Florida Student Creates Action Fund for Young Advocates

Cameron Driggers sees America's youths fighting for a better future. So he's giving them the funds to do it.
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Gillian Manning
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Gillian Manning serves on a volunteer-basis for the Society of Professional Journalists, assisting with educational and fundraising initiatives. She is a freelance writer with a BA in multimedia journalism from Florida Atlantic University. She’s writ...
Published on November 16, 2023
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Cameren Boatner is a diversity, equity, and inclusion editor at BestColleges. She's a Society of Professional Journalists award winner for her coverage of race, minorities, and Title IX. You can find her work in South Florida Gay News, MSN Money, Deb...
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  • Cameron Driggers was in high school when “Don't Say Gay” was implemented in Florida. He felt then that he would have to fight for his existence in the state.
  • He brought that passion with him to the University of Florida, where he created the Youth Action Fund (YAF).
  • YAF is entirely youth-run and only serves youth-led campaigns. It provides stipends and advising services.
  • The fund hopes to relieve the financial barriers that come with activism.

Cameron Driggers has been convincing people to vote before he could himself.

It started in 2021, when Florida began banning books with LGBTQ+ representation in schools. He and his peers protested the bans outside of his county's school board meetings and, frustrated with the board's conservative majority, Driggers went door to door, garnering votes for two new board members. They both won, ousting their conservative predecessors.

His work caught the attention of the far-right hate group, The Three Percenters, who showed up at a later school board meeting. Driggers told BestColleges that they wore face coverings and carried weapons. They shouted slurs and threats at Driggers and his peers, even following them on their way home. Driggers was later escorted home by police.

We weren't scared, Driggers said. We persevered in the face of that terrifying new reality of Florida.

Driggers is now an 18-year-old first-year student at the University of Florida (UF) dedicated to helping other young adult activists like him make change. He just launched the Youth Action Fund (YAF) in early November and has already helped 400 students.

YAF is a program created by youths, led by youths, and for the youths. Everyone involved in the program is 24 years old or younger.

YAF offers two primary services: funding and advising. Youth-led campaigns and individual advocates can apply for $1,000 and $500 stipends, respectively. They can also submit a request for an advisor to help lead them through organizing, defining, and reaching their goals.

While Driggers and YAF's board members have a strong history in LGBTQ+ advocacy, program applicants aren't limited to that cause. To YAF, any youth-led and inclusive cause is one worth supporting. YAF doesn't get involved in electoral or political candidates' campaigns.

The Frontlines at His Front Door

Driggers has lived for several years under laws signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. It started with “Don't Say Gay” while he was in high school. Now, Driggers attends a university run by mostly DeSantis appointees.

DeSantis appointed the majority of UF's board of trustees, and the rest were appointed by the Florida Board of Governors (FBOG). FBOG members are also appointed by DeSantis. UF's board of trustees has the utmost authority over the school's policies and actions — meaning the governor has a lot of influence on Drigger's institution.

The consequence of that is basically having a university controlled by the pawns of Ron DeSantis, Driggers said. UF is very much a battleground in that regard. We're trying our best to push back on that.

For example, although Niche reports that the majority of UF's students are either moderates or liberals, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro was invited to speak on campus. First in 2017, he was met by student protesters. Despite the opposition, he was invited back in October. He was once again faced with student protests.

This administration is not in line with the students, Driggers told BestColleges.

This year, DeSantis signed a bill prohibiting state colleges and universities from providing funding to any diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs. Institutions have had to either shut down DEI programs completely or remove their funding.

LGBTQ+ student organizations are left with empty pockets. Driggers aims to fix that through YAF. Since YAF opened funding applications in early November, they've received and approved three applicants.

Funding the Next Generation of Activists

Student activists have been changing history for nearly 100 years. While many Florida youths have the drive to do it, there are barriers to activism that lie outside of political adversaries and counterprotests.

Maxx Fenning, UF senior and YAF board member, said that one major barrier is funding. Many students don't have the resources they need to get their voices out there.

Will you have to sacrifice a meal in order to get people to a city council meeting? Those are the real decisions that young people are often forced to make when fighting for their right to exist in our state, Fenning told BestColleges.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, 22% of LGBTQ+ individuals live in poverty compared to 16% of cisgender and straight adults. LGBTQ+ workers earn about 90 cents for every dollar a worker typically earns.

But despite potential financial barriers, young activists still want to participate. Organizations like the United Nations tout how young people have the power to change the course of the world and solve age-old issues like poverty and hunger.

I've experienced time and time again, sort of being put on a pedestal as a young person, but then not really being given the resources to carry our work forward, Fenning said. What I see oftentimes is folks will see that Gen Z is the future, and want to pass the baton on to us, but then will shackle our feet to the ground and won't let us actually cross the finish line. The Youth Action Fund really seeks to bridge that gap.

Driggers started his activism by getting people to vote. It's fitting that for its first event on Nov. 13, YAF launched a voter registration drive through Orange County Public Schools. The group registered 400 students to vote on the first day.

But this is just the first step — the action fund wants to do more. Florida-based campaign groups and individual advocates can apply for stipends or request advisory services through YAF's website.