By Fern Gillespie
For decades, Rev. Dr. Valerie Oliver-Durrah has been renowned in Brooklyn as a changemaker. Using her diplomatic, spiritual, philanthropic, strategic, educator, and business acumen, she has made it her mission to help grassroots nonprofit organizations thrive.
In 2002, she became the founder, president, and CEO of the Neighborhood Technical Assistance Clinic (NTAC) in her Bed-Stuy home base. “At the time, there were no other technical assistance providers of color who were serving nonprofits and grassroots activists of color in New York City,” Rev. Durrah told Our Time Press. “I couldn’t find a job competing with my white counterparts doing the same work I was highly trained to do. So, I decided to start my own serving everyone– especially African American, Caribbean, and immigrant populations and organizations led by women.”
During the last 30 years, hundreds of nonprofits, grassroots groups, and organizations from faith-based communities in all five boroughs have been established because NTAC held their hands to start their nonprofits legally. These organizations wish to improve their programs and effectiveness in addressing the needs of low-income and service-starved communities. Although NTAC began as an organization servicing nonprofits and civic organizations, churches started to create their own nonprofits, and the organization’s work with people of faith and clergy increased. Then Rev. Durrah, an educator with a degree in education from the University of Memphis, received a spiritual calling. “I grew up serving God and volunteering my assistance to help people all of my life,” she recalled. “I received a calling into ministry while working with a group of female clergy leaders who told me that my work was ministry and anointed for such a time as this.”
After earning a Doctor of Ministry at the New York Theological Seminary in New York City, she was ordained. Rev. Durrah is known as a mentor minister to ministers. Her book “Lead Me, Guide Me” is a resource she published to engage the faith community in nonprofit work. It features chapters on topics to help the faith community learn how to know their community, create a nonprofit, develop a board of directors, create a fundraising plan, identify resources to support nonprofit work and align scriptures that help to encourage nonprofit work. She is a volunteer advisor to Mayor Eric Adams’ faith-based NYC Office of Faith and Community Partnerships. It’s part of her philosophy, “Support Theology,” a concept that all community stakeholders, leaders, and believers win when they work together.
“Smart corporations now understand that if they want the community to utilize their services, they must market and take their services to the community and meet community leaders to allow them to understand better why their services are so important,” she explained. “If one neighborhood can benefit from working with a corporation, it becomes a shared agenda for change for that neighborhood and the nonprofit and the corporation. The partnership is important because everyone wins.”
Some of her major corporate-community collaborations have been with companies like National Grid on energy efficiency strategies, ABC-TV on listening sessions with neighborhood groups, Brooklyn Brewery on drinking responsibly, MetroPlus on insured with health benefits, and several major banks ( Northfield, NY Mellon Bank, JP Morgan Chase ) across the five boroughs teaching financial literacy, homeownership advantages, and neighborhood improvement. In addition, she engages young people in civic affairs.
For 30 years, she was a board member of the Brooklyn Historical Society. “As the first African American named as trustee of the Brooklyn Historical Society, I would like to believe that I increased the number of events, conversations, exhibits, and public programming about different ethnic groups who played a role in building a better Brooklyn,” she said. “I also introduced and recommended other African Americans to the board, like Jacqueline Charity, an educator at the time. We became the history makers for BHS, opening the door for other minorities to follow.”
“As a trustee of the Brooklyn Historical Society, I was proud to live on a block where Jackie Robinson once lived,” she said. “It was a natural history-making decision to help my block association to change the name of our street to Jackie Robinson Way.”
The Caribbean community has played an important role in NTAC. “Because so many of our clients are from the Caribbean community, NTAC recognizes the contributions of the Caribbean people whose work improved the lives and communities of New York City,” she said. NTAC also works directly with the islands on philanthropy projects. Currently, Haitian fashion designer Victor Glemaud and Dweynie Paul, the first Haitian Judge elected to serve on the bench. Overseas donations include firefighting equipment for St. Kitts, marketing Negril tourism for a Jamaica nonprofit, and helping older, homeless people in Antigua and Barbuda.
A women’s rights advocate, Rev. Durrah aided the Church Women United organization in continuing its legacy. “I realized that the medium age of the women associated with the organization was retirement-aged,” she said. “I knew that the organization would not be around for another 50 years if they did not begin to recruit younger women to join. Their Ophelia Perry Scholarship was created to honor the life of one of the CWU s founders in Brooklyn to recruit young girls to learn about the organization’s outstanding work.”
“The role and influence of women have greatly changed in Brooklyn,” she said. “It has been an honor this past year to play a role in the swearing-in of Judge Dweynie Paul and Judge Cenceria Edwards. I have been blessed to witness the increase in the number of women of color serving as judges and justices, to become Attorney General, to lead Bed-Stuy Restoration, and Brooklyn Academy of Music, to serve as President of the Brooklyn Community Foundation, and to become deputy Borough President of Brooklyn.”
Neighborhood Technical Assistance Clinic’s upcoming gala on June 1 will be an elegant evening in all-white attire featuring a Caribbean flair with food, entertainment, and music. NTAC will recognize the legendary Hon. Hazel N. Dukes with a lifetime achievement award and honor other New Yorkers who are making a difference in the lives of New York City neighborhoods.
Rev. Dr. Valerie Oliver-Durrah is committed to serving and building the capacity of Black clergywomen, ministers, and concerned leaders to help women and girls in the US and worldwide. “I loved giving because I believe the more you give, the more you receive,” she said. “God gave me a heart for women and girls for which I have built a strong ministry to support the same.”