National Youth Alliance for Boys and Men of Color

National Youth Alliance for Boys and Men of Color


Supporting the leadership of young men of color is central to the EA’s work. Driven by this commitment, several of our members provided seed investments to launch the National Youth Alliance for Boys & Men of Color (NYA), a nationwide network of youth-led organizing groups.  In doing so, they made the bet that our young men can be the architects of their own liberation.

The Story

NYA is comprised of five youth-organizing networks, each having dozens of individual member organizations:

Alliance for Educational Justice

Community Justice Network for Youth

Dignity in Schools Campaign

National Council of Young Leaders

Sons & Brothers

Together, they serve as a strategic partner to the EA, ensuring that directly impacted young men inform our collective philanthropic strategy at every stage of development. They bring to the space critical insights, understanding, and opportunities. With exclusive support from EA members, NYA has raised nearly $3 million—much of which will be strategically re-granted to youth-led campaigns across the country.

The idea for the NYA was birthed at the EA’s Spring 2016 meeting. A group of young men and supportive adult allies shared their vision for a youth-led arm of the movement for boys and men of color, proposing a national network of young people who would work to advance change to policies and systems through organizing and advocacy.

Their simple declaration that there is “nothing about us without us” made clear their view that foundation-led efforts could only go so far without directly impacted young men of color being at the forefront of the work. They also requested resources to support this effort.

A private meeting between foundation CEOs and young leaders sealed the deal. By the end of the evening most of the foundation CEOs in the room expressed an interest in supporting the youth-led effort.

Darrius Lightfoot, a youth leader in the NYA and co-founder of the Chicago-based organization Fearless Leading by the Youth, noted, “I can tell when adult allies are actually listening to me and when they are merely waiting for their chance to speak.” Lightfoot calls this phenomenon listening to learn vs. listening to respond. When he and other organizers met with CEOs from the EA, he said, “It definitely showed that they were learning.”

As Lori Bezahler, president of the Edward W. Hazen Foundation explained, “The response to the National Youth Alliance’s presentation was so strong because the young people expressed an urgency that we in philanthropy may feel, but don’t often have an opportunity to act upon.”

Today the NYA is a network in its own right, composed of five youth organizing networks, each representing dozens of individual organizations nationwide. It has its own philanthropic power, using funds from EA members to make strategic re-grants to youth-led, power-building strategies that address the root causes of inequity and improve outcomes for boys and men of color.

The NYA is the most important strategic partner to EA staff and member foundations, helping ensure that young men of color have a voice in decisions about their own destinies and that they inform philanthropic strategy at every stage of development.

The NYA represents a level of youth engagement and leadership that is largely unprecedented in the field of philanthropy. “Young people are used to being in so many spaces where the door is slammed in their face and it is assumed that they have nothing to offer,” said Eric Braxton, executive director of the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing, which helps coordinate NYA activities in conjunction with the Movement Strategy Center. “The experience with the EA has been the opposite. This happened because young people are doing such powerful work across the country, but also because folks from the EA were receptive and made space for it.”

In these ways, the NYA helps to shift the dominant narratives about young men of color—from seeing them as deficits to seeing them as leaders. The network’s efforts also hold promise to alter the paradigm of engagement with young men of color, from being treated at arm’s length as recipients of charity to being engaged as capable architects of their own liberation.