Seen and Heard: Race, COVID and What Philanthropy Can Do to Support Youth

Publication date: 
August, 2023

In March of 2020, in an effort to ensure the safety of youth and communities in the face of the burgeoning global pandemic brought about by COVID19, schools across the state of Connecticut abruptly shut down. Youth and their caregivers were notified that school buildings would reopen when it was deemed safe, and that plans for “remote learning” would be forthcoming. While many immediately understood the pandemic as a global public health crisis of an unprecedented scope, the ensuing weeks, months and years have laid bare our country’s other long-harbored, oft-disregarded crisis - the deeply entrenched racial, economic and social inequities operating within and perpetuated by housing, healthcare, education, workforce, immigration, housing and criminal justice systems.

As foundations committed to youth voice and leadership, the Perrin Family Foundation, Leever Foundation, and the Ritter Family Foundation shared a
deep concern about the astounding absence of young people’s voices in the discussion, discourse, and decision-making happening about them. Together, with additional support from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, we created an opportunity to surface, elevate, and amplify young people’s voices. Over the course of 2020, we heard from more than 500 young people who spoke not only of the impact of the pandemic, but of the murder of George Floyd, of new-found awareness of history, legacy, and presence of white supremacy, of rising up for racial justice, and of the precariousness of our democracy in the midst of the 2020 presidential election.

From the outset, this project sought not only to elevate young people’s voices, but to help advance critical conversations about the confluence of structural inequities on young people’s lives. While many young people shared their challenges and struggles, they also spoke about moments of joy, pride, determination, resistance, how they were taking care of themselves, and the hopes they have for more just communities. Their perspectives and insights often starkly illustrated this fundamental truth: youth of color are disproportionately affected by the structural inequity that is ubiquitous in our society.

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