Nov 28, 2023 Press Release

34th Annual Robin Hood Heroes Breakfast honors Three New Yorkers, Bestows Inaugural "Marian Wright Edelman" Hero Award

Robin Hood celebrated three New Yorkers and three of its grantee partners at its annual Heroes Breakfast on November 24.

Contact: Crystal Cooper,

New York, NY – On Friday, November 17, Robin Hood, New York’s largest local poverty-fighting philanthropy, celebrated three New Yorkers and three of its grantee partners at its annual Heroes Breakfast held at Cipriani 42nd Street in Midtown Manhattan.

Every year, more than 500 luminaries, dignitaries and other guests from the business, philanthropic, and the public/nonprofit sectors gather to recognize the triumphs of everyday New Yorkers with lived experiences in poverty that have overcome enormous challenges to build better lives and the organizations that help make those transformations possible.

This year’s honorees include: Nana Zakia, a Harlem-based artist and activist and Robin Hood grantee partner the Fair Housing Justice Center, an organization that combats housing discrimination based on the use of rental vouchers in New York City; Yiromys Vallejo, a single mother from the Bronx and Robin Hood grantee partner KindWork who designs and operates workforce training programs that enable participants to secure high earning jobs in growth industries like tech; and Yarys Lopez, a Bronx High School for Law and Community Service valedictorian who came to the U.S. as a migrant seeking asylum and is now soon to be a college graduate, along with Robin Hood grantee partner the New York Legal Assistance Group that provides civil legal services to New Yorkers in poverty or in crisis, including through its Pro Se Plus Project, which helps recently arrived immigrant New Yorkers receive pro se legal assistance and advocate for themselves.

“The annual Heroes Breakfast is the most powerful hour of the year at Robin Hood. This event is about hope and triumph,” said Richard R. Buery, Jr. CEO of Robin Hood. “Every day, thousands of New Yorkers living in poverty overcome enormous challenges and build better lives for themselves, their families and their communities. But too often, their stories go untold. Our Heroes Breakfast is an opportunity for some of those New Yorkers to share their powerful stories. It inspires all of us to continue working to build a City that works for everyone.”

During this year’s Heroes Breakfast, Ms. Zakia and the Fair Housing Justice Center were bestowed with the first-ever “Marian Wright Edelman Heroes Award.” The eponymous honor is named for the long-time national civil rights activist and defender of children’s rights who first joined the Robin Hood Board of Directors in 1993 and recently retired from Board service this year, having been appointed to the Robin Hood’s Emeritus Board.

Ms. Zakia and the Fair Housing Justice Center were singled out for the honor because of their work in rooting out housing discrimination routinely suffered by New Yorkers who hold rental vouchers. Despite many low-income New Yorkers who acquire rental vouchers to pay their rent – either to stay in their homes or to leave shelters – only 25% of voucher holders use their vouchers because many landlords illegally refuse to accept housing vouchers.

“Housing continues to be one of the city’s most pressing issues and the use of a housing voucher remains a powerful tool enabling families to regain stable housing after being homeless. Sadly, too many landlords illegally discriminate against voucher holders, preventing them from finding permanent housing and forcing families to live as long as 400 or more days in a city shelter,” said Matt Klein, Chief Program and Impact Officer at Robin Hood. “The Fair Housing Justice Center’s work has opened 80,000 housing units to low-income tenants and helped secure more than $54 million in damages and penalties for New Yorkers like Nana Zakia.”

Since its founding in 1988, Robin Hood has invested nearly $3 billion in its fight against poverty in New York City. Read more about our Heroes below or view full coverage of the Heroes Breakfast on the Robin Hood website.

Meet the 2023 Robin Hood Heroes

Nana Zakia

Nana Zakia is an artist, activist, and community advocate from Harlem. She began teaching dance as a teenager, developed afterschool and summer sports programs for kids, and hosted popular public radio and all-access cable TV shows about life in New York. After an elder she cared for and lived with passed away during the pandemic, Naomi found herself without a home. She entered the shelter system and secured housing vouchers but was repeatedly denied access to rental units for which she was qualified. It was Fair Housing Justice Center that stepped in to support Naomi to bring a case against a landlord, real estate agents, and a property management company citing unlawful source of income discrimination.

The Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC), a nonprofit civil rights organization, is dedicated to: (1) Eliminating housing discrimination; (2) Promoting policies that foster open, accessible, and inclusive communities; and (3) Strengthening enforcement of fair housing laws. Over the last 18 years, the FHJC has assisted thousands of people to enforce their fair housing rights, opened over 80,000 housing units to previously excluded people, filed over 155 successful lawsuits and complaints requiring housing providers and others to change discriminatory practices, and recovered over $54 million in damages and penalties.

Yiromys Vallejo

Yiromys Vallejo is the oldest child and the first grandchild from a large Dominican family in the Bronx. She was working the front desk at an urgent care clinic when COVID-19 hit and quit to protect her family’s health. Soon after, she found out she was pregnant. Yiromys experienced a long period of unemployment before stumbling upon a listing for KindWork online. Though she had never considered working in tech, she took a chance and applied to the fellowship right before the application period closed. As part of the rigorous six-week program, she honed her technical and professional skills, prepped for interviews, and launched a job search in a growing and highly competitive sector.

Founded in 2019, KindWork helps talented young adults from overlooked communities transform their economic outlook and launch new careers in the innovation economy. KindWork offers free career training, coaching, and job placement support to low-income young people from historically excluded communities. Through its Customer Experience Fellowship, New Yorkers ages 20-26 are connected to well-paying, tech-adjacent roles that do not require advanced STEM skills, nor a college degree. Thanks in part to support from Robin Hood, and a strategic partnership with Brooklyn Workforce Innovations, KindWork is on a path of growth and development, excited to deepen its impact for young New Yorkers.

Yarys Lopez

Yarys Lopez was just 11 years old when she came to the United States with her mother and sister seeking asylum from discrimination and domestic violence in Honduras. After experiencing housing instability and additional violence, Yarys and her family were connected with NYLAG, which began advocating for their asylum in the courts while helping them access vital public services. Despite living in a homeless shelter with her family, Yarys continued to perform at the top of her class in high school and volunteered with NYLAG’s Pro Se Plus Project to help victims of domestic violence and other immigrants like her. She credits NYLAG with sparking her interest in becoming an immigration lawyer and nurturing her love for New York City.

Founded in 1990, New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) is a leading civil legal services organization combating economic, racial, and social injustice by advocating for people experiencing poverty or in crisis. Services include comprehensive, free civil legal services, financial empowerment, impact litigation, policy advocacy, and community partnerships. NYLAG exists because wealth should not determine who has access to justice, and it aims to disrupt systemic racism by serving individuals and families whose legal and financial crises are often rooted in racial inequality. NYLAG’s staff of 350 impacted the lives of 129,000 people last year. NYLAG in partnership with multiple legal services providers and community-based organizations formed the Pro Se Plus Project (PSPP), which helps recently arrived immigrant New Yorkers access pro se legal assistance, advocate for themselves, and understand their rights and obligations. With its innovative approach, PSPP teaches community members how to represent themselves and helps to ensure that important deadlines are not missed through application assistance.


About Robin Hood:

This year, Robin Hood celebrates its 35th year of funding, supporting, and connecting New York’s most impactful community organizations at the forefront in the battle against poverty. We are NYC’s largest local poverty-fighting philanthropy and since 1988, we have invested nearly $3 billion to elevate and fuel the permanent escape of New Yorkers from poverty. Last year, through grantmaking with 300+ community partners, we created pathways to opportunities out of poverty for more than 325,000 New Yorkers, and through our strategic partnerships on child care, child poverty, jobs, and living wages, we are scaling impact at a population level for the more than 1.5 million New Yorkers living in poverty. At Robin Hood, we believe your starting point in life should not define where you end up. To learn more about our work and impact, follow us on X (formerly known as Twitter) @RobinHoodNYC or visit