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The Value of Lived Experience: Meet AFF Board Member Lucero Noyola

By Andrus Family Fund on April 11, 2024


We recently sat down with new AFF board member Lucero Noyola (she/her) to talk about her background, her vision for the fund and the value lived experience brings to philanthropy.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m Mexican American, born and raised in Los Angeles, California. I experienced the foster care and juvenile justice systems here in L.A. County as a teenager; I was locked up a number of times and lived in a group home. I became a single teen mother.

Despite my lived experiences, I enrolled at East Los Angeles Community College before transferring to the University of Southern California, where I double majored in psychology and sociology. Then, I stayed at USC to get my master’s in social work because I was so influenced throughout my life by organizations that help youth.

Tell us about your journey into philanthropy.

Coming into philanthropy from the direct service world wasn’t easy. Most foundations want folks who have nonprofit leadership experience, not someone who has been serviced all their life as a client or participant. I really had to convince the field that I brought my own value.

Eventually, through a nonprofit serving former foster youth with summer internships, I landed an internship with the Hilton Foundation. And that was it. Once I had my foot in the door and experienced working within foundations and grantmaking, people were much more willing to consider me for other roles.

What made you want to join the AFF board?

By offering spots on the board to community members, AFF inherently recognizes the value of lived experience. Very few organizations make that a priority. So, immediately, I was drawn to the opportunity. I know what I bring to the field; it just takes other people to recognize what lived experience can bring.

AFF’s mission also really aligns with my values and how I like to move in this field to support communities looking to shift power. I feel like a lot of the time in my work, I’m trying to push boundaries to create access for folks like myself. And that boundary was non-existent with AFF, so naturally, it was a space where I could slide in without having to put pressure on anybody or feel pressured in return.

Tell us a bit about your experience on the board so far.

It’s been great. We recently went to Montgomery, Alabama, for a retreat to learn about slavery in America and the history of racism in our society. We visited the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which were extremely powerful experiences.


We also visited an amazing sculpture garden created by a Black artist named Michelle Browder to educate us about the “mothers of gynecology” — the enslaved Black women who were experimented on by white doctors without consent. Seeing her huge welded sculptures of women was impactful.

For me, the entire experience reinforced AFF’s important work in pursuing racial justice and shifting power dynamics. These spaces might be “preaching to the choir” in the sense that only those who care to learn this history will visit. However, my intention is to share what I learned within my circles, be a more conscious ally and advocate more. I’m so grateful to have been provided this educational opportunity.

AFF’s focus now centers abolition. Have you always considered yourself to be an abolitionist? If not, when and how did that evolution happen?

For a long time in my work, I was a reformist. It wasn’t until I spent a lot of time working within systems and nonprofits that I realized that no matter how much you want to change a system from within, there’s always going to be a structure that creates boundaries on how much you can do. That’s really when I took more of a macro-level view, which began to align with abolitionism — realizing that these systems cannot be reformed.

That doesn’t mean we don’t support reform work. A lot of times, that’s where the most will is to bring allies on board. It’s also a strategic approach. But abolition can create new systems designed to serve communities without all the racism that currently exists. I don’t know how anybody expects to get racism out of existing systems when they were literally built around racism.

What are your goals and hopes for your time on the AFF board?

AFF is looking to invest in social justice causes and communities fighting for social justice, not just in progressive states, but in areas that really need help from outside funders. Hopefully, we can learn about them and support them as much as we can within our budget. Another goal is for AFF to serve as a model to change the hearts and minds of people in philanthropy to start embracing abolition.

What advice would you give to future board members, especially those who aren’t part of the Andrus family?

My advice is to enjoy it, embrace it, and really stand up for your worth and what you bring to this role. There can be a lot of imposter syndrome. Like, thinking, “This isn’t my money, and I’m not part of the family. Why do they want me here?” But that’s exactly why they want you there. Never forget that you are wanted in this space. I know how blessed I am with this opportunity, and I really look forward to doing this work with the group.