Youth on the Move: How Funders Can Support the Growing Movement of Young People of Color in 2015

Funders Collaborative for Youth Organizing, Jan 9, 2015

As we begin 2015, we at the Funders' Collaborative on Youth Organizing (FCYO) have been re-inspired by the undeniable potential for young people of color to play a transformative role in advancing social justice.  Young people of color are demonstrating a readiness to organize that has not been seen in many years.  For funders and others who care about youth leadership and social and racial justice, it is an important time to support the actions taking place across the country to help them coalesce into a sustained movement.  For funders who care about young people, education, health and host of other issues, now is the time to invest not just in direct youth services, but also in the leadership of young people to address the roots of inequality.  Doing this will require an understanding of current youth organizing forms, strategic use of existing resources, and the identification of new resources and strategies to support the youth organizing field.

The conditions facing young people of color are dire: from violence at the hands of police to deportations to the closure of public schools.  In 2014 we saw young people rising to challenge these injustices in ways we could not have predicted.  This included massive protests against police brutality in Ferguson, New York, and beyond; continued pressure from undocumented young people for real immigration reform; a host of victories addressing racial disparities in school discipline; and young people leading the People's Climate March in New York.  Taken together, these events signify that a new generation of organizations and leaders for racial and social justice are taking hold.

This is a clear moment when young people of color are ready to organize.  It is essential that there are structures to support their ongoing engagement and the growth of their power (research has shown that young people of color are eager to engage in solving issues in their communities, but that the challenge has been the lack of opportunity to do so).  The effective support of youth organizing requires an understanding of the diversity of the youth organizing forms that have developed and the different kinds of support needed by each.  Of particular importance is how to support both the new organizational forms that have developed out of this moment and require new kinds of support, as well as the established youth organizing groups that play fundamental roles in sustaining this movement.  There is also a need and opportunity to bring together these different youth organizing forms to learn from each other and create shared strategy.  Based on our experience tracking the field of youth organizing, the following are some of our thoughts on how funders can support the leadership that young people are taking in this moment.

New Strategies for Supporting New Organizational Forms
One of the most exciting things in this moment has been the development of new youth organizing forms that grew in response to particular crisis.  Just as organizational forms are changing, philanthropy will need to change to keep up.  As supporting organizations such as the Wildfire Project have pointed out, these groups that have grown out of "movement moments" are using a momentum based organizing strategy that differs from traditional community organizing approaches.  Funders will need to understand these differences and help these organizations identify appropriate supports.  In addition, many of the new organizations are not 501c3s and some will never be.  This is true of new organizations growing in places like Ferguson as well as many United We Dream affiliates.  While these organizations do not have non-profit status, they are playing crucial roles and need support.  An interesting example of an innovative structure to support new leaders is the fellowship program developed by Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis, which provides stipends and training to young leaders.  Funders will have to find new ways to support these organizations as well helping them access training on alternative organizational structures.

Being Ready for the Next Crisis
Funders must also improve how we fund organizations on the ground in crisis moments, as we are without a doubt destined for more events like those in Ferguson, MO, New York, and Sanford, FL.  Funders want to be helpful in these moments, but the slow pace of grant cycles and lack of knowledge about who represents authentic leadership on the ground have often been barriers to rapid support.  National and local organizers are developing models for how to coordinate activities in these moments as evidenced by groups like the Ferguson Action Team.  Funders will also need to think about how we can be better coordinated to support rapid response in the next crisis.

Supporting Existing Youth Organizing Groups
While there is much excitement about new organizations in this moment, it is crucial to recognize that existing youth organizing groups are continuing to play crucial roles.  For example, Make the Road New York and its Youth Power Project has played a vital role in protests in New York. Their organizer Jose Lopez was part of the group of young leaders who met with President Obama in December and was recently appointed to the President's Commission on 21st Century Policing.  Jose began organizing with Make the Road at the age of 13 is an example of the kind of leaders developed by youth organizing groups.  In addition, three networks largely consisting of youth organizing groups, Alliance for Education Justice, Community Justice Network for Youth, and the Journey 4 Justice Alliance, worked together to organize a National Youth Action Against State Violence in December with coordinated actions across the country connecting police brutality, juvenile justice, and educational justice.  As established organizations with deep roots in their local communities, these organizations are able to engage large numbers of young people who have been motivated to become active by recent events and sustain their engagement for the long haul.  These organizations are often engaging younger young people (middle and high school age) than other organizations.  Engaging young people during adolescent years can support their long-term engagement in social justice.  While the field of youth organizing has grown and matured in recent years and these groups play vital roles in movement moments, funding for this work has declined.  These groups will need additional resources to support the many more young people who are ready to be engaged.

From Protest to Political Power
With the power of young people rising it will be critical to create a variety of opportunities for them to utilize that power.  As one of the fastest growing parts of our society, young people of color represent an increasingly important part of our electorate, but youth have often been an afterthought in elections, and opportunities for them to play meaningful roles have been slim.  While youth organizing groups have traditionally been more engaged in issue-based organizing rather than elections, a set of groups have integrated nonpartisan voter engagement into their organizing work with great success, and there is potential for more groups to do the same with proper resources and training.  Supporting youth organizing groups that want to include voter engagement in their work could be a powerful way to support this movement to build meaningful political power.  FCYO will soon release a report on youth organizing and voter engagement to spur this conversation.

FCYO Field Building Work
FCYO is now preparing to launch a set of new projects to help build a stronger and more stable youth organizing field that is capable of addressing the challenges and opportunities of the current moment.  Our new Youth Community Organizing Resource Exchange (Youth CORE, to be announced soon) will create regular opportunities for youth organizing groups from across the country to come together, learn from each other, and develop shared strategy.  This will include an upcoming national strategy meeting for groups addressing criminalization of youth of color to discuss how to sustain the momentum of the current moment as well as a large national convening in the fall of 2015 and regular webinars throughout the year.  Some of the greatest potential for building meaningful power lies in connecting the different youth organizing forms that have arisen in recent years.  In addition, FCYO is developing a new series of learning sessions for funders to deepen knowledge about youth organizing, learn about trends in the field, and discuss strategy for increasing resources for this work.  An announcement with dates for upcoming webinars are in person briefings will be coming soon.

Closing: A Pivotal Moment
The demographic shift taking place in the United States creates an opportunity for young people of color to shape the future and create a more just and equitable society, but demography is not destiny and justice and equality are not assured.  We are seeing a backlash against young people of color in forms including police brutality, mass incarceration, and voter suppression.  Young people are demonstrating their willingness to take on these challenges.  The questions are can they turn this moment into a sustained movement and can we help gather the resources needed to do so?  While a great deal of funding goes to addressing the symptoms of racial inequality, very little goes to support the leadership of young people of color themselves to address root causes and create lasting systemic change.  Now is the time to support the bold leadership of young people.

September 3, 2019

Capitalism and Racism: Conjoined Twins

By Marjona Jones, Co-Chair of Funders for a Just Economy and Senior Program Officer at Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock

Marjona Jones speaking at a podium.

A few weeks ago, Democracy Now! aired a segment with Ibram X. Kendi, author and founding director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University, where he discussed white supremacy, anti-racism, and the increase in mass shootings. What struck me about the segment was his illuminating statement about the origins of capitalism. Kendi views capitalism and racism as "conjoined twins" and that “…the origins of racism cannot be separated from the origins of capitalism… the life of capitalism cannot be separated from the life of racism.”

Kendi continued by discussing how the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade allowed for the massive accumulation of wealth in Europe and the Americas. Centuries of wage theft, trading in human bondage, insurance claims on "lost" cargo, and reparations for slave owners after emancipation entrenched this capitalist system with inequities based on race built into it. Slave owners protected their concentrated wealth by shaping our socio-economic and legal systems to benefit themselves and the industry of slavery, as well as limit democracy.

As I celebrate the worker movement’s victories on Labor Day this year, this segment and past conversations with grantees has triggered an important question for me: What does the notion that capitalism and racism are inextricably linked mean for our work as funders of racial and economic justice? Our grantee partners tell us how workers are implicated in the entangled web of these “conjoined twins” of racism and capitalism. Many worker-based organizations state that the best vehicle this country has in pursuit of economic justice is through organizing workers, but traditional labor hasn’t always been the best vehicle for racial justice. As Bill Fletcher Jr. and Fernando Gapasin discuss in Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, while many unions integrated in the 1920s, some unionists decided to resist integration to ensure wins and job quality for white workers. These traditionalists understood the idea of “conjoined twins.”

Racial and economic justice movements have exposed exploitative and extractive practices within capitalism, making it less secure to accumulate wealth through those means. However, as Michelle Alexander points out in her book, The New Jim Crow, exposing capitalism for what it is forces it to transform and evolve. For example, following the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, agriculture was still the main economic engine, and free exploited labor was needed for this industry to survive. Capitalism evolved while maintaining its racist and exploitative roots through policymakers passing the Black Codes of 1865 and 1866, making it easier to imprison recently freed slaves to continue that supply of free labor.

We are catching up to the fact that capitalism was never meant to work for everyone. What will the next evolution in capitalism bring as our movements fight even harder for racial and economic justice in the face of harm to workers and marginalized communities?

Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) has created an intentional space to begin discussing what these questions mean for our work and the grantees we support. Capitalism’s origin story is a critical part of analyzing how this system operates. By acknowledging the “conjoined twins,” we acknowledge the role of race and the legacy of slavery. FJE believes that there is a renewed opportunity to support a working-class movement that builds the power of all workers, especially Black, Trans and LGBQ workers, women, and immigrants—and lift their role as the main strategists to change the system. If we believe another world is possible, then so is another system that bakes in justice, equity, and respect.


  

Join FJE for these conversations and more at the upcoming Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance event on October 17 & 18 in Brooklyn, NY. More information and registration link here.

Stay tuned for an upcoming Power Building Study Group for Neighborhood Funders Group members, and the Disrupt the System: How Labor and Philanthropy can Build Worker Power in a New Era event co-convened by the AFL-CIO, the LIFT Fund, and FJE on December 11 in Washington, DC. More information coming soon!

 
August 15, 2019

Beyond Outrage: A Clarity of Purpose

Dimple Abichandani, Executive Director of the General Service Foundation, urges grantmakers and the philanthropic sector to take concrete actions to defend democracy and speak out against racist attacks on people of color. This post was originally published here on the foundation's website.

Dimple was part of the first Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship cohort, a joint initiative of Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. General Service Foundation, which partners with grassroots organizations to bring about a more just and sustainable world, is a member of NFG.


  

Dimple AbichandaniWe live in dangerous times, and every passing news cycle contains another outrage, another violation of norms, another threat to our democracy, another threat to our planet.  

In the face of escalating racial attacks, (be it imprisonment of kids on the border or the racist rhetoric being tweeted from the white house) many have noted, rightly, that philanthropy as a sector has been too cautious and too quiet.  The Communications Network, in it’s recent piece, Silence Speaks Volumes, calls on foundations to use their voices in this moment.

Yes, it’s meaningful for people from all sectors of our society to condemn the Administration’s attacks on people of color.  And, for those of us working in the philanthropic sector, these times call on us to use all of our tools in defense of our inclusive, multi-racial democracy.  We are more than commentators or observers– as funders, our role is to resource a more just and equitable future. What we do in this moment will be far more important than what we say.  

As painful as this moment is, it is also a time in which the work to be done has become more clear. The vulnerability of our democracy has become more clear.  Racial anxiety and social divisions are being stoked in order to prop up a reckless system that benefits only the wealthiest. As we condemn the most recent of a long list of outrages, can we also use this moment to deepen our own clarity of purpose, and ensure that our funding will bring about a more just future? 

As funders, we can not only speak out but also take action to bolster our inclusive democracy.

  1. Support those most directly impacted by injustice. Instead of wielding of our own voice and power as a foundation, we can support those most directly impacted by injustice to build their voice, power, and leadership. They must lead the way to a more just world; it is our job to uplift and resource their visions and voices. National organizations such as Color of Change, New American Leaders, and National Domestic Workers Alliance, regional and state-based organizations such as Western States Center, Black Voters Matter and Workers Defense Project and so many others are seeding a future in which racial, gender and economic justice will be the norm.
  2. Invest in the creation and dissemination of narratives that reshape cultural attitudes around belonging in our country.  The recent escalation in the use of racist and sexist rhetoric is not happening in a vacuum– rather it builds on broader public narratives shaped by white supremacy and male dominance.  We need to normalize new narratives that humanize all of us, that value all of us. Organizations such as the Pop Culture CollaborativeReFrame, and the Culture Change Fund, for example, build capacity for narrative equity and culture shift.
  3. Question the default funding habits and practices that limit us from making a bigger impact in this moment. As funders, we sometimes have a blind spot for how our internal practices create unnecessary burdens and barriers for organizations that do the important work we support. This moment calls on us to question our practices, shift to ways of working that account for the gravity of the problems we face, and center the people who are leading the social change efforts we support. Could your foundation increase its payout, provide more general operating support, increase the length of grants, and minimize busywork for grantees? Could you shift your grant strategy to more boldly meet the moment or more directly address the imbalances of power in our society? The Trust Based Philanthropy Network has tools and stories of inspiration from foundations who have increased their impact by changing their practices.

So many of us in philanthropy are eager to do something meaningful in this tumultuous time.  Let’s challenge ourselves to use this moment to put our institutional values into practice. Let’s walk the walk as boldly as we talk the talk.