Reflections from Eric Braxton

POSTED: 1.29.2023

Dear friends and colleagues,

As I end my time on staff at FCYO, I wanted to share a few thoughts as well as my gratitude for all the support I have received. After 11 years on staff and 10 years on the board before that, October 31 was my last day on staff at FCYO. 

It has been an honor and privilege to watch the field of youth organizing grow over these last twenty-one years. I have seen youth organizers go from winning small victories in individual schools or neighborhoods to winning changes that improve the lives of people in whole cities and states. I have seen youth organizing go from being marginalized and disregarded by funders and adult social justice leaders to the point where most people recognize the vital role of young people in our movements and where there is growing (though still insufficient funding). I have seen hundreds of young leaders grow up to take key roles in organizing our communities for justice. 

But I have also come to realize that, given the challenges we face today, this growth is laudable but insufficient. With an impending climate crisis and rising white nationalism, simply making youth organizing a respectable part of our non-profit infrastructure is not enough. We need a youth organizing sector that is a catalyzing force for movements that can truly advance a more just, sustainable, and equitable world. 

This catalyzing role is one that young people have played in other movements from the South African freedom struggle to the US civil rights movement. It is possible for young people to play that role here and now, but as FCYO and our youth organizing allies have been saying, it will require some significant shifts. This means FCYO, youth organizers, and funders will have to stretch ourselves to meet the challenges of the moment in several ways. 

First, it will require getting serious about building power. We cannot settle for moral victories or feeling empowered. Instead, we must grapple with how to build the power needed to win transformative change. 

Second, it means building multi-generational and multiracial alliances. Young people have a key role to play, but they cannot win the changes we need alone. Similarly, building the majorities that can win transformative change will require the hard work of uniting people across lines of race and class. 

Last, we need campaigns that are grounded in today's reality and also advance a long-term transformative vision for society. We will need to balance winning things that improve people’s lives now with building the power needed for bigger battles in the future. 

Doing all of this will mean embracing two seemingly contradictory things: rigor and grace. On the one hand, building the power we need will mean rigorously challenging ourselves and each other to do more than we can currently do. On the other hand, we must do this with love and grace for ourselves and each other. One of the biggest challenges we have is that our insecurities, fears, and sense of scarcity can lead us to tear each other down. We cannot let that happen. We must build the skills for emotional intelligence and principled struggle that allow us to support and hold each other accountable as we grow. 

FCYO has committed itself to supporting young people in building the capacities to lead transformative movements. This has meant taking a risk in stepping outside the normal roles of a philanthropic intermediary to support youth organizers in building new capacities and set a higher standard for practice. This last week FCYO held a convening in New Mexico with 67 grantee partners. I saw youth organizers be rigorous and vulnerable in assessing their organizations and making plans to transform their work to meet the challenges of the moment. 

This week made it clear to me that youth organizers are stretching themselves and leveling up to build long-term transformative power. But they cannot do this unless funders also change their practices. Funders must stop focusing on short-term policy wins and learn to support long-term power building. They must learn to distinguish transformative organizing from the advocacy and mobilization that dominates our sector. We need funders and organizers that are aligned around a long-term strategy for building power. Trying to transform a system with resources that came from that system is no simple task. To navigate that contradiction funders must be clear about what they are committed to and be willing to take risks for it. 

FCYO has grown into a place where funders and organizers are coming together to learn, strategize, and expand resources for young people at the forefront of social movements. This work is more necessary than ever and I am so excited to see what they do in this next phase. No one is better prepared to lead this than Mónica Córdova with her deep commitment to young people, justice, joy, and rigor. 

I am grateful for the opportunity I have had to be part of this work and a member of this amazing team. I realize how fortunate I have been to get to do this work with such dedicated and caring people. I’m looking forward to taking a little time off and then finding the best way that I can contribute to our movements. Thank you for all of your support over the years. I look forward to the challenge and beauty of struggling alongside you. 

With gratitude,