For Immediate Release
April 16, 2012
Contact: Cultural Industry Investment Fund (


New York, NY – Kenneth J. Knuckles, President & CEO of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation (UMEZ) has announced that a two-year grant of $225,000 has been awarded to Firelight Media for capacity building through UMEZ’s Cultural Industry Investment Fund.

Headquartered in Harlem, Firelight Media’s central program, the Producers’ Lab, provides mentorship, training and professional development to emerging documentary filmmakers of color, enabling them to complete and distribute their films through major broadcast and festival showcase platforms.  In addition, Firelight Media has recently launched a Social Action Division that will provide services in the areas of community outreach, audience engagement and new media marketing for filmmakers who seek to broaden the impact of social-issue films and inspire audiences to take action toward the issue presented by these films. 

The organization is directed by its founders, producer/director Stanley Nelson, a MacArthur Fellow and a four-time Emmy Award-winner, and Marcia Smith, an award-winning writer who has worked extensively in philanthropy, government and politics.  Under their leadership, Firelight Media has won wide acclaim, most recently for Freedom Riders, the powerful story of those individuals, black and white, who faced violence and imprisonment on their historic journey together through the Deep South in 1961.  Firelight Media was an early pioneer in the concept of social engagement with The Murder of Emmett Till, when a massive letter-writing campaign following the film’s premiere in 2003 contributed to the reopening of the murder investigation after almost 50 years.  The U.S. Justice Department cited the presence of witnesses unearthed in the film as a major factor in reopening the case.

UMEZ has awarded Firelight Media a two-year, $225,000 grant to build its revenue generation capacity through the hiring of three new staff members in development, communications and community engagement.  With this expanded work force, Firelight Media will be able to diversify its funding sources, add new revenue streams, and increase its visibility, thus furthering the growth and long-term stability of the Producers Lab and Social Action Division programs.

The Firelight Media website


UMEZ’s mission is to sustain the economic revitalization of Upper Manhattan through job creation, corporate alliances, strategic investments and small business assistance.  UMEZ seeks to revitalize distressed areas in the Zone by using geographically targeted public funds and tax incentives as catalysts for private investment.  In Upper Manhattan, the communities that lie within the Empowerment Zone's borders include Harlem, East Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood.


UMEZ’s Cultural Industry Investment Fund celebrates Upper Manhattan’s rich cultural history while supporting vibrant new legacies.  The work of CIIF is shaped by two primary themes: community building through a cultural and economic lens; and the repositioning of Upper Manhattan as one of New York City’s primary cultural districts.  CIIF investments are designed to yield long-term, permanent change for resident cultural organizations, specifically through capacity building, organizational development, and/or enhanced stability.  As a result, Upper Manhattan’s cultural organizations are able to leverage new resources, generate new jobs and attract new tourism, thereby spurring economic activity in their communities.


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