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Youth Organizing Can Be a Powerful Strategy for Funders


Part of the power of youth organizing is that it connects individual transformation to systemic change, and supporting youth-led change is an important grantmaking strategy. It brings together the right people with the right strategies to create social change and protects our other investments by cultivating a leadership pipeline for the future. From the Civil Rights Movement to current efforts for safe communities and just schools, young people from across the South have always been at the forefront of advocating for just and equitable communities. Building on this proud tradition, a new generation of Southern young people is leading efforts to advance health, justice, equity and dignity. At the same time, new research is showing that engaging young people in organizing to create lasting change in their communities is one of the best ways to support their development. Youth organizing efforts in the South have succeeded in achieving real change for their communities such as:

The Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing (FCYO), in collaboration with Grantmakers for Southern Progress, The Highlander Research and Education Center, Project South, The Southeastern Council of Foundations, Southern Echo, Inc., Southern Vision Alliance and The United Way of Greater Atlanta is holding a funder briefing on June 4 from 10:00am to 5:00pm at the Loudermilk Conference Center in Atlanta, Georgia, to engage with youth leaders and local and national funders to discuss how to support young people as drivers of community change across the South. We urge funders across the region to join us.

Attendees can expect three takeaways from this interactive day:

  1. Hear from young leaders from across the South about how they are building on long standing organizing traditions and innovating new ways to develop leaders and advance justice and equity. The opening session, The History of Intergenerational Organizing in the South, will lift up the roles young people have played in organizing from the Civil Rights Movement to the present and explore how youth organizing today builds on long standing organizing traditions. This interactive discussion will feature youth organizers from multiple generations, and will include Project South, based in Atlanta, Loan Tran with the Youth Organizing Institute in Durham, Ash-Lee Henderson from the Highlander Research and Education Center and Hollis Watkins, a civil rights activist from Mississippi and founder of Southern Echo, Inc. The briefing will also offer breakout sessions focused on taking deeper dives into two topics. The first, Political Significance of the South, will explore how youth organizing groups are addressing changing demographics and how they are engaging both rural and urban communities in their work. Organizers from El Pueblo, Inc. in Raleigh, STAY Project in Central Appalachia and SPARK Reproductive Justice Now! in Atlanta will lead this interactive breakout.

  2. Learn how youth-led community change is a triple bottom line investment: Explore the latest research findings on the multiple outcomes of youth organizing. The second deeper dive breakout session, Youth Organizing to Support Individual Development, will feature the latest research that shows engaging young people in organizing can not only create stronger communities, but also is one of the best ways to support young people’s holistic development. Recent research shows that involvement in youth organizing contributes to the social-emotional and academic development of young people in powerful ways, while also promoting their civic and community engagement. These products are part of the distinctive organizational culture and practices that characterize youth organizing.

  3. Strategize with both local and national funders on how to sustainably support youth led social change in urban and rural areas across the South. Our last session, Funder Journey Stories, will bring national and regional funders together to share the story of how any they came to support youth organizing, along with lessons and best practices to support this work. Speakers will include Will Cordery, with the national funder Wellspring Philanthropic Fund, Laura McCargar of the Perrin Family Foundation based in Connecticut and Southern funder Katrina Mitchell of United Way of Greater Atlanta.

As funders, we often feel that we have to choose between supporting young people’s individual development and creating systemic change. Part of the power of youth organizing is that it recognizes that the most effective change happens when individuals and communities transform together. As communities across the South are facing big challenges, supporting the next generation of young people who are leading big community change is one of the best investments we can make. Please join us in Atlanta on June 4 to learn, connect and witness the power of this work.

Eric Braxton is executive director of the Funders' Collaborative on Youth Organizing.

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