Bushwick Housing Independence Project

Award Recipients - 2000

Father John Powis, Community Activist

Father John Powis is a long-time community activist in Brooklyn’s low-income neighborhoods.  Since the early 1960’s, has organized for better educational opportunities for children, quality housing, safety and social services.  He is recognized throughout the community as a dedicated advocate and mentor and has inspired multiple generations of leaders, assisting them in building community organizations.  
In 1963, Father Powis joined community efforts in Brownsville, Brooklyn to improve severely overcrowded neighborhoods schools.  In response to urban renewal, Father Powis opened his church doors to help families organize.  The Oceanhill Brownsville Tenants’ Association developed and did housing management, rehabilitation and training of tenants.  In 1978, Father Powis and other religious leaders founded East Brooklyn Congregations to unite 42 Brooklyn churches of all denominations and to train clergy and lay people as organizers.  They organized to get street signs put up, picketed supermarkets to clean their stores and built 2,700 low-cost homes for working families.  
In the 1990’s, Father Powis was the lead plaintiff in a successful suit against the Mayor’s plan to eliminate street fireboxes.  By marching with his 900 parishioners and holding prayer vigils, Father Powis got the city to install a traffic light on a dangerous neighborhood street.  In Bushwick, Father Powis set up St. Barbara’s Plaza to bring in services such as head start programs and employment training.

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