For the last decade, the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing (FCYO) has invested in youth-led and intergenerational organizations that are addressing health disparities to enhance the overall well-being of students and communities. Over the years, our grassroots partners have built up their organizing capacity and won significant policy victories across issue areas linked to the holistic health of young people. These victories include increased water access in schools, improved school lunch programs, school-based health centers, increased investment in mental health supports, and shared use agreements. Through this work, we have learned that civically engaged students and parents are fundamental to healthy schools and community ecosystems.
The health of students relies on a healthy and equitable school and community environment. Due to systemic inequalities, low-income, young people of color are at greater risk for trauma, chronic disease, high stress, and other health-related issues that impede their academic success and healthy development. The health of young people of color is deeply embedded in social determinants of health, we must develop a true understanding of the conditions in which they are born, grow, learn, and play as well as a wider analysis of the macro-level forces shaping the conditions of daily life. Such forces include economic policies and systems, development agendas, social norms, social policies, and political systems. Efforts to address health inequities ignore these forces and instead treat symptoms without addressing their root causes. Further, such efforts are frequently top-down in their approach and do not truly engage the leadership of those most impacted. This often results in solutions that do not work. To move the needle on health community organizations are increasingly using a health equity frame that connects issues such as housing and school discipline to health and embraces community healing and other practices not as a diversion from organizing, but as a key part of equipping leaders to promote broader and long-lasting structural changes. As those most directly impacted by structural inequities, and given their inherent capacity for generating powerful, community-driven solutions, young people of color and their parents must be decision-makers in creating safe, healthy, and just schools and communities for students.
FCYO’s 20th anniversary poses a unique opportunity to reflect on the advances youth organizing has made over the last 20 years, to evaluate our learnings from the Healthy Communities Initiative, and to put forth a courageous vision where health, justice, democracy, and equity are core values.
This one-year cohort will focus on generating opportunities for alumni organizations of FCYO’s Healthy Communities Initiative to strengthen their skills and deepen their analyses. In addition, FCYO will assess the health equity landscape for youth of color to ensure future initiatives are grounded in the reality of how young people experience the adverse impacts of inequity on their health. Drawing from assessments of previous initiatives, below are the strategic areas we see as necessary to create healthier schools and communities. These will be the focal points of the organizer training, webinars, and grantmaking.
- Power Analysis: More clearly define what actualizing power means and clarify strategies that wield meaningful power to achieve healthy communities.
- Leadership Development and Skill Building: Share strategies that deepen the leadership of a core group of students and parents from the communities most impacted by health disparities as decision makers in creating safe, healthy, and just schools and communities.
- Building Strategic Alliances: Learn about building strategic alliances and including unlikely partners to achieve a win.
- Base Building and Network Activation: Better understand how to build a network or coalition of students and parents ready to take action on issues of health and wellness in their school system and community.
- Policy Development, Advocacy, and Implementation: Uplift ways to create, advocate, and ensure implementation of policies that improve school and community environments for low-income students of color.
Healthy Communities Organizations
- Baltimore Algebra Project, Baltimore, MD
- Community Food Advocates, New York, NY
- FRESH New London, New London, CT
- Grow Hartford Youth Program, Hartford, CT
- InnerCity Struggle, East Los Angeles, CA
- Khmer Girls in Action, Long Beach, CA
- The Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), Chicago, IL
- RYSE Center, Richmond, CA
- Sociedad Latina, Boston, MA
- SouthWest Organizing Project, Albuquerque, NM
- Southwest Workers Union, San Antonio, TX
- Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!), NC
- Youth United for Change, Philadephia
 World Health Organization (n.d.). Social determinants of health. Available from: http://www.who.int/social_determinants/en
 Pastor, M., Terriquez, V., & Lin, M. (2018). How community organizing promotes health equity, and how health equity affects organizing. Health Affairs, 37(3), 358–363.