Twenty Millennials and Gen Z Leaders Selected as Emerging City Champions Fellows to Lift Up Cities Now and Post-COVID-19

20 young leaders will receive $5,000 each in seed funding and a year of training as they carry out bold and creative project ideas to build equitable and inclusive American cities.

MIAMI – August 18, 2020 – Twenty Millennial and Gen Z community leaders from cities across the United States were selected for the 2020 Emerging City Champions fellowship and microgrant program to reimagine more equitable and inclusive cities from San Jose to Philadelphia. The fellowship is led by 8 80 Cities and funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. 

LEARN MORE about the fellowship and the winners:

    • Twenty young civic innovators were chosen for their creative potential to help build more equitable and inclusive post-pandemic communities where Knight operates by designing projects that reimagine public spaces, urban mobility and civic engagement.
    • Many projects are direct responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and national reckoning on race. Projects include an outdoor classroom pilot and community songwriting program in Detroit; a plan to make a park fun and welcoming while creating opportunities for entrepreneurship in Macon; and an initiative to improve walking trails and bike paths in Charlotte.
    • The Emerging City Champions provides each of the winners with $5,000 in seed funding and one year of leadership training to turn their transformative ideas into reality.

“These young leaders have leveraged these unprecedented times to build bold, imaginative and inspirational visions for their communities,” said Lilly Weinberg, Knight Foundation director for community foundations. “We support their mission to create more resilient and participatory cities, where residents have equitable access to urban necessities and amenities.”

“Each year, we are thrilled to support the participants as they harness their own ingenuity and collaborative partnerships to create real community change,” said Amanda O’Rourke, executive director of 8 80 Cities, which leads the ECC program. “Faced with a year of change, the 2020 cohort has come forward with incredible ideas, and we look forward to working with them and supporting their growth as leaders in their communities.”

BACKGROUND on Emerging City Champions program

  • This will be the sixth ECC class. Since 2015, Knight Foundation’s investment in the program has launched the leadership journeys of over 100 exceptional alumni who have gone on to found nonprofit organizations, establish businesses and influence government policies.
  • Current Knight Public Spaces Fellow Erin Salazar’s career as a city builder began with her ECC project, a community mural that led to a multi-year transformation of San Jose’s downtown.
  • Emerging City Champions is open to young leaders between the ages of 19 to 35 in the 26 communities where Knight invests. The 20 winners were chosen in part for the innovation and potential impact of their project idea, and the applicant’s leadership qualities and capacity. They will begin implementing their projects in September 2020.
  • Many participants will build on their ongoing work in their communities, while others have new and creative solutions to improve their local streets or public spaces with support from the program. For more about each Emerging City Champions participant, visit

2020 ECC WINNERS and their projects

Akron, OH

  • Darion Edding will teach neighbourhood residents how to canoe on Akron’s Summit Lake, creating deeper connections between the historically marginalized Summit Lake community and the lake as a valued public space and civic asset.

Bradenton, FL

  • Courtney Smith will create a community art installation and pitch competition that will empower community members to envision downtown Bradenton as a vibrant economic attraction.

Charlotte, NC

  • Emily Condon will transform underpasses into grand neighbourhood gateways celebrating community identity and culture in the West End of Charlotte, as part of a walking/biking loop route connecting West End neighbourhoods and Uptown.
  • Makayla Binter will work with youth and local artists on a collaborative mural showcasing the visual timeline of the Historic West End in relation to the rich history of protest, perseverance, and strength of West Charlotte High School.

Detroit, MI

  • Alexa Bush will develop a prototype of a physically distanced, 30-student, outdoor classroom in a public park in Detroit, as a response to the need for alternatives to in-person classrooms during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Ben Will will run an open call community songwriting project that will use online platforms and physically distanced events to provide post-pandemic connection, catharsis, and healing within the city of Detroit.
  • Monique Becker will create a native butterfly meadow and community gathering hub in a local vacant lot, providing educational opportunities for youth as well as physically distanced, accessible seating arrangements for neighbours.

Duluth, MN

  • Jordan van der Hagen will create an online forum and other opportunities for residents to contribute and visualize ideas on the kinds of public spaces and programs they would like to see in a reimagined Downtown Duluth without Interstate 35.

Lexington, KY

  • Anna Campomanes will recognize and elevate the unrecognized experts of all ages that live in Lexington communities by creating a Community Curated Mobile Museum that could pop up anywhere in the city.

Macon, GA

  • Weston Hamilton Stroud will activate the area around the Roxy Theatre, using tactical urbanism, placemaking, and intentional programming to create a pedestrian plaza that could also support entrepreneurship by hosting food trucks.

Miami, FL

  • Chris Medina will channel activism through the arts by curating a pop-up public art exhibition that rallies the residents of Hialeah and greater Miami around the local impacts of climate change.
  • Justin Pinn will develop and cultivate a pipeline of equity-minded talent to bolster civic participation by ensuring that at least 100 committed leaders are recruited to join and serve on vacant advisory boards in Miami-Dade.

Palm Beach County, FL

  • Marcus D. Laws will use existing resources to provide free transportation for homeless and low-income individuals and families so that they have more opportunity to travel to targeted social services and improve their physical, mental, and financial wellbeing.

Philadelphia, PA

  • Christine Joy will create a community garden oasis and holistic healing program at a Philadelphia women’s shelter, working with community members at every stage of the development and implementation process.
  • Ebony Welch will display community photographs on fabrics in public spaces, using a placemaking approach inspired by photographers like Tyler Mitchell and Gordon Parks, who used laundry lines as poetic symbols of the Black community and domestic space.
  • Iliana Dominguez-Franco will host community teach-ins and art workshops to demystify inaccessible housing development processes and policies, and to foster community leadership in fighting displacement.
  • Stasia Monteiro will work with Fairhill community leaders, using creative storytelling-based engagement methods to collect local perspectives and resident-driven program ideas for Rivera Recreation & Mann Older Adult Centers.

San José, CA

  • Andy Renè Tran will use projected digital canvases on downtown San José storefronts and public spaces to share film animation art and live performances by local artists telling the story of San José.
  • Quynh-Mai Nguyen will create a digital storytelling residency for womxn artists working with youth to create temporary artworks that commemorate womxns’ contributions to San José and Santa Clara County; the works will be presented in an online archive.

St. Paul, MN

  • Raie Gessesse will convene 15-20 young women in a six-month immersive program of political literacy and personal development training that will prepare them to leverage their lived experiences for elected office.


About 8 80 Cities
8 80 Cities is a nonprofit organization based in Toronto, Canada. We are dedicated to contributing to the transformation of cities into places where people can walk, bike, access public transit and visit vibrant parks and public places. Our approach is to engage people and communities across multiple sectors to inspire the creation of cities that are easily accessible, safe and enjoyable for all. We achieve our mission through grant projects, advocacy work and our innovative services. For more, visit:

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit


Media Contacts:

Amanda O’Rourke, Executive Director, 8 80 Cities, 647-784-3048,

Kenny Ma, Director of Communications, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, 305-908-2646,


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