A young Black woman with braids and a red blazer, walking in a metropolitan area with her head lifted high.
Image credit: Victoria Heath on Unsplash

As someone who grew up in an activist family, Corryn Freeman understands the importance of intergenerational organizing and uplifting the work of youth leaders. Currently the executive director of Future Coalition, a 501c4 nonprofit that resources movement building solutions led by and for young people, Freeman is intentional about helping youth access the mentorship and resources they need to bring about change. 

At a time when these youth are often organizing in states that have passed regressive laws that are hostile to their organizing efforts, Freeman understands that this work is critical.

NPQ recently spoke with Freeman about how she uplifts the work of youth striving to build power.

Rebekah Barber: You grew up in a family heavily involved in activism and advocacy work. How did this shape your own work?

“Learning about the tradition of my ancestors in the fight for civil rights and social justice…played a major role in my decision to be an advocate for social justice.”

Corryn Freeman: I got into this work foundationally through my parents. My parents have always been grounded in community and social justice. My dad pastored a church in Baltimore, so that aspect of being in community was essential. He also was the local president of the NAACP in my county, Howard County NAACP, for a number of years.

I grew up sitting on my dad’s lap, attending NAACP meetings, attending events like the Million Man March, and watching it come together. My dad played a treasurer role. I grew up going to those planning meetings.

I also have a mother who has always served the community through her work at nonprofits. She was the executive director of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region. Watching her create a fund during 9/11 to help people in the district in need and showing up as needed for the community in that way was really inspirational to me and foundational to who I am.

I rooted myself in my identity—in my African American heritage. I grew up in a little town called Columbia, MD, which was literally created for racial and socioeconomic inclusion. It was a haven for interracial marriage before interracial marriage was legal. Being rooted in my identity as an African American, learning about my history and then going to Howard University, learning about the tradition of my ancestors in the fight for civil rights and social justice—and our ability to exist as free people—has also played a major role in my decision to be an advocate for social justice.

RB: Future Coalition is one of the organizations that grew out of the work of the women’s marches. How did you come to get involved in this work in particular?

CF: Future Coalition was born out of March On, which took place around the dawn of the Women’s March. The organization’s founders also played a role in putting together the Women’s March.

March On then took on this young climate activist named Katie Eder, who had a vision of creating an organization called Future Coalition. They took it and incubated it, and then the vast majority of the work that the organization began to do was heavily focused on youth, finding climate solutions, and things of that nature.

“To have strong movements that build toward our collective liberation and freedom as humans, it requires an intergenerational approach.”

I had a woman that I worked with, Sophia Nelson. We had worked on a campaign in 2018. She had done work with March On for Voting Rights in 2020. I was one of the people she helped organize in Florida to participate in the March On for Voting Rights. That was my introduction to March On.

A few years later, March On/Future Coalition is looking for an executive director. She sent me the job description and said, “It looks like you.” I applied, and that’s how I became affiliated with Future Coalition.

Last year, during the organization’s strategic planning process, we fully agreed to just do Future Coalition and to let go of March On. We also decided to broaden our mission statement to be an intergenerational organization that resources youth to propel transformational change.

I am completely aligned with that mission. It is aligned with all of the work that I have done. I believe that in order to have strong movements that build toward our collective liberation and freedom as humans, it requires an intergenerational approach. I genuinely believe in Gen Z—and the generations after—and their ability to lead as long as we set them up for success. It’s really about embodying the principle of Sankofa.

RB: You mentioned Sankofa. How does this idea of reaching back to move forward manifest in the work of Future Coalition? Can you talk about what your mentorship looks like?

CF: We have a number of amazing programs that we encourage more and more people to become a part of. First, we have our civic engagement work. In this electoral cycle, we’re really focusing on young candidates and youth-serving candidates, with a specific focus on school boards and historically red counties and trying to turn them blue.

We endorse those candidates, run independent expenditure campaigns in multiple states, and create coalitions in multiple states of youth-serving electoral organizations.

We have the Youth Direct Action Fund. The Youth Direct Action Fund is a low-barrier-to-entry grant program for youth or youth-serving direct action. Historically, it was very focused on climate, but now it’s open to all young people around any form of direct action that is progressively social justice-oriented.

We helped fund many young people to get to DC for some of the larger Palestinian liberation marches. We’ve funded green campus projects for students organizing at school. We’ve funded arts programs for young people up to $5,000.

“It’s really about embodying the principle of Sankofa.”

For many people, it’s usually their first grant application. We hope that it builds and instills confidence in them to continue going after the funding they need to do the work.

We also hired nine fellows—high school and college students—at five organizations focusing on climate in Arizona. They’re working on progressive climate solutions in Arizona’s Legislature. We are providing these young people with a framework for legislative advocacy, and for many of them, this is their first organizing experience, their first time speaking in the Legislature. We’ve even had legislators from Arizona say that they are impressed with the young people we have there because they are 16 [or] 17 and have the nerve to speak up on the issues they care about in the Arizona Legislature.

Then, we have a Future Incubator. Future Incubator is a fiscal sponsorship program that we partner with a 501c3, March on Foundation, to hold fiscal sponsorship for about 12 to 15 [predominantly] youth-[led], BIPOC-led organizations on a myriad of issues. The fiscal sponsorship allows our fiscal projects to focus on doing their mission work, while March On and Future Coalition hold the backend administrative work that often takes away from their ability to do the work that creates the communities we want to live in.

Our goal is to strengthen those organizations to one day be on their own and thrive. Many of the organizations that we’ve worked with have received multi-hundred thousand [dollar] grants through the fiscal sponsorship with Future Coalition and March On.

RB: In some of the states, the Future Coalition is organizing to combat regressive policies passed. How have you navigated this as an organization?

CF: I live in the sunny state of Florida—beautiful weather, terrible politics. What that looks like right now is funneling [resources to] organizations in those places.

For instance, we are working with Arizona as the pilot state for our Community Catalyst Fellowship. This was intentional because of the regressive policies that we see in states like Arizona. We want to see if there are ways that we can engage youth and give them the skills that they need to carry on this work. We intend to come to Florida next with the Community Catalyst Fellowship.

At Future Coalition, we also have affiliated PACS. March On PAC is one of our affiliated PACS. We have done work, through Future Coalition and March On PAC to advocate for ballot initiatives that are protecting women’s reproductive healthcare and reproductive justice.

We’ve also run different ads that talk to Florida’s electorate about the education issues we see being passed from the governor’s desk and impacting students at the county level. We’ve talked about the impact that it’s having on students and informing the electorate that they have power. We work in coalition with organizations on the ground, electorally, to do the work. We also support ballot initiative work.

RB: What successes have you seen as a result of this organizing work, specifically related to ballot initiatives and other policy efforts?

CF: Future Coalition made an early investment with Planned Parenthood Generation Action to get the reproductive healthcare measure on the ballot for the 2024 electoral cycle. We provided some funds to support the organizing efforts for youth, specifically college-age youth, to get it on the ballot, and the ballot measure has successfully been approved for this upcoming 2024 electoral cycle.

Also, in Ohio, there was a measure that was bad for reproductive health. We invested in progressive Democratic targets. We ran a myriad of ads on voting against this ballot initiative, and successfully—the ballot initiative that was against reproductive health was not added to this upcoming election. It was defeated.

We had two victories so far when it comes to our work with ballot initiatives, both on reproductive healthcare.

RB: Is there anything else you want to share about Future Coalition’s work?

CF: Something that we have upcoming is that we are in the process of building a Future Coalition podcast. The goal of the podcast is to really take up space, to have conversations with young changemakers and with some established movement leaders, and for them to communicate the fights that they see on the ground, communicate their perspectives, and communicate…to more established movement [leaders] what their needs are and how adult allies can be supportive of these young changemakers that are really moving and shaking right now. That should be coming out in the coming months.