Thursday August 30 was my last day as Program Associate at Crossroads Fund. During my time at Crossroads Fund, one of the accomplishments of which I was most proud was helping facilitate the first five years of our Youth Fund for Social Change. Not only was I able to help direct resources toward dynamic youth-led social change groups, but my involvement in this process powerfully shifted my own thinking about the role of young people in social justice work. When I arrived at Crossroads Fund, I understood the Youth Fund for Social Change as a vehicle to more effectively include young people in existing social justice struggles around issues like the criminal justice system, immigration or LGBT rights. But what I have come to realize is that young people are already leading some of the most vital movements of our time.One of the most transformative shifts in my thinking occurred when I participated in the Rev Up! professional development training at Chicago Freedom School. Chicago Freedom School, a past Crossroads Fund grantee and recipient of the 2012 Ron Sable Award for Activism, has developed a strong curriculum for helping youth workers understand “adultism.” Adultism is a big word that describes something relatively simple – that young people are systematically oppressed both by institutions, and within our culture. Young people are not given a voice in any of the policies that directly affect them. Youth and adulthood are social constructs, and the characteristics we ascribe to young people are used to justify our denying their capacity for self determination. Adultism intersects with other systems of oppression, and negatively impacts adults as well as youth. For instance, in a capitalist system, adulthood is defined by the ability to generate an income, and thus poor folks are often seen as more child-like, and denied a voice in the decisions that affect them.At Crossroads Fund, I have had the privilege to interact with many youth organizations working to address the relationship between adultism and other social justice issues. I have watched the Immigrant Youth Justice League challenge the adult leadership of national immigrant rights organizations, who were failing to incorporate the needs of undocumented young people. I visited City Hall with a group of high school students to protest budget cuts that disproportionately affected neighborhood schools in communities of color, challenging the assumption that students should not have a voice in CPS budgeting decisions. I have learned about the Street Youth Rise Up campaign at Young Women’s Empowerment Project, where street-based youth are working to address the challenges they encounter accessing services from healthcare and social service institutions; many of these challenges arise because these systems do not acknowledge young people’s capacity to make their own decisions about where and how to live.As I transition from my current professional relationship with Crossroads Fund, I am pursuing a Masters of Education in Youth Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago. My hope is to bring youth organizing groups new tools for supporting the individual development of young people, while also helping them more effectively articulate how involvement in organizing is already contributing to positive developmental outcomes for young people. I look forward to continuing to support Crossroads Fund, the only philanthropic institution in Chicago with an explicit commitment to supporting youth organizing.(The deadline for this year’s Youth Fund for Social Change is November 5! Get more information here: