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Lessons Learned: Reflections on PolicyLink’s Equity Summit 2015, Part 2

By Manuela Arciniegas on March 18, 2016

Last week I highlighted some of the major lessons I learned at PolicyLink’s Equity Summit. Below are a few additional insights that will inform my work with AFF in the year to come:

#3 Pathways for youth are critical and we are all in it for the long haul—for the youth we serve, organizations we support and the leaders who help make it happen.

To continue building movements, the young people need the space and opportunity to do so. Equity Summit 2015 hosted many conversations about establishing a pipeline of jobs for the next generation, particularly for young people of color. At AFF, we believe that this pipeline is vital to connecting 5.5 million opportunity youth[1] ages 16-24 with careers.

Access to career and educational pathways are critical to preventing opportunity youth who are affected by systems we believe to be disruptive (i.e. youth exiting foster care and/or juvenile justice systems) from ending up homeless and/or incarcerated. That’s why we partner with organizations such as LeadersUp, Jobs for the Future, United Teen Equality Center and More Than Words, that are helping connect youth to sustainable career pathways and expanding opportunities for young people of color.

“An inclusive workforce leads to a competitive economy. We need to ensure that young people of color have access to the same employment pathways so that they can contribute to our economy.”
Jeffery Wallace
President, LeadersUp

Access to career pipelines in youth organizing are also important, given that social justice movements can last many lifetimes. How do we ensure that career growth is possible for youth in this field and enable them to potentially transition from member to executive director? Leadership development is a critical component of organizing. For example, preparing 10 youth organizers to engage 200 community members toward a positive solution justifies the time-intensive cultivation of young leaders and expands our grant impact. Grantee partner Dream Defenders shows us how organizational leadership development can be effective. They work with their members for more than a year, and offer youth organizing jobs within the organization to their cultivated youth leaders first.

“We stay away from traditional leadership because, we believe, it’s not an effective way to engage young people. Most movements are started and/or led by youth, so we have to find ways that bring out the potential in everyone.”
Rachel Gilmer
Chief of Strategy, Dream Defenders

It was evident that many of the more seasoned movement leaders at the Summit began their careers as young people. Fellowship and internship opportunities, funder collaboratives, programs by intermediaries and capacity builders like grantee Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing are critical to building the pipeline and ensuring youth can grow into organizational leaders.

#4 Self-care is critical to sustain our ability to work toward social justice; It’s up to all of us to aid each other’s self-care.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, intergenerationality was a reoccurring theme at the Summit. Although many of us would love to see the long-term engagement of youth in social justice organizations, we recognize the potential for burnout. Elders cautioned youth to pay attention to the other side of this work—self-care. Those of us who are engaged in social change need space to rest, reflect and collaborate in order to improve upon our practices and do our best work.

“We provide the only safe space specifically for LGBTQ youth of color in New Orleans. Our focus on healing justice and leadership development amplifies queer and trans youth voices to change the systems that criminalize them.”
Wes Ware
Founding Co-Director, BreakOUT!

AFF provides capacity building opportunities for executive directors because we are mindful of the wear and tear that organizational leaders undergo when trying to grow a small or mid-sized organization. An emphasis on self-care is evident within our grantmaking process, in which we listen and collaborate with our partners to help them implement more sustainable practices. By engaging with organizations in this way, we can shift their focus away from general operations and toward making a greater impact.

#5 Keep our eyes on the prize.

“We have watched the largest expansion of criminalization of black, brown and white poor people in this country in the last 100 years…We have to repent that we have not fought for our young people the way they deserve to be fought for. We obsess about their pants, their hair, their teeth, more than we obsess about their bodies and spirits being broken. Our focus is in the wrong place.”
Pastor Michael “Mike” McBride
National Director for Urban Strategies/LIVE FREE CampaignPICO National Network

So where should we focus? Policylink’s Equity Manifesto provides a great compass.

Equity Manifesto

“This is equity: just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. Unlocking the promise of the nation by unleashing the promise in us all.”
Excerpt from Equity Manifesto

These words echo AFF’s core values and investment in youth-serving organizations. Herein lies the promise, and what a treat to have recognized it with so many peers dedicated to obliterating inequality.

Thank you for reading my reflections on Equity Summit 2015. I hope these lessons help to inspire more dialogue about the change we’re working toward. Please feel free to share this series on social media.


[1] Also referred to as “disconnected youth”, this population of young people are neither employed nor enrolled in school. According to the Opportunity Index, there are 5.5 million disconnected or opportunity youth currently living in the United States.