Introducing The Skillman Visionary Awards
Ground Building

New report shows the growing power of youth organizing in Southeast Michigan

The Power of Youth Organizing

We are excited to announce the release of Power and Potential: Youth Organizing in Southeast Michigan, a landscape scan of the current state of youth organizing in Southeast Michigan and analysis of strengths and growth opportunities to build from to support a strong ecosystem of youth-led system change.

The Skillman Foundation has invested in young people for over 62 years—not just so they can meet the future but so they can make it. Youth are inspired by the possibilities of what could be and what must be. They have the conviction needed to make large-scale change happen. And today’s young people, perhaps more than any other generation before them, have a savvy understanding of social issues and how our public systems are currently designed to reinforce and exacerbate them.   

What issues are most important to young people in this moment? Where are they organizing? How can philanthropy support youth-led movements? To better understand youth organizing in Southeast Michigan, we commissioned this landscape scan through the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing.

Photo of DAYUM youth organizers and strategic coordinator, Julia Cuneo

“This report is an important first step towards foundations recognizing and resourcing the powerful organizing work Detroit youth have been leading for decades. No longer will young people be told they can be leaders of social change once they grow up. This report, and the years of youth-led work that inspired it, demonstrate that Detroit youth are already leading the way.”
-Julia Cuneo, Detroit Area Youth Uniting Michigan, Youth Organizing Advisory Council

Gratitude to Our Partners

The scan was completed through joint effort and partnership with the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing and a local Youth Organizing Advisory Council.  With over two decades working alongside visionary organizers and philanthropic leaders, FCYO’s grounded assessment of the youth organizing field and insights on its transformational potential contributed significantly to the scan. We are grateful for the community and critical support we have and continue to receive through our partnership with FCYO.

The local advisory council, facilitated by Akua Hill and Imani Harris, helped to further ground the scan through the expertise and lived experience of youth organizers and their adult supporters. Their insights and recommendations provide important guidance about how to meaningfully put the recommendations from the report into practice. We are endlessly thankful for their partnership and will continue to walk alongside those closest to the work who know best. This is the way forward.

What you’ll find in the report:

  • National youth organizing field overview: The practice of youth organizing has a long history in the U.S. and the Detroit region. Visit Section 1 to learn about the evolution of the youth organizing field and national trends.
  • Southeast Michigan Landscape Scan: Detroit and Detroit-area youth are leading change in powerful ways. Visit Section 2 to learn about the region’s youth organizing ecosystem, the issues youth are tackling, how their work is resourced, and strengths and challenges in the field. [advisory quote?]
  • The Role of Philanthropy: Visit Sections 3, 4, and 5 to learn about local and national philanthropic capacity to support youth organizing in the Detroit region and learn about lessons from national examples that can be applied locally.
  • What the youth organizing field has to say: The landscape scan was approached with a commitment to valuing and amplifying local voices, perspectives, and expertise. Visit Appendix II to review the local advisory’s recommendations about how philanthropy can further support the work of youth organizers.

“Youth organizing in Southeast Michigan is important because we need big, bold, and fresh ideas to disrupt systems and create a better quality of life for everyone. Young people are our future and our present, and we need to center their voices in decisions that affect them. What stood out to me about the report is that it includes recommendations to move this work forward that centers equity and youth voice. It challenges us as adult allies to continue to step away from the table so that young people can reimagine the design and even build new ones.”

– Courtney Smith, Detroit Phoenix Center, Youth Organizing Advisory Council

Photo of Courtney Smith, Detroit Phoenix Center CEO

The Potential and Possibilities that Lie Ahead

In April, the advisory council shared their reflections about the report and presented the council’s recommendations. We heard that philanthropy can best support the field through trusted relationships, by valuing the expertise and readiness of the field, and through equitable and flexible supports that allow organizers to do the work. We are ready for the possibilities that lie ahead if we follow their charge. As we go forward together, at The Skillman Foundation:

  • We are committed to investing in youth power building toward youth-centered and led education systems change. We know this is long-term work.
  • We are committed to supporting young people as visionary leaders and designers of bold destinies.   
  • We are committed to mobilizing resources to support the field—contributing to more sustainable power building through collective efforts and aligned resources.
Lindsey Barrett

Lindsey Barrett is a partnership manager of Ground Building with The Skillman Foundation. She leads the Foundation’s efforts to build power with Detroit youth.

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