Youth Organizing Supports Thriving, Powerful Young People

FCYO and allies have long explored how youth organizing fits in a spectrum of approaches to developing young people, and how its distinct practices go further than other forms of positive youth development to spark powerful outcomes that are especially relevant to low-income young people and young people of color.

Over the last decade, new research has provided more evidence that youth organizing is a best practice for supporting the holistic, individual development of low-income young people and young people of color across these important areas:

Academic Success

Research shows that young people involved in organizing think more critically about their own academic trajectories, develop strong motivation to succeed in school and therefore flourish academically and are more likely to attend college than other youth.

Mental Health & Healing

There is a growing interest in how youth organizing supports holistic health and well-being through healing centered engagement, an innovative, holistic approach to addressing trauma and mental health in marginalized communities.


Social & Emotional Skills

There is exciting new evidence that youth organizing is a powerful way of promoting social-emotional learning and other critical 21st century competencies that are strong predictors of future success in young people. 

FCYO and our partners in the youth organizing field, philanthropy and academia are working together to advocate for the recognition of youth organizing as a best practice for holistic youth development, especially for low-income young people and young people of color.


Stronger earnings and employment histories

Deeper connection to school and therefore higher graduation rates

Improved academic performance

Reduced involvement with school discipline

Better mental health overall

Ability to collaborate

Access to personal creativity

Flexibility of thinking


Source: Kautz, T., Heckman, J., Diris, R., ter Weel, B., & Borghans, L. (2014). Fostering and Measuring Skills: Improving Cognitive and NonCognitive Skills to Promote Lifetime Success. NBER Working Paper No. 20749.

Why is Youth Organizing So Powerful for Low-Income Youth of Color?

Youth Organizing stands apart from other approaches that support low-income young people and young people of color to thrive.

First, youth organizing practices, youth supports and services are woven together into a distinct organizational culture that is contextually and culturally relevant to low-income youth of color, acknowledging and confronting issues of racial, gender, class and sexual oppression. While different in communities across the country, youth organizing groups share an organizational culture that is politically conscious, inclusive and affirming, supported by staff representing diverse identities and lived experiences. This organizational culture is also a key reason that youth organizing groups reach the most marginalized young people.

Adapted from Watts, R., Kirshner, B., Govan, R., & Fernandez, J. (2017). Powerful Youth, Powerful Communities: An International Study of Youth Organizing.

At the same, time, through community organizing, young people develop skills, take action and change those very systems, policies and institutions that oppress their individual lives and the well-being of communities. This is a “transformational social involvement” that builds critical consciousness and individual power and links young people’s academic success, resilience and well-being to a broader collective political and community empowerment agenda.

Addressing the conditions impacting young people of color requires both individual healing and altering the structural inequities plaguing whole communities. Youth organizing supports these two types of change to happen simultaneously. Individual and community level changes fuel each other and create a cycle of lasting transformation.  

I started getting more involved with United Students and became more active, claimed my voice, and connected systems to oppression and why certain outcomes were happening in my community; they were not the fault of my community, but the fault of larger systems – institutional systems that were failing us. My critical consciousness expanded, that internal hatred started to leave, and I began to develop and blossom into an activist, a warrior, and a critical thinker. I took that with me all the way to college as well. I went to UC San Diego and started organizing there, using the skills that I was exposed to, and taking it wherever I wanted to organize.

J-Mo, Youth Organizing Alumnus and current Program Associate at FCYO based in East Los Angeles, CA