Gen Z Is the New Beginning

W&EHF BAY Fellows and Skillman Foundation President’s Youth Council members at the Grantmakers for Education Conference in Atlanta, GA in October 2023


Our future is a multiracial democracy, where demographers project that by 2048 a majority of Americans will be people of color. This future is driven not by an influx of immigrants but young people of color. In fact, as sociologist Dr. Manuel Pastor points out, our country is living with a racial generation gap, with a 14-year gap between the median age of whites and of Latinx peoples, and “an older generation looking at a younger generation and not seeing itself and not making the investments that are necessary for that younger generation to thrive.”

The younger generation — Gen Z — isn’t waiting to make our collective future better for us all. Four leaders, ages 19 to 22, working at the Skillman Foundation in Detroit and the Walter & Elise Haas Fund (W&EHF) in the San Francisco Bay Area, presented a Funders Lab, “Get Ready for Gen Z: Foundations Driven by Youth” at the Grantmakers for Education Conference, and laid out learning and action steps for philanthropy to center youth. Veronica, Shamere, Quirina, and Jeremiah have together designed, implemented, and decided $700,000 in grant dollars for the community, along with 16 of their peers at both foundations as part of the Skillman Foundation President’s Youth Council and the W&EHF BAY Fellows, respectively.

Here are excerpts from that Funders Lab, and a larger call to action for adults working in philanthropy:

Move from adults using youth…

“Adults describe youth as either at risk or exceptional. You bring us out to get funding then send us to the back room to eat pizza.”

“Youth don’t like being used. We will get tired of speaking if you don’t listen. We do this work because we have a personal stake in making our communities better.”

“Language matters. Don’t call us kids. Don’t denigrate the people we serve. Let young people control the narrative.”

“Don’t make assumptions about us. Listen to us.”

…to how we can learn together…

“Don’t expect perfection. We’re all learning here.”

“There’s a deep generational divide that we should be working towards closing.”

“It’s going to be messy. But the messiness is the good part. That’s where the learning and growth happens for youth and adults.”

…about money and grantmaking…

“For our generation there’s either no relationship with money or a bad relationship.”

“Those closest to the problems are usually furthest from resources, especially young people. The roles we play in foundations is changing that.”

“Young people submitting nominations [for organizations to receive Possibility Grants] and young people making the decision [of who receives grants] is a win for everyone.”

…shifting power…

“There are not enough young people [here] at the conference. Why aren’t young people in spaces where you’re discussing the future and education issues that directly impact youth?”

“We are leaders already. Tell us we belong and that we already have it in us to lead.”

“[We should have] more youth decision makers. Give us a seat at the table and decision making power …”

“… but also, you can’t invite me to a table I already own. We are the rising demographic in this country.”

…and what you can do *now*

“The way institutional philanthropy works limits youth organizers. There’s too much emphasis on quantitative metrics. Focus on our dreams and aspirations. Invest in our dreams and aspirations.”

“Don’t be scared. Let go of things you created without us. Those things aren’t working for us.”

“Don’t forget to pay us. We deserve and need to get paid. We live in a capitalist society. We can’t live for free.”

“Create access! And not just for exceptional young people. Not just for loud young people. Find us and give us access.”

“Gen Z is the new beginning.”

More about the writers

Veronica Cañas is an Oakland-raised activist who is passionate about building safe and healing spaces for BIPOC and queer people, and is focused now on reimagining philanthropy spaces to provide true support for communities.

Shamere Duncan is a youth advocate from the city of Detroit, founder of Black Initiative 313, and student at Wayne State University. She works to enhance communities and create racial equity through volunteerism, social media, and social engagement.

Quirina Gutierrez is a first-gen Zapoteca invested in healing for the community, who currently organizes for college affordability and access. Quirina is currently a student at San Francisco State University.

Jeremiah Steen is the first youth trustee for the Skillman Foundation. His goal through his organizational leadership is to create opportunities to ensure communities receive the resources they need.

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