Youth Action Fund’s Bold Bid to Boost Young Voices

  • This story is for OutFAU, our student publication covering Florida Atlantic University. To see more from OutFAU click here

Photo from Youth Action Fund.

Cold hard cash.

That’s what Youth Action Fund is giving out to assist young people in their activism.

The premise is simple. Give out money to young activists so they have the means to protest, to push back, and to stand up.

For many queer youth activists, it’s the difference between pursuing their aspirations of making a difference, or taking a job to make ends meet.

YAF is the brain child of Cameron Driggers, a 19-year-old freshman business administration major at University of Florida. The organization officially launched a few months ago.

“All of us have experienced problems with the established nonprofit industrial complex,” said Driggers, who is serving as YAF's Executive Director. “Within Florida, where billions and billions of dollars are funneled into the state, to supposedly fight the rise of fascism, and all types of things happening, but really, with all that money spent, there's not much to show for it. Hardly any of it actually gets to people on the ground.”

All the founders of YAF are Gen Z college students. The organization is a nonprofit led by LGBTQ+ college activists. Its goal is to allow all students with an interest in activism, regardless of their socioeconomic position, to affect change.

They’ve created two main programs. One is for individuals that provides funding up to $500 for youth activists that can be used for personal expenses. The other is for groups planning campaigns that can be funded up to $1,000.

“We are really focused on expanding young people's access to advocacy and activism,” said YAF Board Chair Maxx Fenning, a 21-year-old senior business administration major at University of Florida.

Fenning is also the executive director of PRISM, an organization focused on youth LGBTQ+ education. He was brought into YAF because of his nonprofit management experience.

“Oftentimes young people are extremely under-resourced and unfortunately a lot of older folks in this space do not help in that arena,” Fenning said.

These leaders understand that activism isn’t cheap. Students are the most energized and engaged, but also the least funded. YAF hopes to change that.

“In order to make activism accessible and equitable, it's so important to get that funding out there and to support activists embarking on really diverse and comprehensive actions that they want to do in their local community and even across the state,” said YAF Deputy Director Jack Petocz, a 19-year-old freshman political science major at Vanderbilt.

Besides just cash, the organization will offer advice and help with strategies to those who want it. Additionally, they’ll be given access to other tools like Canva.

“We expect that young people on the ground [will] accomplish far more than the more established non-profit organizations in Florida, if you give them the resources to be successful,” Driggers added.

Will Larkins, a young activist and freshman FAU student, acknowledges he had a leg up on his activism.

“I have been in a lucky position where my parents were able to support me through high school,” he said. “There are a lot of students who are not in that position. There are a lot of students who are working to organize projects, who don't have the ability to fundraise, or don't have the ability to just use their own money.”

Larkins, who was previously involved with YAF, mentioned that he's spent upwards of $500 on his own projects, so he fully understands the costs that actually go into making it work.

“I couldn't get any large organization to reimburse me. And I spent all that money on this protest that I organized,” he said. "I was lucky enough to be in a position where I was able to do that financially where I was able to spend that time during high school –  not working – and instead working on advocacy.”

Larkins acknowledges the influence of his financial standing on his ability to engage in activism.

“I also have gone to Tallahassee more times than I can count to testify against bad bills and bring students there,” he said.

And that’s the whole point of the Youth Action Fund – hand out cold hard cash to the energized youth who can make the most difference in the state.

While all the leaders of the organization are members of the LGBTQ community – the activism they’re supporting and encouraging isn’t limited to that issue. However, they won’t get involved in political campaigns.

For example a recent campaign they took part in was pushing back against HB 49, which would roll back decades of child labor laws.

“Obviously, as a youth based organization, that's of great concern to us,” Driggers said.

YAF zeroed in on Linda Cheney, the bill’s sponsor, launching a pressure campaign.

Driggers was a part of an effort to occupy Chaney’s office last month. Meanwhile, Chaney hid in her office and refused to confront the young activists.

“We demanded to speak with her. She actually was hiding in her office away from us, which was pretty funny,” Driggers said.

Older generations will often talk about how the youth are the future, but Fenning believes it takes more than just lip service to make true.

“Young people are the future and young people are going to change the world, but only if we give them the resources to do that,” Fenning said. “There's no use passing the baton to the next generation if we're going to shackle their feet to the ground. It requires an intentional investment in young people and young leaders to really build a better world for future generations. We have to be able to give them the resources to do that.”


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