Urban America Forward | “The Next Generation of Leadership”

“United We Dream is the largest network of immigrant youth in the country. We are undocumented, we are unafraid, and we deserve to be treated with dignity.” – Cristina Jimenez, United We Dream

“We have to think about funding our work differently. Philanthropy has a role, but we have to create alternative funding models.” – Charlene Carruthers, BYP100

“Imagine a world that is post-police; a world in which we deal with harm by ourselves, as communities.” – Page May, We Charge Genocide

Movements by young activists have galvanized national attention and spurred debate about systems of oppression and discrimination faced by communities of color—and particularly youth—in America’s cities. The voices of young leaders were woven throughout the roundtable series, and next generation leadership was the subject of an in-depth discussion on how youth leaders are innovating in organizational structure, narrative, and strategy. 

Below are the overarching themes that emerged from the series roundtables and the policy recommendations designed to respond to them.  


Overarching Themes

A sense of urgency. Incidents of brutality against young people of color, whether through state-sponsored violence as in Ferguson and Baltimore, or carried out by private citizens as in Sanford, Florida, have sparked a youth-led social movement. 

Self-determination. The organizing principles of next generation leaders are unabashedly self-determined, urging that people directly affected by the issues must lead the movements. They are also intersectional, grounded in the interconnected oppression experienced by race, gender, sexual-identity, class and citizenship status. 

Multiracial movements focused on dismantling anti-black racism. Young activists embrace racial, gender identity, sexual identity, and socioeconomic diversity. Many young activist organizations are multiracial and intergenerational in approach, but specifically name and seek to dismantle anti-black racism. 

Policy Recommendations

Seek funding that will ensure sustainability over time. Although foundations can be slow moving, donor networks and individual donors can be very effective at supporting and advancing grassroots organizing. 

Models and Tactics

The Black Lives Matter network was formed in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, and the acquittal of George Zimmerman. Founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, Black Lives Matter is an official rallying cry of the next generation social movement, and the network is reported to included nearly 30 official chapters across the United States and Canada.  The network engages in local direct action to challenge injustices varying from police brutality, income equality, housing inequality, and institutional racism and sexism.[1]

BYP 100 is an activist, member-based organization of black 18–35-year-olds dedicated to justice and freedom for all black people. Founded by Cathy Cohen at the University of Chicago, BYP100 is moving toward its goal by training young black activists in direct-action, grassroots organizing skills around issues such as ending criminalization of youth of color, dismantling the prison industrial complex, and expanding and securing LGBT and women’s rights.[2]

The Dream Defenders is “an uprising of communities in struggle, shifting culture through transformational organizing.” Founded by Phillip Agnew to combat racial violence in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin killing, the Dream Defenders is organized around the nonviolent struggle for community control of land, bread, housing, education, technology, justice, and peace. They organize against political and economic systems of capitalism and imperialism, and patriarchy in an effort to bring an end to the police state and the murder of black people, the prison industrial complex, and unequal education.[3]



[1] A. Altman, “Times Person of the Year 2015 Runner Up: Black Lives Matter,” TIME Magazine, 2015, http://time.com/time-person-of-the-year-2015-runner-up-black-lives-matter/

[2] For more on this organization, see: http://byp100.org/

[3] For more on this organization, see http://www.dreamdefenders.org/about