Front Line Leaders Academy: Creating Change that Lasts

The Front Line Leaders Academy (FLLA) is a program of People For the American Way Foundation, a nonpartisan educational organization founded in 1981 to promote and defend the American values of liberty and equality for all, and to ensure that the promises enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are made real for all members of our pluralistic society. As part of PFAW Foundation’s youth leadership programs, FLLA is an advanced leadership training program that bridges the gap between Young People For, our program for training campus leaders and the Young Elected Officials Network, our nonpartisan network of progressive young electeds. FLLA specifically addresses the growing demand to engage, equip, and empower young progressives (18-35) with the skills and strategies to move into positions of local leadership and to support them as they prepare for involvement in local campaigns within their communities. We propose, in response to the My LA2050 challenge, to implement a Los Angeles-based Front Line Leaders Academy for 20 young, emerging leaders from low income, LGBTQ and communities of color in Los Angeles County. For six months these fellows will participate in trainings on a wide range of leadership development and political skills, including how to be an effective candidate, campaign management, finance, communications, and field organizing. The 20 young leaders will be recruited by Young People For in May for the LA-based Front Line Leaders Academy. Then, from June through December 2013, these FLLA fellows will participate in a series of workshops led by campaign experts, along with members of the Young Elected Officials Network. Motivated by their strong will for public service, fellows will work with these young elected officials and campaign experts during four three-day convenings, conference calls, online trainings, and in one-on-one sessions aimed at monitoring the progress of each fellow. By graduation, FLLA fellows will have developed a wide range of campaign skills, and will have compiled a complete campaign book that will enable them to be effective local leaders. Through their participation in the LA-based Front Line Leaders Academy, these 20 youth will be educated on progressive issues, including civic engagement, and connected to each other, asked to participate civically, provided with role models who are civically engaged, and encouraged to network with others and discuss their experiences with others. Curriculum for the trainings will include public speaking, building personal narrative, base-building, message development, and management. In addition, we will identify LA-based campaign experts and community partners to offer sessions on best practices and lessons learned in local work on education, civic participation, the environment, and health, among others. The Front Line Leaders Academy was launched in 2006 by PFAW Foundation and trains 20 emerging leaders each year. The Academy is responsible for launching the careers of over 100 civic participants, many of whom have run for public office or served in some capacity on political campaigns or community organizing. These young leaders are providing a vital infusion of ideas, energy, and passion to the progressive community, and their commitment to continued activism and leadership is critical to building a progressive future for cities around the country, including Los Angeles. What most of these emerging leaders need is a catalyst to channel their own potential and support in sustaining their connection to the progressive movement. We believe there is a place for these 20 Front Line Leaders Academy fellows to make a difference in Los Angeles.


What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

As young leaders across the country prepare to run for office and lead campaigns, FLLA graduates are equipped with the skills they need to be successful and contribute to the progressive movement and to the success of the nation. Since 2006, the Front Line Leaders Academy has graduated over 100 fellows from the program.

We measure success of our long-term programming by the ultimate goal of empowering young people to become even more effective leaders who are making real change in their communities. And Front Line Leaders Academy alumni are leading their communities as non-profit leaders, campaign experts, organizers, and serving in elected positions; 70 percent of FLLA alumni have gone on to work for campaigns (many supporting the campaigns of their peers or working together) and 20 percent have run for elected office.

Some examples of FLLA graduates moving their ideas into action include: Jon Hoadley, Founder of Bandlands Strategies LLC, Campaign Manager of One Kalamazoo, and former Executive Director of the National Stonewall Democrats; Adam Connor, Manager of Public Policy in Facebook’s Washington, DC office; and Karrianna Turner- Marshall (Founder of Twenty ‘20’ Something). Eight FLLA alumni have also been elected to public office, becoming members of the Young Elected Officials Network: Ezra Temko, Delaware City Council; Anders Ibsen, Tacoma City Council; Mike Simmons, Brennemann Elementary School Local School Council in Chicago, IL; Angie Buhl, South Dakota State Senator; Kevin Killer, South Dakota House of Representatives; Mike Makarski, Secaucus, New Jersey School Board Member; LaDawn Blackett-Jones, Georgia State House of Representatives; and Stefanie Mach, Arizona State House of Representatives.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

PFAW Foundation’s collaborators in Los Angeles are organizations that already part of our partners and that help us to recruit, train and connect participants in all of our youth leadership programs, which include Young People For, Young Elected Officials Network, and the Front Line Leaders Academy. These partners include the UCLA Center For Community College Partnerships Program; the Blue/Green Alliance; Californians for Justice; Cuéntame; California Collective for Reproductive Justice; IDEAS. Additionally, through this LA-based Front Line Leaders Academy we intend to build relationships with community based organizations, the statewide student association, local elected officials, and movement leaders.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

Success will be measured by the competency achieved by the individual FLLA fellows who are trained. This assessment takes place during graduation weekend.

For the candidacy assessment, fellows are required to give a three-minute stump speech, which they work on over the course of the training. The stump speech must to be memorized, tell their personal story, showcase a well thought out platform, and contain a hard ask for a vote.

For the campaign management assessment, fellows are required to present their completed campaign plans to a panel of PFAW Foundation staff, YEOs, and FLLA alumni who act as a third party organization trying to decide whether or not to endorse the fellow’s “campaign.” The campaign plans are required to be comprehensive, realistic, and executable. During their presentations, fellows summarize their plans for the panel, discuss how they plan to fulfill the administrative aspects of managing, and answer questions from the panel to defend the choices they had made in their plans.

For the communications assessment, fellows are divided into small groups of three. The small groups are given a hypothetical scenario where they have to develop a communications strategy for a candidate running for the state legislature in a hypothetical location. The small groups are directed to pick a stance on a hypothetical issue, design a communications strategy for the candidate’s campaign based on that stance, and be prepared to deliver that message in all possible media outlets. Fellows are assessed on their ability to stay on message and avoid being led astray by the evaluators who act as reporters.

For the field organizing assessment, fellows again work in small groups and use the same hypothetical scenario (as in the communications assessment) to develop a field plan for the candidate. The groups are provided with detailed information on the candidate’s personal, professional, and political life, as well as information on their primary and general election opponents and background information on the fictional district and race. The groups are challenged to use the hard facts and context clues in the scenario to develop a field plan that was comprehensive, realistic, executable, and winnable in the context of the scenario.

For the finance assessment, fellows are directed to raise a minimum of $250 to help support the FLLA program for the next class of fellows. As part of the assessment, fellows are given strict donation limits and other rules by which they would be held accountable. Rules include restrictions on in-kind contributions, finance reports for both donations and expenditures, and deadlines for submitting finance reports. Fellows are assessed on their ability to meet deadlines, adhere to finance rules, and raise the minimum amount.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

Los Angeles’ population is aging but has historically been relatively youthful in comparison to the rest of the country. Research by CIRCLE, a leader on youth civic education and engagement, shows that “low levels of conventional measures of civic engagement among non-college youth translate into inequalities in political and civic participation by race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and geography.”

The LA-based Front Line Leaders Academy we are proposing will empower a new, emerging generation of Angelenos to connect with their communities and work on their own campaign book, which addresses a problem or issue in Los Angeles; engages the greater Los Angeles community; cultivates a progressive community; and builds emerging activists into life-long contributors to Los Angeles.

Through this project Los Angeles will be infused with diverse, young civic participants who bring new and innovative ideas and are active in determining the policies, practices, and institutions by which they will seek community improvement that will create opportunities which ensure that youth remain in and contribute to the Los Angeles community over the long-term.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

We define success as:

- Fellows sufficiently represented in positions of power in Los Angeles public, private and nonprofit sectors through access to resources and opportunities to effect change.

- The selection of a progressively more diverse class of fellows through improving the quality of candidates in FLLA by deepening the nominator network and adding a stronger network of community colleges and non-college youth to the selection pool.

- Relationships developed with Los Angeles community based organizations that host networking and training events for fellows, help them find internships and opportunities and provide mentorship; and build and maintain relationships in Los Angeles.