Leading a non-profit at 21 brings joys, challenges

Leading a non-profit as a 21-year-old is extremely difficult, but the impact that is made makes it all worth it.

I am currently the founder & executive director of the Steen Foundation — the first Black youth-lead foundation in the country that follows the Critical Youth Theory model.

Critical Youth Theory is the intentional resistance of a set of ideas that have historically and culturally stopped young people from holding positions of power by inspiring true innovation and ethical action with a lasting impact. This model was co-developed by myself and Jelani Stowers, and it shapes all of the foundation’s grant-making, policies and investments.

The Steen Foundation was developed from a fellowship: the Jane Goodall Roots and Shoots Fund II National Fellowship. This opportunity allowed me to work with Goodall and her team to learn the power of philanthropy, service-learning and community development.

I initially used the funding from the fellowship to start the foundation with the goal of increasing the educational and creative output of Detroit’s youth. COVID-19, however, disrupted our programming and grant-making, but it gave my team the opportunity to realize a larger issue — the underinvestment in tailored and sustainable career pathway development.

The Steen Foundation now focuses on building out tailored internships and fellowships that lead to full-time positions centered around our youth’s aspirations.

This pivot in our investment strategy has allowed us to engage over 500 youth and partner with several youth-lead organizations.

I am actively working to grow the Steen Foundation’s endowment to $5 million to ensure that we are able to sustainably invest in the aspirations of young people locally and, one day, globally.

Running an operational foundation is difficult, but I believe that every young person should have their aspirations invested in, so I cannot stop.