Movement Partner Spotlight: Youth First Initiative

Hernan Carvente Martinez of Youth First Initiative explains what abolition means to him, what a world without youth prisons looks like and what it will take to get there.

The Next Evolution of Andrus Family Fund

Dear Movement Partners:

I have two pieces of exciting news to share with you. The first is about the Andrus Family Fund’s strategic refresh, and the second is about my next role in this movement.

Sharpening our Focus
In 2021, we embarked on a year-long journey to refresh AFF’s grantmaking strategies to meet the rising needs of the youth and communities we serve. From the outset, we were clear that the uprisings against police brutality and Black lives coupled with the compounding effects of pandemic and economic crisis disproportionately impacted the communities we support. We were also clear that our refreshed strategies must rely on our grantees’ and movement partners’ up-to-date analysis of the challenges and opportunities their communities face.

Alongside a Movement Partner Advisory Council composed of current grantees working across a range of issues, we took stock of our eight years of grantmaking—and the lessons we learned—to support systems change work that improves the lives of the youth we serve.

We analyzed the state of our communities, the political and socio-economic climate at local and national levels, and the challenges and opportunities for transformative systems change. And most importantly, we listened to the needs and aspirations of youth-serving organizations and the broader movement. We collectively charted a future vision for AFF’s work that sharpens our focus through these efforts.

I’m thrilled to announce that the AFF Board just approved a strategy refresh that will double down on youth organizing, abolition of prisons, policing and family separation systems, builds movement infrastructure and capacity, and seeds alternative models to local systems meant to serve youth and communities. 

This refreshed strategy builds on the knowledge, experience, and lessons learned through our work together as funders, movement partners, and the broader field. It clarifies our funding strategy in the work we’ve already supported for years.

Leaning into our Values
As part of this strategy, we have refreshed our mission to reflect our sharpened focus and values of racial equity, inclusion and justice.

Mission: We envision a just society in which Black, Brown, Indigenous, LGBTQIA, disabled, and undocumented youth are thriving in empowered and supportive communities, free from state violence and family separation.

Organizing to Build Power
Our primary partners towards advancing our mission will be organizations led by directly impacted youth who are Black, Indigenous, People of Color, Asian Pacific Islander, LGBTQIA, queer, disabled and undocumented–those youth often pushed to the margins. By investing in their power building and supporting them to advance the alternative systems and policy changes needed to bring about a more just society, we commit to moving money to BIPOC-led organizations that have historically gotten the short end of the stick from philanthropy.

While we see the critical need for direct services in the communities AFF prioritizes, we are focusing our effort to resource those leaders and initiatives who are actively pushing to transform those systems and build community power. Prioritizing the organizing strategy (which sometimes also incorporates the provision of direct care for youth as they organize) is prioritizing the power of young people to construct something new that better serves and works for them.

Nyoka, Zaira and I are in conversation with the handful of grantee partners whose funding is affected by our strategy refresh. We are committed to strengthening their sustainability with a final grant and to being as direct, transparent, respectful and thoughtful as possible.

My New Chapter
February 4th was my last day at Andrus Family Fund, and I will soon join the Ford Foundation as a Program Officer in a national program that focuses on civic engagement, government and movement building. While I’m thrilled about the opportunity to continue serving youth from this national perch, this is a bittersweet moment for me. It has been an absolute honor to partner with you by investing in the leadership and brilliance of our nation’s most marginalized young people.

I know the news of my transition coupled with our strategy refresh may be disconcerting to some of you, but please be assured that the work and partnership approach of the Andrus Family Fund will continue. Our strategic refresh will be at the core of the work going forward, and I’m thrilled with the progress we’ve made in centering our commitment to building power for youth on the margins and to sharing power with communities. This perspective will be at the heart of the search for my replacement.

Nyoka Acevedo, our Program Officer, will serve as Interim Director, as we begin a national search for my successor. Please be on the lookout for the job posting on the AFF website in mid-February.

The future of AFF is bright. We have clarity in our mission and grantmaking focus and a terrific, dedicated team, board, movement advisory council and movement partners to make it happen. Individually and collectively, there is so much to be proud of.

Thank You
Thank you for trusting us. Thank you for being the burning ember that made my purpose unequivocal during this recent foray into family philanthropy. Your dedication to racial justice and movement building has been nothing short of astounding, especially in these difficult times.

I look forward to the next decade of serving our nation’s youth and, as always, wish you ease, joy, victory and enduring racial and social justice.

In solidarity,
Manuela Arciniegas
Outgoing Director

The Visionary Freedom Fund Announces Inaugural Cohort of Grant Recipients in Grantmaking Led by Youth Organizers to Transform Youth Justice System

VFF distributes $2.5 million to 26 youth-led groups transforming the justice system and invites donors to join the movement to fund all 600 applicants

NEW YORK — The Visionary Freedom Fund (VFF) today announced its inaugural cohort of grant  recipients, distributing $2.5 million over two years to resource 26 youth-led organizations on the frontlines of transforming the youth justice system. 

“Young people are articulating solutions and realizing wins to end our nation’s systemic punishment, criminalization and violence against Black, Brown and Indigenous youth,” said Manuela Arciniegas, director of the Andrus Family Fund, which launched the Visionary Freedom Fund. “Yet, few funders support youth justice movements, let alone give young people a say in what gets funded. In response, the Visionary Freedom Fund formed the Power Table where youth organizers collaborate with movement leaders and funders to set the grantmaking strategy and determine how VFF’s resources are deployed. Power Table members know firsthand what’s wrong with the youth justice system and what their communities need, so they’ve funded an inspiring  group of grantees.”

Selected by the VFF’s Power Table of eight youth organizers, four adult movement leaders and 11 funders, this first round of two-year general operating grants will help organizations advance their long-term visions for a youth justice system that helps, not harms, young people, communities and society. All organizations and projects are led by Black, Immigrant, Indigenous, Queer and Trans and AAPI communities. The grantees are working on a range of efforts, including abolition, restorative justice, calls to divest from policing and prisons and invest in vital community services and building the leadership and power of young people.  

“We know that the youth legal system has to change and that youth organizers like myself, who are impacted by this issue, have the necessary analysis and vision for how best to transform it long term,” said Andrea Colon, a youth organizer member of the Power Table and co-director of Sis & Non-Cis. 

“As youth movement leaders, often we’re told to sit back and hope that our calls for funding and support will reach the right ears without a chance to have a voice in the process of distributing funds. So I was thrilled to seize the opportunity to lend my voice to the Power Table to help maximize the impact of these grants and support as many incredibly transformative groups as possible,” said Jemima Abalogu, former youth justice ambassador at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

“We are proud to kick off the Visionary Freedom Fund with this inaugural cohort of grantees and we are humbled by the overwhelming amount of interest and applicants,” said Bryan Perlmutter, VFF’s project coordinator. 

“We are inspired by the innovative leadership of youth organizers supporting their communities and carving out paths towards collective healing,” said Jessica Pierce, VFF’s project coordinator. The impressive pool of applicants makes clear that young people across the country are not only seeking resources for transformative change, but they are also fundamentally community leaders who are building a vision for a future that is for everyone.” 

VFF received more than 600 applications from youth organizations across the nation, representing a variety of innovative approaches to transform the justice system—from campaigns and leadership development to healing justice, arts and community building efforts. “I have been supporting youth organizers across 14 states to build state campaigns and close prisons. Knowing that there were 600 organizations doing similar powerful work just reveals the glaring funding gap that we must all galvanize to close,” said Hernan Carvente-Martinez, national youth partner strategist at Youth First Initiative.

“As a funding community, we have the opportunity to fund all 600 applicants if we can raise an additional $24 million,” said Erik Stegman, director of Native Americans in Philanthropy, an adult movement and philanthropic leader at the Power Table. “Investing in youth traditionally left out of philanthropic resources, like Native youth, gender expansive youth, women and girls or Black youth, is a must for philanthropy. They carry the burden, live the impact and are the untapped and underinvested visionaries for change.” 

“Together, by pooling our resources, we can boldly transfer power to young people and ensure that resources are deployed precisely to where and to whom needs them the most,” said Loan Tran, adult movement leader at the Power Table and co-chair of the Third Wave Fund advisory council. “We invite funders and donors to join the Visionary Freedom Fund and our learning community at”

You can also learn more about VFF on the latest episode of the Out Of The Margins podcast. In this episode, you’ll hear from members of the Power Table, including one of its youth leaders, and learn about the importance of funding youth-led organizing, the grantmaking process and lessons learned along the way.

The 26 organizations selected for VFF’s inaugural cohort are:


About the Visionary Freedom Fund:
The Visionary Freedom Fund (VFF) seeks to ensure that frontline communities have the resources, capacities, supports, infrastructure and relationships that they need to develop and implement inspiring long-term strategies to transform the youth justice system. VFF’s Power Table is a youth-led collective whose members come together to inform values-aligned funders about how to support their long-term visions for youth justice. Together, they will help transform the way philanthropy partners with frontline communities by creating equal representation at the table where grantmaking strategies and decisions are made. VFF’s philanthropic partners include the Akonadi, Hazen, Heising Simons, Libra, Ms., Perrin Family, Pinkerton, Satterberg and Public Welfare foundations, as well as Wellspring Philanthropic Fund and the Andrus Family Fund. Learn more at

About the Andrus Family Fund:
The Andrus Family Fund (AFF), a program of the Surdna Foundation, is a leading national social justice funder that believes that young people deserve more than one opportunity at a good, sustainable life. AFF supports youth ages 16-24 who are impacted by child welfare, youth justice or other disruptive systems. Learn more at