THE NATIONAL YOUTH ALLIANCE FOR BOYS AND MEN OF COLOR

Darrius Lightfoot can tell when adult allies are actually listening to him and when they are merely waiting for their chance to speak. Lightfoot, a youth organizer and co-founder of Fearless Leading by the Youth, calls this phenomenon “listening to learn vs. listening to respond.” When he and four other organizers had the chance to meet with CEOs from the Executives’ Alliance at the Spring 2016 meeting in Baltimore, he said, “it definitely showed that they were learning.”

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The National Youth Alliance for Boys and Men of Color (NYA) is a strategic collaboration of five youth organizing networks committed to advancing the leadership of young men of color in organizing for change in their communities. The NYA was initially seeded through the Executives’ Alliance by funding from The Atlantic Philanthropies and the California Endowment. Over the last year, the NYA has brought together a national network of organizations that focus on youth-led organizing and represent young men of color. Their purpose? To ensure that young men have a voice in decisions about their own destinies. Specifically, the NYA supports power-building strategies that both address the root causes of inequity and improve outcomes for boys and men of color. It will make strategic grants to youth-led organizing campaigns nationwide. The NYA network is also now positioned as a strategic partner for EA staff and member foundations to help ensure that young men of color deeply inform philanthropic strategy at every stage of development.

“As a youth representative, I bring my leadership and experience to a table where youth voice isn’t always uplifted,” said Lightfoot, a member of the NYA’s steering committee. “The National Youth Alliance wants to actually give young people leadership on what affects young people.” Lightfoot and his fellow NYA members have used that leadership to launch a movement-building fund for youth organizing on behalf of boys and men of color. At the EA Spring 2016 Meeting, they met with EA CEOs to propose a three-year 4.5 million dollar budget. Since then, the NYA has worked with the EA to raise nearly three million dollars toward that end. A number of EA members, including the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Lumina Foundation and Marguerite Casey Foundation have supported the NYA thus far, along with longstanding commitments from other funders such as Andrus Family Fund and the Edward W. Hazen Foundation.

The NYA works to shift the paradigm on work with young men of color from seeing them as problems to seeing them as having power to create lasting change.

“The response to the National Youth Alliance’s presentation was so strong because the young people expressed an urgency that we in philanthropy may feel but don’t often have an opportunity to act upon” said Lori Bezahler, President of the Hazen Foundation, a member of the EA. The NYA’s youth organizers are currently developing criteria and choosing recipients for the first set of grants, which will be administered in March 2016. These grants, Bezahler explained, have an increased potential for impact because organizing “gets at the underlying root causes of the oppression that youth experience in ways that direct services never will.” She said, “Instead of trying to help the individual adapt to a flawed system, organizing seeks to fix the system for everyone.”

The NYA represents a level of youth engagement and leadership that is largely unprecedented in the field of philanthropy. “Young people are used to being in so many spaces where the door is slammed in their face and it is assumed that they have nothing to offer,” said Eric Braxton, Executive Director of the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing, which helps coordinate NYA activities in conjunction with the Movement Strategy Center. “The experience of EA has been the opposite. This happened because young people are doing such powerful work across the country, but also because folks from the EA were receptive and made space for it.” In the coming year, EA staff will ensure deeper engagement between NYA youth leaders, the EA’s leadership, its various Collective Action Tables, and the projects that emanate from those efforts.

LESSONS LEARNED

  1. Young people have made clear there should be “nothing about us, without us.”
  2. Philanthropy cannot be most effective without engaging boys and men of color as strategic partners in their own right. Authentic engagement requires openness, flexibility, and humility to listen to critique and be open to suggestions.
  3. Engaging young men on strategy also requires investing in leadership development for young leaders and engaging adult allies in appropriate ways.

RESOURCES

Learn more about the National Youth Alliance for Boys and Men of Color and visit the networks that comprise the NYA

  • Alliance for Educational Justice
  • Community Justice Network for Youth
  • Dignity In Schools Campaign (DSC)
  • Opportunity Youth United
  • Sons and Brothers