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Open Society Foundations Launch Fellowship for Youth Activists

New fellowship to support young people advancing change in their communities, with particular emphasis on human rights and inclusion

NEW YORK—The Open Society Foundations announce the 2017 cohort of the Community Youth Fellowship, a new initiative to support emerging human rights activists between the ages of 18 and 25. The six Community Youth Fellows awarded this year will receive grants to carry out projects that contribute to advancing open society values and dismantling challenges in their communities. The fellowship recognizes the significant potential of young people for helping to create more pluralistic, democratic, and just societies.

Over the next 18 months, the 2017 Community Youth Fellows will pursue projects of their own design using a range of approaches that include photography exhibitions about undocumented LGBTQ youth, a documentary film on the impact of austerity measures in Puerto Rico, and resources for nonspeaking autistics.

The inaugural cohort includes four fellows from communities in Buffalo, Puerto Rico, and San Diego, in partnership with the Open Places Initiative of the Open Society Foundations. Another two fellows are part of a collaboration with the Open Society Human Rights Initiative to support young activists with developmental disabilities. These six fellows join another youth cohort, that of seven Soros Justice Youth Activist Fellows, announced earlier this year, whose projects are advancing reform of the U.S. criminal justice system.

To implement their projects, Community Youth Fellows receive a stipend of $60,000 for 18 months, with additional funds for project-related expenses. Each fellow is encouraged to work directly with a host organization and a mentor.

“It was important to us that the fellows demonstrated a strong connection to their communities,” said Rachele Tardi, who manages Open Society’s Youth Exchange. “By collaborating with host organizations, we can support individual youth leadership as part of a broader and more inclusive ecosystem of change.” 

The Community Youth Fellowship aims to create opportunities for young activists who may have limited access to such opportunities due to nontraditional educational backgrounds or because they are in the early stages of their career. All fellows are directly impacted by the challenges they seek to address, as investing in youth from underserved groups is part of Open Society’s commitment to creating the conditions for equal participation.

“We made sure an inclusive approach threaded through all our outreach,” said Zachary Turk, project head of the Youth Exchange. “We shared the call for proposals with community colleges, community centers, and grassroots organizations; we held informative webinars using Communication Access Real Time Translation; and we also distributed the fellowship guidelines in both Spanish language and easy-to-read format.”

The next call for Community Youth Fellowship applications will be issued in November, with a focus on Eastern Europe. The fellowship is the Foundations’ latest effort to directly support individuals engaged in time-bound projects aligned with open society values.

2017 Open Places Initiative Community Youth Fellows

Betza Collazo will examine the impact of austerity measures on education in Puerto Rico, using research and film to show how communities have been affected.

Beto Soto will highlight the stories of “DACAmented” LGBTQ youth through a series of photo essays, the creation of online space for story sharing, and exhibitions in San Diego.

Sherman Webb-Middlebrooks will lead an initiative to engage, empower, train, and support young people in Buffalo, New York, with a particular focus on Black males in the public school system.

Jessie Zelayandia will create Together We Rise, a program to link youth and families who are experiencing homelessness to community resources.

2017 Human Rights Initiative Community Youth Fellows

Oakley Fugate will produce documentary films about LGBTQ youth in Eastern Kentucky, making connections between their exclusion and that of persons with disabilities.

DJ Savarese will share tools to promote self-determined, inclusive lives for nonspeaking autistics and will facilitate community workshops designed to overcome public misconceptions about nonspeaking people.

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