Over the past decade of our work as a foundation we have invested substantially in the civic engagement and activism of young people – primarily, but not exclusively, in young people of color – in pursuit of a health and wellness agenda for Californians.
And we have been thrilled with this “ROI” – the return on investment.
It was young leaders of color in Fresno, Los Angeles, Oakland, and Santa Ana who mobilized their activism to raise the issue of harsh school discipline and preventable school suspensions and expulsions. They asserted an alternate vision that included more behavioral health, counseling services, and restorative justice practices in the school setting. School suspensions statewide are down by nearly 50% over this period.
On the matter of health insurance coverage, it was the young “Dreamers” – undocumented activists – who challenged the media and policymakers to rise to the defense of DACA and advance a vision of Health For All in California. California legislators responded positively to their advocacy.
On the issue of juvenile justice reform, young leaders across the state are leading with a new narrative of “Schools Not Prisons” and “Close Youth Prisons” – asserting that jail and locked detention facilities are the wrong way to address young people who have made mistakes and engaged in crime. The population of children and youth in locked facilities across California continues to decrease, with San Francisco and Los Angeles counties now beginning to close or re-purpose youth detention facilities and replacing steel bars with services and supports.
There are a broad range of “messes” that my generation of Americans have left for this younger generation to clean up, such as outrageous wealth inequality, the exorbitant cost of college, and epidemic levels of homelessness.
But the two that rank as the most unacceptably painful are mass shootings, and climate change.
As evidenced by the mass shootings last week at Saugus High School and at a Fresno family gathering, these horrifically tragic events are now regularly scheduled episodes in our civic life. The mobilization of young advocates in the aftermath of the Parkland shootings was both inspiring and heartwarming to see – and we will need to see these waves of activism develop into an electoral tsunami, demanding gun control through their voice and vote.
Similarly, with the battle against climate change, as youth activist Greta Thunberg embodies the value of “speaking truth to power” on the global stage – imploring us, shaming us, and embarrassing us into needed action.
Over the next decade of our work as a private foundation, you will see our Board assert stronger emphasis and intentionality on investments in the leadership, engagement, and activism of young people in pursuit of a healthier California. The shootings and wasted lives at Saugus High School and in Fresno remind us of why.