AFF Statement on Racial Justice

The Andrus Family Fund (AFF) stands in solidarity with our grantee partners and the movement for Black lives—a movement recently pushed forward by the gruesome murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police. We recognize the countless other Black and Brown lives taken by systemic racism and discrimination leading up to—and since—this current moment. We also work to shine a spotlight on the especially targeted members of the Black, Brown, Native, Women/Girls and Trans communities who experience extreme violence and erasure—people like Breonna Taylor, whose experiences are readily forgotten, not centered, and to whom justice is not delivered.  We are committed to dismantling white supremacy in order to promote and uphold racial equity. We will not forget. 

As a social justice philanthropy, with a focus on racial justice and the liberation of youth, we recognize elements of power and privilege at play, notably in relationships with trusted grantee partners. It is these partners who have been leading on-the-ground organizing, advocacy and service work. Partners such as Youth First, aiming to close youth prisons which disproportionately impact Black youth, The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), mobilizing individuals and Black organizations to create a shared vision and agenda that defends Black lives, and Dream Defenders, an organization founded after the killing of Trayvon Martin to promote the organizing of Black and Brown youth and restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated people. We support you and stand in solidarity with our resources and connections to help you continue to build power for directly impacted youth in this current moment and for the long haul.  

Now is the time to collectively re-imagine a just society—a society where the work of AFF and its partners would not be necessary. Our mere existence as a foundation is evidence enough that justice is not a lived experience for many of the communities we aim to support. In order for this vision of justice—a vision that so many of our movement partners hold—to become reality, this moment is requiring more from all of us.  

Given the need for immediate action and response, AFF has shifted various grantmaking practices toward trust-based philanthropy models in order to move increased dollars more quickly to the field. We are also organizing with other funders and internally to educate family members about the systems, policies and biases upholding racial injustice that are pervasive in today’s society.  

In this critical moment, we invite other foundation boards to respond to the moral imperative presented by this moment. This is not a time to center white fragility and turn away from the sorrow, maintain status quo practices and funding levels, or ignore the urgent demands and needs of grantee partners. Instead, this is a time to commit to funding Black-led organizations, engage in deep education to undo racism at the levels of boards and senior leadership across foundations, diversify foundation boards, lean into trust-based philanthropic practices by removing barriers to funding, and organize other foundations to robustly fund groups at a level and scale “like we want them to win” (in the words of Ash-lee Henderson, Co-Executive Director of the Highlander Center). This is a time to explore what accountability to social justice movements can look like. Foundation boards unilaterally have the power to vote and implement these powerful changes immediately. Bold, courageous action, like the actions being taken by frontline Black and Brown communities. 

We recognize the need to do more—that this moment requires more from us—and ask ourselves “if not now, then when?” This is our moment. We must act now. 

The AFF board resoundingly supports following the lead of our grantee partners and our nation’s young people committed to racial and social justice, and urges us all to stand behind them.  

In Solidarity,

The AFF Board & Staff

Succeeding Together: Meet Niara, AFF’s Summer Intern

Niara Nelson joins the AFF staff as this year’s summer intern. Learn more about her below.

Tell us about yourself.

I am a 21-year-old from Brooklyn, NY and a rising junior transferring to Columbia University this fall. My interest lies in multicultural psychology. I love to hear about the human experience in different forms and why people behave the way they do in specific contexts. This is my first time learning about philanthropy and social change in such a unique capacity. In the past, I have worked with food justice on an urban farm. I have also benefited from direct service organizations such as Prep for Prep, and a capacity building organization, Ladders for Leaders. Ladders for Leaders is a component of the Summer Youth Employment Program which is run by the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development. 

What do you like most about your internship at AFF?

I am fascinated to see another side of social justice and social change and I am curious how this knowledge will evolve throughout the summer. I am excited to learn more about the amazing work AFF’s community of grantees has accomplished and how this work has impacted many people’s day-to-day lives. I know that whether it is direct service, advocacy, community organizing or capacity building, together you are all making incredible strides towards that just and sustainable change we all believe in. 

I appreciate working in service of AFF’s mission as well as their grantee partners’ because I know, from experience, that changing one person’s perspective can change an entire community’s reality. AFF and their grantee partners know the importance of knowledge and resources and share this knowledge. I love that there is an emphasis on learning and collaboration rather than individualism, so that we can all succeed together. I have never been so welcomed and supported from the start in a new environment. I imagine this translates into the grantmaking process as well. 

How do you think this internship will impact your future?

I hope I can learn how to be involved in social justice in my own life. I have already begun to explore the plethora of resources and organizations in Brooklyn. I can be hesitant in new situations, but I hope to gain the confidence to find the different communities I may need that will allow me to grow into myself. I also want to find the communities that I can uplift with the knowledge I have gained through my experiences. I hope to learn to be a kind, creative and understanding leader. 

Welcome to the team Niara!

Grantee Spotlight: Ruby Ruiz of Communities United/VOYCE

A space to build youth power and ignite movements

*This was recorded/written prior to the passage of the HB 2084 bill in the Illinois State Senate, which will increase mental health resources in schools.


I am Ruby Ruiz, an organizer with Communities United and VOYCE.

I am my cousin…who is on his third strike and is locked in a cage, but is waiting on me to send him a dictionary so he can expand his knowledge.  

I am my mother who is a sexual violence survivor. 

I am my brother who lost his life to a fight with depression.

I am one of the many faces behind a movement to change the notion that in order to be safe, we need to have metal detectors and more police officers in our schools and communities.

Today our communities are fighting back against that notion. We know first-hand the repercussions of combating poverty with a baton instead of job, to address trauma and drug addiction with handcuffs and overcrowded jails rather than therapy and rehab. 

What safety means to our communities is that our brothers and sisters have someone to talk to if they are experiencing trauma or abuse.  Safety means that we can walk the hallways knowing that people do not see us as criminals, but as people with value.

This issue is very personal to me, just as it is to the students and survivors that stood in front of a room full of cameras in February as we launched the Rethinking Safety Campaign. Our goal is to create safer and healthier schools and communities through investments in mental health, and shifting resources from the criminalization of poverty to jobs and mental health. Most importantly, our goal is to challenge traditional thinking on what it means to be safe. 

I am proud to say that in the coming week, over 300 young people will fill the halls of the Illinois State Capitol calling on policymakers to take action on our vision for change. We hope you will join our movement.

Disrupting Inequity to Heal, not Harm: Empowering NOLA’s Opportunity Youth

In our last blog series, we identified grantee partners in New York and California who incorporated healing, hope and care into their program models. Now, we’ll introduce you to inspiring New Orleans-based organizations that are committed to working collaboratively to empower the city’s youth. We at The Andrus Family Fund strongly believe in the power of collaboration and know that collaboration on a local level is critical to helping young people improve their lives.

From income and education to criminal justice and LGBT rights—research clearly shows us the structural inequalities in Post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. Ten years after the storm, inequality continues to be a critical issue in the recovery efforts as low-income children and families continue to be left behind. Additionally, we know that the well being of our country’s youth is declining and the racial disparity of those negatively impacted by the child welfare and criminal justice systems is widening. Children and youth of color continue to be overrepresented in these systems. Even though both systems are meant to be temporary, they tend to create long-term outcomes that negatively impact the ability of these young people to be productive in our workforce and economy. This inequity is why we, as a funder, feel it is important to support grantee partners that are deeply rooted in the fabric of New Orleans and actively engaged in empowering vulnerable youth.

“We saw there was a need in the community; there was a gap in services that was not being met. Young people want to have opportunities to better themselves and create better lives for their families. We want to give young people the opportunity to be a catalyst to do that.”
Melissa Sawyer, YEP Co-founder and Executive Director

The Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) is a force of positive change that helps opportunity youth[1] in the greater New Orleans region succeed. YEP was formed in 2004 as a response to the lack of services and high recidivism and mortality rates among juvenile justice involved youth. Since then, YEP has grown significantly and now operates nine programs that serve more than 1,000 youth annually.

YEP engages underserved young people through community-based education, mentoring and employment readiness programs to help them develop skills and strengthen ties to family and community. Working with a positive youth development model that recognizes the trauma its young people have experienced, YEP provides individualized and nurturing wraparound supports to give participants the caring services they need.

YEP’s community-based education programs, NOPLAY and The Village, provide young people with HiSET (GED) preparation and wraparound supportive services. These programs work to improve adult literacy rates through both structured classes and drop-in centers available in four locations across the city. Although YEP’s educational programming is geared toward youth between the ages of 16-24, YEP will not turn anyone away who wants to learn. Recently, a mother and daughter duo completed NOPLAY and received their HiSET diplomas within months of each other.

The organization’s Community Reintegration Program (CRP) remains the only re-entry program in New Orleans that provides intensive supports to young people exiting from secure and non-secure state-operated juvenile justice facilities. As a result of the program, one recent CRP graduate said, “I’ve learned to stop and think before I act, and recognize the consequences of my actions.”

YEP also helps to develop the employability skills of youth participants through the Trafigura Work and Learn Center. Here, young people can earn educational stipends while they acquire necessary job skills and gain hands-on experience in fields such as computer coding, graphic design, bicycle repair and customer service. Nearly 40 percent of graduates from the Work & Learn Center have successfully transitioned into employment opportunities, chipping away at the city’s staggering unemployment rate that reaches 52 percent for Black men[2].

In response to the pervasive challenges (lack of good educational opportunities, insufficient and unreliable public transportation, inadequate amounts of quality affordable housing, etc.) that persist in New Orleans, YEP is committed to finding innovative ways to meet the needs of marginalized youth in the community.

YEP’s Executive Director is a founding member of the Opportunity Youth Coalition. This group of executive leaders represents some of the city’s most reputable youth serving organizations, and meet regularly to ensure that they are sharing resources effectively, providing unduplicated, quality services and raising awareness about the challenges opportunity youth face. Additionally, YEP is part of the Opportunity Youth Data Sharing Council (OYDSC), convened by local funder Baptist Community Ministries. This initiative brings together service providers who are working together, utilizing their data to improve the outcomes for youth in the region.

YEP also partners with many non-profits across New Orleans to address the critical issues that negatively impact youth. An example of this collaboration is with fellow grantee partner BreakOUT!, whose mission is to end the criminalization of LGBTQ youth to build a safer and more just city. YEP partners with BreakOUT! to ensure that there are quality, accessible adult education opportunities that meet the needs of young people who identify as LGBTQ.

Collaboration between grantee partners strengthens service delivery and helps to ensure that resources are being maximized to address the comprehensive needs of opportunity youth in New Orleans. AFF is proud to work with all of our regional grantee partners to provide the support they need to sustain and strengthen their individual and collective impact.

In our next blog post, we will focus on how grantee partner BreakOUT! is disrupting inequity to empower New Orleans’ LGBTQ youth.


[1] The term “Opportunity Youth” was coined by John Bridgeland in a 2012 report, discussing the “extraordinary untapped potential” of connecting the nation’s 5.6 million young people who are out of school or unemployed to schools or jobs.

[2] as noted in the 2015 report The State of Black New Orleans 10 Years Post-Katrina

Healing, Hope and Care: Models for Transforming the Lives of Vulnerable Youth, Part II

The Andrus Family Fund recognizes the role that healing, hope and care play in developing young people as well as fostering strong, vibrant communities. exalt and RYSE are good models of how this approach is being used to transform the lives of vulnerable youth.

“Because of past trauma, some of these young people are on survival mode. We emphasize the need to build students’ self confidence, focusing on their strengths. All young people have the right to thrive and explore their passions. That’s why we focus on helping them build their best possible self, healing along the way.”
Danielle Brown Fuller,
exalt Executive Director

exalt is based in Brooklyn, New York and works directly with court-involved youth. By reaching youth at a critical crossroads, exalt inspires lasting behavioral change by teaching youth to believe in their self-worth. exalt empowers their youth by developing life skills—such as how to communicate in the workplace—needed to avoid recidivism and reach their personal and professional goals. exalt’s program is responsive to the needs of young people, supports those who are motivated to change and acknowledges the barriers they face—all within a nurturing environment.

Unlike other programs, participation in exalt is completely voluntary. They believe the non-compulsory nature of their program is the reason why it is so well received by youth. Even before students are accepted into the program, exalt staff will meet with them to gauge their commitment to the program and themselves. This screening process is meant to put students at ease and motivated to change their behavior even before they set foot in a classroom.

While classes meet after school, the lessons taught at exalt cannot be found inside a traditional classroom. exalt’s core curriculum is designed to help students develop four core skills: critical thinking, creative problem solving, communication and resource management. These lessons resonate with students because they are taught within real-life situations they can relate to and connect to their lived experience. Additionally, exalt tackles the injustices stacked against their students head-on—educating them on the school-to-prison pipeline and the systemic injustices that feed it. By helping students understand these connections and realize their potential, exalt is actually counteracting the pipeline for its students.

“exalt brings out the confidence in you; it gets you to try to better yourself so that you can grow to be who you want to be in life.”
Imanii, exalt youth

Putting students on a path to employment is another important aspect of the program. Through partnerships with employers across a variety of industries, students obtain paid internships. Some students have completed internships at organizations—such as the Innocence Project and Criminal Justice Initiative—that are reforming the very criminal justice system they are a part of. Many times, this is the first job a student has had. For some, these internships have led to additional internships and permanent jobs.

Even after youth graduate from the program, exalt continues to work with students through its open door policy and alumni networking events (i.e. educational support, career exploration, college enrollment, alumni internship, etc.) that support their continuous well-being.

We are excited to be working in collaboration and supporting exalt as they raise awareness about their innovative approach to youth development, build their capacity to share promising practices and expand internship opportunities for students and alumni.

On the West Coast, another grantee partner is using its own integrated approach to transform vulnerable youth.

“At this center, youth are actually telling us what they need and we’re making it happen.”
Kimberly Aceves, RYSE Executive Director

RYSE is a youth center in Richmond, California built on the principles of social justice, youth organizing and community transformation. The center’s current response to this trifecta is a burgeoning Youth Justice program called the Restorative Options and Reentry Project (ROAR). They take a trauma-informed approach to youth development that aims to curtail involvement in the juvenile system, provide reentry supports, increase educational and employment opportunities. This model incorporates four core initiatives:

Intervention – Youth touched by the justice system can participate in an integrated 8-week program. Upon completion of the program, youth may have their arrest charges dropped and record removed.

Reentry Programming – For young people that have spent time within a facility, ROAR provides holistic reentry support, which includes individualized plans to fit the needs of each young person.

Hospital-linked Violence Intervention – In order to interrupt cycles of community violence RYSE engages young people that have been harmed by crime at their bedside. More than just a hospital visit this includes assistance with medical follow up, victims of crime compensation application, navigation with and between legal, medical, educational, and other systems, and aid in securing material and well being needs.

Career Development – With a focus on helping young people dream their own futures ROAR focuses on the booming technology industry in the Bay Area. They arm participants with skills they needed to become part of the technology sector.

By providing stabilization, recovery and healing, ROAR believes that it can transform the lives of young people and the communities they come from. We are proud to partner and learn from their model.

In the final installment of our first Healing, Hope and Care blog series, we will see how grantee partner The Reset Foundation is using trauma informed interventions as an alternative to incarceration.

Katrina is an experienced and respected leader with more than 15 years of experience working on a national and regional level. She has worked in the non-profit and philanthropic sector, including serving as AFF’s Program Officer. Currently, Katrina is testing how partnerships between philanthropy and government can work on behalf of our most vulnerable youth and their families as the Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services. Connect with Katrina on Linkedin.

Reimagining the Power of Young People

In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed… It means facing a system that does not lend its self to your needs and devising means by which you change that system. ~ Ella Baker, 1969

Ella Baker was not only an educator; she also became one of the nation’s greatest activists during the Civil Rights Movement. She understood that the system that made it almost impossible for Black Americans to thrive economically needed to be radically changed, and young people had the power to create that change. At AFF, our focus is all about equipping youth and their communities with the tools to create that long lasting change she speaks of.

We know from the data that the number of youth impacted by disruptive systems like foster care and criminal justice is astounding and the challenges that they will likely face are immense as they transition out of these systems. The odds are stacked against them and the policies and practices that would create the conditions for them to be successful are fragmented and often times very detrimental to their social, emotional and physical well-being. Black and Hispanic children and youth continue to be overrepresented in these systems and even though both systems are meant to be temporary – they tend to create long-term outcomes that negatively impact the ability of these young people to be productive in our workforce and economy.

We know that poverty is a key contributing factor and Baker knew how inextricably linked poverty was to the advancement of Black Americans during the 1960’s. Today, we have seen how poverty has plagued the overwhelming number of children who end up in “the system.” Civil rights activist Mary Frances Berry offers a plausible explanation: “What happens is you have kids who grow up in an environment which is not nurturing because the resources aren’t there…When you add that to the neighborhoods they live in and the schools they go to starting from kindergarten, it’s an environment in which there is poverty and there are drugs.”

Because poverty is a complex problem, finding a solution is equally complex. Berry makes the case that change should start in the school building. She believes that many of our schools are failing its most vulnerable students by pushing them out and not offering alternatives to reengagement. I contend that as well intentioned grant makers, service providers, nonprofit professionals and community leaders we also have failed our young people by not providing safety nets and alternatives that can support them in being successful in school, work and life.

Children do not grow up in programs and services, they are nurtured in communities by caring adults and coordinated systems. Children and youth thrive when they are viewed as assets to be developed rather than problems to be solved. Communities thrive when young people are given real opportunities to share power with adults and community leaders to make decisions that would benefit the community. While poverty is an underlying factor and one that we all need to wrestle with, we also have forgotten to nurture and support young people caught in these twisted systems so that they can be architects of change and leaders of a new social movement. We have to open the door for a new generation of leaders to reimagine a different future. As leaders, we have to be comfortable with allowing young people to voice their ideas and equip them with the knowledge to work alongside us in working toward a greater society that cares for its children and is committed to unlocking the potential within.

While changes to public policy can shift the course for many vulnerable youth, there is no replacement for community engagement. I think this powerful statement by a currently incarcerated blogger sums it up, “Love and affection provide children with something no government initiative or school program can – self-esteem.” Now that we understand the work that needs to be done, each of us has the responsibility to take action. AFF is taking its action supporting organizations which are committed to removing barriers and creating conditions in where our most vulnerable youth can thrive; this not only impacts their lives but also our country’s economic prosperity.

Katrina is an experienced and respected leader with more than 15 years of experience working on a national and regional level. She has worked in the non-profit and philanthropic sector, including serving as AFF’s Program Officer. Currently, Katrina is testing how partnerships between philanthropy and government can work on behalf of our most vulnerable youth and their families as the Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services. Connect with Katrina on Linkedin.