Investing in young people on the frontlines of social change

Investing in young people on the frontlines of social change

We forget, sometimes, just how young movement leaders often are. Representative John Lewis, who we lost this year, was only 21 years old when he and 12 other Freedom Riders launched a movement to protest illegal segregation on interstate busses. Looking back at his storied career as a champion of equity and civil rights, it is easy to see how Lewis’ experiences as a youth organizer set him on a lifelong path of civic leadership.

Youth organizing resonates with me on a personal level as well. Growing up, I was surrounded by youth leaders and organizers. The elementary school I attended in Oakland was founded by the Black Panther Party, and many of my teachers and mentors there were young adults who saw teaching as part of their work in advancing the movement for racial equity. They were young adults with a clear vision for the kind of community they wanted Oakland to be, and they drew on their experiences as organizers in their commitment to raising a new generation of activists and to creating a community where Black children and youth could thrive.

In recent years, the Black Lives Matter movement shaped the landscape on which the 2020 election played out. Through this movement, hundreds of thousands of young Americans of all racial and ethnic backgrounds came together to demand an end to police violence against Black communities. Not only were young people at the forefront of protests across the country, they showed up at the polls in November as a resounding voice for a racially diverse nation.

Young leaders, particularly young people of color, are driving change on the most critical issues facing our communities and the world. Young people are standing up and fighting for a world free of police violence and mass incarceration. Young Indigenous leaders are joining with their elders and allies to protect the environment. Young people who are undocumented immigrants are advocating for more equitable immigration policies and challenging law enforcement cooperation with ICE. And young people around the world are demanding action on the growing climate emergency.

The young leaders on the frontlines of social movements pave the way for deep change that benefits all of us.  We owe a great debt of gratitude to these young people.  We stand on their shoulders, whether we know their names or not. This year, protests organized and led by young people of color following the murder of George Floyd sparked more progress in addressing anti-Black racism in just a few months than what others have accomplished over multiple years of presenting data, memos, and policy suggestions. This is the power of youth organizing and advocacy. Young people have the robust imagination to envision a new and better future and to push the bounds of what’s seen as possible.

Throughout its history, San Francisco Foundation has invested in opportunities for young people and their leadership. We continue that commitment today, supporting young people’s leadership and organizing – across issues and identities – with our own resources and in partnership with other funders.

I am excited to announce that San Francisco Foundation has joined with other philanthropic partners to create the Northern California Youth Organizing Funder Collaborative and launch a new pooled fund, the Youth Power Fund, to provide resources for young leaders of color and youth-centered organizations in the Bay Area. This fund was co-designed with local youth leaders to be responsive to the needs and opportunities they see in our region. The Youth Power Fund is housed at Northern California Grantmakers, and the philanthropic partners are working with YO! Cali, a network of youth-led organizing groups, to facilitate youth involvement in the grantmaking decisions and in shaping the capacity-building and technical assistance support the fund offers to youth organizers.

The Youth Power Fund has made its first round of grants to 25 Bay Area organizations that support organizing with young people of color in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara Counties. The total amount granted is $500,000, and the majority of grantees are Black-led or Black-membership groups that are most impacted by systemic racism and economic and social injustice.

I invite donors and foundations to consider joining the collaborative and contributing to the Youth Power Fund for the next phase of grantmaking, coming in late Spring 2021.

The Northern California Youth Organizing Funder Collaborative includes The California Endowment; Crankstart; Gerbode Foundation; Heising-Simons Foundation; Northern California Grantmakers; San Francisco Department of Children, Youth and their Families; San Francisco Foundation; Stuart Foundation; and the Walter and Elise Haas Fund. Read the announcement of the new fund.

Congratulations to the inaugural grantees of the Youth Power Fund! Learn more about the organizations and consider supporting the next generation of changemakers in our region.

Youth Power Fund
Fall 2020 grantees: