All young people have inherent value and unlimited potential. But for millions of youth in our country, their value goes unrecognized and untapped due to circumstances beyond their control. Systemic racism, bigotry, and intergenerational poverty continue to prevent so many of our nation’s young people—especially black and brown youth—from accessing opportunities that can help them reach their full potential.

To break down these barriers, we must understand them, not through the lens of data or stereotypes, but through the lived experiences of the young men and women who painfully experience them every day, and we must actively collaborate with them towards solutions. Their voices hold truths we need to know about our broken systems if we want to change those systems and give young people the chances they deserve.

To help share their stories and experiences, the Schultz Family Foundation—as part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Voices for Economic Opportunity Grand Challenge—is partnering with the University of San Diego’s Children’s Advocacy Institute, Wayne State University, and YR Media on three campaigns, respectively: Fostering Fairness, Shifting Urban Narratives, and The Speak Your Truth Project.

These campaigns range in their approaches, but they all aim to dispel misconceptions about poverty, and empower youth to raise their voice, share the challenges that face them every day, and identify solutions.

  • To raise awareness and advocate for changes to the unfair policies preventing former foster youth from escaping poverty, the Fostering Fairness initiative will develop an interactive online hub with training and resources so foster youth can share their experiences as part of a peer-to-peer education effort.
  • The Shifting Urban Narratives campaign will invite young innovators creating positive change in their community to share stories of resilience and translate their day-to-day experiences into multimedia narratives, with support from seasoned documentarians.
  • The Speak Your Truth Project will train participants to produce personal narratives of young people, highlighting their experiences and countering stereotypes within the foster care and juvenile justice systems, and distribute the content through a youth-run digital platform and national distribution partners.

These partnerships are part of a broader collaboration with other philanthropic leaders to better understand the complex causes of poverty in this country, and through the voices of those who are closest to the challenges, co-create practical solutions, and advocate for policy change.

Young people’s voices must be heard. Not until we listen can we begin to understand their challenges. And not until we understand can we have honest conversations about how to remove unjust barriers and move our country toward a more equitable future for all.