We are thrilled to announce that Youth Together, Inc. is the winner of the 2021 William J. Zellerbach Award for Social Change (WJZ Award)!

Youth Together is an Oakland-based nonprofit that works to address the root causes of educational inequities by developing multiracial youth leaders and engaging school and community allies to promote positive school change, grounded in their commitment to peace, unity, and justice. The organization emerged in 1996 as a community-inspired solution to incidents of interracial violence at schools in Oakland and Richmond, California.

The majority of Youth Together participants are from low-income, ethnically and linguistically diverse communities and attend under-resourced schools in East and West Oakland, where 76 percent of the student population qualify for free and reduced lunch. Youth Together works to combat the school-to-prison pipeline, increase high school graduation and college readiness,  foster peace and multiracial solidarity on campus, ensure young people are prepared for both college and career pathways, and  develop youth leaders who identify and solve the issues facing them and their communities. The ultimate aim is to develop young people into lifelong community leaders committed to civic engagement. Youth Together provides a year-round leadership development program for 12 lead student organizers, 75 core team members, and engages more than 1,800 students across three sites at McClymonds, Skyline, and Castlemont high schools in Oakland.

Some of Youth Together’s many victories and accomplishments include the creation of ZFF grantee RYSE Center in Richmond, California (2008) and the One Land One People Skyline High School Youth Center in 2002. Their youth leaders’ successes have led to the elimination of the California High School Exit Exam (2006); the passage of the Local Control Funding Formula in California (2013); ensured student government leaders play a more active role in decision making throughout Oakland Unified School District (OUSD); assured the passage and implementation of the A-G school standards policy in OUSD so graduating youth are eligible for UCs and CSUs (2009); and, in November 2020, supporting Oakland youth to gain the legal right to allow 16-year-olds to vote in Oakland school board elections, becoming the 6th city in the nation to give young people electoral power.

Awarding this year’s WJZ Award to Youth Together recognizes the importance of centering those most impacted by conditions in their solution, as well as the incredible changes that can occur when youth are given the opportunity and tools to lead. ZFF is proud to honor Youth Together and all the nominees for this year’s award who center the voices of young people in their efforts to advance social change.

Learn more about this year’s selection committee, comprising ZFF board members, community leaders, and subject matter experts from the field.

Learn more about the five finalists for the 2021 WJZ Award.