 13% of the American population is black but blacks make up 40% of the prison population.

Noticing this glaring discrepancy, Agnes Gund remarked in her no-nonsense manner: “The so-called ‘war on drugs’ is simply a continuation of the race war by other means.”

Art for Justice Fund

Agnes chose the Ford Foundation to administer her $100 million Art for Justice Fund. Here’s what Darren Walker, the President of the Ford Foundation said when accepting the assignment:

“Few times in our nation’s history have we witnessed a domestic crisis the size and scope of mass incarceration, and few times have we seen a philanthropist more committed to social justice than Agnes Gund.

Widely recognized as one of the greatest art collectors in America, Aggie also has a deep and abiding commitment to addressing inequality and injustice in our nation.”

The Manhattan Community

One would think the working class of Manhattan is invisible to the billionaires living high above their toil in apartment palaces. Agnes Gund not only sees them but makes the effort to understand their plight. A glance at the nonprofit donor lists in Manhattan reveals that Agnes is not alone.  Eight million people in New York City have instinctively formed a community. That’s why so many people continue to live cheek by jowl on a little island.

Posted in: Social Services Industry NewsJuvenile Justice

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