2020 Stories of Resilience
Inspiring Underrepresented Youth to Become Leaders
"It’s important that people know ‘the why.’ You know, why I created this organization,” said iUrban Teen founder, Deena Pierott.
Pierott was a Commissioner on former Washington Governor Christine Gregoire’s Commission on African American Affairs. During that time, she was the Commissioner assigned to Southwest Washington.
Still to this day, all of our ethnic commissioners were talking about the opportunity gap issue, especially for male youth of color. I started immediately working in my community of Southwest Washington, asking ‘how can we put a dent into these numbers? How do we get our families more knowledgeable of opportunities and education?’ “
Then she was asked to participate on a chief information officer council in Portland.
“And when I went into the meeting for the first time I realized I was it for diversity. It was a room full of white men. I sat down and soon started thinking, ‘Wait a minute. We've got kids of color falling through the cracks, being marginalized, disenfranchised and not having a pathway to opportunities. But this is where the opportunities are, here in this room.’ “
It was in that lunch meeting that Pierott had the idea to start iUrban Teen. With the help of some of the men in that room that day, she launched the organization's first event six months later.
“After that first one, I knew that we had created something pretty magical, families were involved and that we had to keep going. So we did.”
iUrban Teen is now a nationally recognized program focused on bringing career focused education to underrepresented teens ages 13 to 18. The teenagers receive hands-on exposure to STEM+C+A, Civic and Communication careers, outside of their current boundaries.
The target demographics are African American, Latino and Native American males, however, the program is inclusive of all youth. iUrban Teen programs are now in Washington, Oregon, California, and Texas.
“I am just so impressed. I really, truly am at how people are really understanding the need for equity, the need for allyship, and the need to dismantle the systemic racism that we've had. With iUrban Teen, I'm going to continue building this yellow brick road for these kids no matter what because they need that support in place to get to where they need to go.”
Fostering Social Justice Solutions
If you’re familiar with philanthropy, you’ve probably heard the phrase giving circles. In these “circles,” groups of people donate money or time to one common fund in order to raise awareness and engagement of a certain issue.
“Social Justice Fund Northwest NW follows a similar idea with its collaborative philanthropy, sharing giving power across race and class to fund grassroots movements for social change. This is all while facilitating an inclusive process,” said Palmira Figueroa, Social Justice Fund NW’s Campaign Manager.
In the Social Justice Fund NW Giving Project model, people of all economic classes and income levels offer their knowledge, life experience, and financial contributions. The projects provide financial resources to grassroots organizing with the goal of bringing about long-term social change.
“We are an organization that doesn’t just focus on asking for donations, but building relationships,” said Figueroa. “We’re focused on communities and believe the work that our groups are doing is actually funding - resilience. They’re organizing and fighting for what they need, their rights and making decisions within their own communities.”
The Seattle-based organization has about a dozen staff and board members in the Portland Metro area. Its goal is to draw on the untapped expertise of community members who otherwise have been excluded from institutional philanthropy, and make sure their voices influence what is funded.
Founded in 1978, it coordinates activist experiences for donors who pay for training, coaching and then work for a designated six-month period on projects with an ethnically diverse group of participants.
Just one example of resilience through its 2020 giving, Social Justice Fund NW is offering financial resources to organizers addressing the short-term impacts of COVID-19. They’re funding organizations that serve Black, Indigenous, Pacific Islanders and other communities who do not typically receive as much funding from philanthropy as others.
“We are tied together in our liberations. By supporting organizations that are working against the current system, we are focusing on the success of historically marginalized people. If the system is for me to survive and for others to fail, then I am a part of the system and a part of the problem, but if I step forward and am part of the solution, then I am here for the liberation of everyone,” said Figueroa.
2020 PHILANTHROPY AWARDS STORIES OF RESILIENCE SPONSOR