Articles by Donna Frisby-Greenwood

  • Article

    Boys of color front and center in Philly educators gathering

    May 2, 2011 by Donna Frisby-Greenwood


    When a gathering of leaders opens with them spending a day with 30 incarcerated teen boys, you know it's not gong to be just another conference.

    Last week, while much of the world focused on William and Kate, 300 education leaders gathered in the City of Brotherly Love to seek knowledge, share experiences, and collaborate on how to change educational outcomes for males of color.  The Knight-funded 5th Annual Gathering of Leaders, hosted by the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSEBOC), is designed for leaders to connect, share and learn. 

    But what made this gathering unique is that it keeps boys of color front and center.  After spending the first day with incarcerated young men, the second day nearly 80 young men from COSEBOC-affiliate schools from across the country shared their dramatic interpretations and testimonials about the power of their resiliency and why they are and will continue to focus on their education. There was not a dry eye at Temple University as we all swelled with pride.  Young men were at the forefront even during an awards dinner recognizing the efforts of seven prestigious leaders.


    Young men from Boys' Latin of Philadelphia High School introduced the honorees, the Young Kings, 6-12 years old, from Boston, Mass. sang and recited poetry and a jazz trio of three young men, ranging in age from 11-19 years-old and studying music after school at the Philadelphia Clef Club, had everyone on their feet asking for more.  It is the brilliance and talent of those young men highlighted throughout the weekend that lies within all males of color and that COSEBOC honoree, Shawn Dove of the Open Society Institute, reminded us that we sometimes have to pull it out.

    While the gathering gave leaders an opportunity to talk and listen, it went a step further by  lifting up schools that work, connecting  academics, funders, practitioners and school leaders, and inspiring everyone to return home energized and armed to support better schooling for males of color.

    I take my hat off to COSEBOC Executive Director Ron Walker and to Board Chairman Dr. Larry Leverett, as well as to the COSEBOC staff for organizing a community of folks, from all races, to do everything they can to take action on behalf of males of color.

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    Philadelphia celebrates its BME Leadership Award Winners

    February 29, 2012 by Donna Frisby-Greenwood

    Award-winning actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, Mayor Michael A. Nutter and other leaders helped celebrate the winners of the BME Leadership Award in Philadelphia Monday night.

    The award is given to black men who step up to lead and engage others in their community. The honor comes with a combined $243,000 for the winners to reward their work and inspire others to step forward. The funding will provide outreach to recent returning war vets by Vietnam Vets, provide after-school programming and therapy for autistic children, explore the experience of black men through a theater performance and more.





  • Article

    Why Change By Us is perfect for Philadelphia

    November 21, 2011 by Donna Frisby-Greenwood

    Why Change By Us is perfect for Philadelphia

    Today, Knight Foundation and partners announced the launch of Change By Us Philadelphia, a site that provides residents a way to take an active role in improving their city.

    Change By Us allows residents to share ideas for making their city better and helps to turn those ideas into projects that have real impact. The site provides a platform to share ideas, join or create projects, build teams and find resources to help projects succeed. The following is an adapted version of remarks Donna Frisby-Greenwood, program director/Philadelphia at Knight Foundation, made at today’s announcement.

    Change By Us is perfect for Philadelphia in so many ways.  As Mayor Nutter said, Philadelphia is the original U.S. city of innovation and invention. We are also a city of many neighborhoods, with people eager to express their opinions and roll up their sleeves to build a better Philadelphia.  

  • Article

    55 finalists named in Knight Arts Challenge Philadelphia

    January 10, 2012 by Donna Frisby-Greenwood



    Fifty-five ideas for the Philadelphia arts have been chosen as finalists in the 2012 Knight Arts Challenge Philadelphia. 1,267 applicants answered our question: “What’s your best idea for the arts in Philadelphia?” A diverse group, including individual artists, artist collectives, community groups, jazz and classical music organizations, theater companies and educational institutions, offered a wide array of innovative ideas.

  • Article

    Making everyday people art collectors with Community Supported Art

    July 13, 2012 by Donna Frisby-Greenwood

    Making everyday people art collectors with Community Supported Art


    Photo Credit: Philadelphia Folklore Project

    At a packed house in Philadelphia's City Hall, Knight Foundation, in partnership with The City of Philadelphia Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy and Springboard for the Arts, recently launched Community Supported Art.   

    The idea of Community Supported Art is based on the Community Supported Agriculture model, which allows local residents to buy food direct from local farmers. Laura Zabel, who serves as the executive director of Springboard for the Arts, created the program to help local artists with new works establish relationships with local “collectors.”  

    In Philadelphia, eighteen artists have been selected by two local arts organizations to create 100 shares of the program.  For $450, a “collector” can get nine pieces from local artists selected by Grizzly Grizzly a local arts collaborative and for $350, a collector can get pieces from nine artists at Philadelphia Folklore project.  Each organization will sell fifty shares.  Once all the shares are sold, artists and collectors come together throughout the year for “pick up” events, where collectors pick up their artwork and have a chance to meet the artists.   

    It is a model where everyone wins, artists get paid for their work, everyday people like me get to become collectors and our dollars stay in Philadelphia supporting our own. 

  • Article

    Philadelphia grantees inform, connect, IgKnight

    July 1, 2013 by Donna Frisby-Greenwood

    Dale Mezzacopa - Philadelphia Public School Notebook - IgKnight Speaker from Knight Foundation on Vimeo.

    Last week, we had the inspiring opportunity to gather our grantees in Philadelphia at The Barnes Foundation. What was really unprecedented was that the grantees were from all of our portfolios. It was an opportunity to share, learn and connect beyond those boundaries. I wish I could say it was all my idea, but our grantees came up with this. They told me last fall that they would like more opportunities to meet one another and form connections. So, we designed the gathering to allow them to create new relationships, share information and learn new things.

    Many met each other for the first time. Others already knew one another but learned a little more. Two grantee panels shared how you can spread the word about your work on a shoestring budget and how to raise money whether you are an individual, a small startup, or a large, seasoned organization.

    Faye Anderson, a donor-advised fund grantee, who is usually in the tech space, connected with BMe grantee Lovett Hines of The Philadelphia Clef Club. They plan to work together to develop and disseminate a Philly jazz app. Barbara Allen of Fresh Artists grabbed some folks, including me, and talked about what could be a possible next step: working to create an exchange for grantees to share resources, skills and knowledge. Michelle and Anthony Martin of the Urban Youth Racing School sparked interest in Jon Gosier, a Knight News Challenge winner from the design firm D8A, to become an e-mentor in their What It Takes program. Thom Butler, a BMe grantee with the Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable, spent time with David Clayton of Breadboard, a Knight Arts grantee, talking about doing an IgnitePhilly talk. And we had our own version: Seven of the grantees set the stage on fire when they shared their passion and their work with us through their IgKnight talks, short presentations limited to five minutes and 20 slides.

  • Article

    Project Liberty, cultivating startups in Philadelphia

    August 7, 2013 by Donna Frisby-Greenwood

    Introducing the Project Liberty Digital Incubator from Project Liberty Incubator on Vimeo

    Two years ago, I was excited to sit down and interview the first round of applicants for the Project Liberty New Media Incubator, an effort to bring innovation to the heart of traditional newsrooms and create a community of startups in Philadelphia. I once led Rock the Vote, and the company that intrigued me most during those conversations was ElectNext, the eHarmony for would-be voters. I recall firing questions at Keya Dennanbaum, ElectNext’s founder and CEO. She holds a Ph.D. from Princeton and is a graduate of programs at DreamIt Ventures and Good Company.  Keya made it into the first class of the incubator, and I thought: We’ve attracted this talented young woman to Philadelphia; what do we have to do to keep her and ElectNext—and others like them—here?

    That goal is central to Knight’s work in Philadelphia, and it’s why we’re increasing our funding for Project Liberty with $345,000 in new support. We want to attract, retain and maximize talent—talent that brings the knowledge, knowhow and skills to help Philadelphia reinvent herself for the 21st century economy. Project Liberty is operated by Ben Franklin Technology Partners and is embedded in the offices of Interstate General Media, the corporate owners of the Philadelphia InquirerDaily News and It has helped to attract and retain new talent here, in our city, while promoting sustainable digital media projects that better create, capture and distribute news and information.

    When Knight made the initial grant in 2011, it was our hope that the new media startups would have an opportunity to grow and develop partnerships with the newspapers. We also hoped that the newspapers would embrace new technologies and ideas. The results of that partnership have been encouraging, and we want to expand on that success.

    Project Liberty has become a viable platform for delivering new digital ideas and products. It is a learning ground for local college students and a magnet for attracting talent to Philadelphia. SnipSnap, a coupon app, has raised a little over $1.6 million, including investments from Knight and Ben Franklin Technology Partners. ElectNext, through its partnership with, is able to provide an easy and interactive platform for everyday people seeking information about political candidates. And while we didn’t keep Keya here—ElectNext is now based in New York—her company still has an office and two team members in Philly.

  • Article

    The power of unlikely partners

    November 3, 2014 by Donna Frisby-Greenwood

    The power of unlikely partners

    Photo by Paul Gargagliano. Last week in partnership with NextCity, 900 AM WURD and AL DÍA News we launched City Sessions, a series of conversations with Philadelphians and national experts about the future of Philadelphia. Now is the time for us to think about how we want to continue growing and strengthening our city. 

    We’ve had seven straight years of population growth, fueled by baby boomers moving in from the suburbs, immigrants and college-educated millennials, a mayor in the last year of his term and a booming Center City. To continue moving forward, we need to engage all facets of our community in these important discussions.  Not many groups can do that alone. ­It therefore requires most groups to partner with others that they may be unaccustomed to working with.  It is these unlikely partnerships that will cause the collisions between young and old, new and established, and upper- and lower-income individuals that will move Philadelphia forward. 

  • Article

    Powering innovation in Philadelphia

    March 26, 2015 by Donna Frisby-Greenwood

    Powering innovation in Philadelphia

    Photo of Philadelphia by Flickr user Ahd Photography.

    I participated recently in Philly Innovates, the city of Philadelphia’s innovation summit in partnership with Salesforce. Mayor Michael Nutter, Chief Customer Service Officer Rosetta Lue and Deputy Mayor Rich Negrin unveiled “The Philly Innovates Blueprint” to become a more connected city. Salesforce, best known for its customer relationship management product, has created an enhanced Philly 311 platform that allows for a multichannel user experience.   

    As I talked to Michelle Lee, co-founder of Textizen, in the exhibit area, I saw a demo of the newly unveiled Open Data Philly platform. During lunch I looked around the room a bit more, and it became clear that Knight Foundation has been a catalyst for much of the city’s innovation in recent years.

  • Article

    Connecting Philly

    April 6, 2012 by Donna Frisby-Greenwood

    Connecting Philly

    This week in Philadelphia, just ahead of Philly Tech Week, we helped introduce a new tool to the public.  It aggregates locations across the city that provide access to the Internet.

    mapThe tool, called Connect Philly, helps people find free, or affordable, online access and also computer training opportunities. It allows residents to send their address via text message to 215.240.7296 and find the closest available Internet access point.

    In a city, where according to a 2008 report, 40% of households lack broadband access, finding a connection is critical to promoting informed and engaged communities.

    I had the pleasure of kicking off yesterday's launch with Technically PhillyJ-LAB, the city of Philadelphia, KEYSPOT and the Free Library of Philadelphia in City Hall’s Conversation Hall.  Brian James Kirk, co-founder of Technically Philly, demonstrated the website and SMS text application.  Chris Wink, co-founder of Technically Philly, moderated a great panel discussion on the progress that we’ve made in Philadelphia since the 2008 report as well as the challenges ahead.  The panel featured  Siobhan Reardon, president and director of the Free Library of Philadelphia, Brigitte Daniel, executive vice president, Wilco Electronic Systems, Charles Kaylor, visiting assistant professor in the department of geography at Temple University,  Bryan Mercer of Media Mobilizing Project and Bret Perkins, V.P. government relations, Comcast.  

  • Article

    Finalists named in Knight Arts Challenge Philadelphia

    January 14, 2013 by Donna Frisby-Greenwood

    Finalists named in Knight Arts Challenge Philadelphia

    Photo Credit: BalletX

    Today we’re proud to share a group of new and innovative ideas to enrich Philadelphia’s cultural scene. Sixty-nine innovative ideas have been chosen as finalists in the 2013 Knight Arts Challenge Philadelphia.

    Arising from more than 1,200 applicants, the finalists below represent the rich cultural and artistic diversity of the city. From public art to jazz to film, printmaking and more they are born from the minds of people and organizations that seek to transform the experience of art in Philadelphia.

    We started the Knight Arts Challenge in Philadelphia three years ago because we believe the arts can engage and enrich communities. We recognize great ideas can start from anywhere — with individuals, artist-driven organizations or at the city’s premier cultural institutions. That’s why the $9 million challenge is open to the entire community.

    We asked a bold, original question: “What’s your best idea for the arts in Philadelphia?” And we’re delighted to share your responses.

    Read on below for the full list of finalists and their ideas. And stay tuned, winners will be announced in the spring!

    We congratulate the finalists and thank everyone who submitted an idea!

  • Article

    Soledad O’Brien: ‘You have to reach students where they are’

    October 21, 2013 by Donna Frisby-Greenwood

    Soledad O’Brien: ‘You have to reach students where they are’


    Photo credit: Bryant Sanders Photography

    Journalist Soledad O’Brien, CEO of Starfish Media Group and a correspondent for Al Jazeera America, last week moderated a discussion on mentoring here in Philadelphia as part of the launch of a new guide released by Urban Youth, a local nonprofit that works with kids.

    Urban Youth developed the “Lessons Learned E-Mentoring Guide for African-American Men and Boys” in partnership with Knight Foundation and United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. The guide, a project of Urban Youth’s What It Takes initiative, recommends “e-mentoring” to connect kids with positive role models anywhere in the world, using e-mail, text messages and social media.

    A reception and screening of an installment of O’Brien’s “Black in America” documentary series followed the discussion.

    As a follow-up to the events, I asked O’Brien to reflect on her decision to participate and the importance of mentoring African-American youth.

    You are a very busy person. Why did you decide to participate in the Urban Youth discussion?

    Soledad O’Brien: One of the things I think is really interesting in communities is the way that people connect to try to solve some of the most entrenched challenges in the United States. You look at a program that has some legs, not just in Philadelphia but could be a model around the country. As a journalist, anytime you see a thing that has repercussions and is not just working where it is but could be much larger [that] is always intriguing, and to sit down with the major player and people who have also assessed the program is very intriguing to me. 

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    Fund for the School District of Philadelphia champions better public schools to help retain city’s talent

    November 12, 2015 by Donna Frisby-Greenwood

    Fund for the School District of Philadelphia champions better public schools to help retain city’s talent

    Donna Frisby-Greenwood is president and CEO of The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia and the former Philadelphia program director for Knight Foundation. Knight is supporting the efforts of the fund with $250,000 in support to promote success in Philadelphia’s schools and encourage talented people to stay in the city.

    Above: Students at J.S. Jenks Elementary School take part in a special program in the  auditorium. Photo courtesy The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia.

    Education is supposed to be the great equalizer. 

    But let’s face it. In Philadelphia, too many of our children are in schools that have not helped them get where they need to go, to college or to careers that are meaningful, productive and fulfilling. The quality of education should not depend upon how much their parents make or their ZIP code. A high-quality education should be available for all of our children in Philadelphia.  

    This year, Philadelphia School Superintendent, Dr. William R. Hite has a plan in place to fix that. Dr. Hite’s Action Plan 3.0 is all about equity.  He has pledged to be accountable for providing “the best academic program, and the chance for a better life that comes with it, to each student: the student who excels, the student who struggles, all the students in between and to our neediest students, those who continue to be failed by adults and therefore need us most.”

    In Harrisburg, lawmakers are finally working on a fair funding formula that would bring millions of additional dollars to our schools. We are reaching a turning point in the fight to keep a promise we made to our children: to give a “thorough and efficient” free public education to every child. It’s the cornerstone of American progress. 

    Andrew Jackson Elementary School teachers work with a class of  "young scientists." Photo courtesy The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia.

    This is also the year that The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia has a new mission, new leadership and renewed commitment to making a difference in the fortunes of 142,000 Philadelphia public school students and to making an investment in this city.  

    In the next five years, The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia has a goal of raising $25 million to champion and focus on Philadelphia’s public education priorities such as early literacy and college and career readiness. We intend to provide support where it will have the most impact, which includes in the classrooms where passionate teachers and committed principals are struggling to meet the needs of bright, talented students. Our mission is to identify, coordinate and connect philanthropic resources—with effective public-private partnerships—to leverage investments in neighborhood public schools. 

  • Article

    Philly project puts youth at center of software design

    November 29, 2012 by Donna Frisby-Greenwood

    Philly project puts youth at center of software design


    Philadelphia has a growing software development community. Unfortunately, the blacks and Latinos who make up 50 percent of city’s population have very little stake in it.

    So recently, Youngjin Yoo, a professor at Temple University working on an Urban Apps and Maps Studio, approached Knight Foundation with an idea: to use the studio as a place where digitally-native youth from underserved communities - themselves heavy tech and media consumers - can work alongside developers, business people, and designers and create apps that address urban issues.

    The result is new Knight funding that will bring 300 high school and college age youth to Temple over the next three summers for a six-week program. Classes will offer training in design innovation, digital mapping, digital storytelling, and applications development. About a dozen will then become year-round community fellows working with the university to create apps that solve urban challenges. 

    Putting these young Philadelphians at the center of the design process we hope will help ensure that the apps reflect the needs of the communities they seek to serve.

  • Article

    Lifting the soul of Philadelphia

    March 24, 2014 by Donna Frisby-Greenwood

    Lifting the soul of Philadelphia


    Photo credit: Flickr user Morgan Burke.

    Philadelphia is part of Knight Foundation’s soul.

    The relationship is more than 40 years old, reaching back to the years when the Knight brothers first bought The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News. Although the newspaper chain has passed into history, the foundation carries forward their principles and their belief in the power of information to connect people and help them shape their lives. Knight has deep local roots and a national network of ideas, and it’s fitting that those resources help mold Philadelphia.

    This city, more than 300 years old, is part of the American soul. It has stood at the center of life on this continent since before our country was founded. The First Continental Congress met here. The Declaration of Independence was signed here. Philadelphia was once America’s first city, with an industrial heart and a thriving population from diverse backgrounds. 

    That is a history we cannot take lightly. After 50 years of decline, Philadelphia has seen an increase in population, primarily associated with an influx of young talent, empty nesters and immigrants. It has been a great source of pride for many of us, but if we are to become the world-class city that we should be, that we once were, there is more work for us. That is part of Knight Foundation’s commitment to Philadelphia.

    Our middle class, while more educated than 40 years ago, has declined. We have about the same percentage of middle-class residents as Boston and Chicago, but that’s not good news. We have a higher percentage of lower-income residents and a smaller percentage of higher-income residents, according to a recent Pew research report, “Philadelphia’s Changing Middle Class.” In addition, about 50 percent of our new residents have a college degree but it is slightly higher for both Boston and Chicago. Furthermore, our ratio of people with college degrees to the percentage of people with less than a high school degree is 1-to-1. Boston is 3-to-1 and Chicago almost 2-to-1. That is troubling for the future of this city, with its rich history.