The Futures Institute

The Futures Institute develops and advances policies that offer a bold vision for our future—one that provides all communities with genuine safety and all youth with equal opportunity. Our primary focus is on advancing transformative, equity-centered policy change through out-of-the-box strategies and cross-disciplinary coalition-building.

Community Safety

Through our Community Safety work area, we uplift preventative policies that keep communities, including young people, safe—without landing more people behind bars. This work includes creating resources, guides, and policy proposals for both advocates and policymakers. It includes maintaining a searchable database for federal grants. It means supporting a coalition of national organizations that are all working collaboratively to advance community safety. And it means supporting organizers and movement organizations who want assistance in making these policy changes. 

See here for more information regarding our Community Safety work area.

Youth Opportunity

Our Youth Opportunity work area is designed to provide all young people in all communities with cradle-to-career opportunity and economic dignity. Through our work on the Futures Agenda, our goal is to advance bold, cross-disciplinary policies that give all children and young adults what they truly need to thrive.  See here for more information regarding our Youth Opportunity work area.

Meet Our Team

Thea

Executive Director

Raeghn

Lead Story Teller

Janae

Policy Associate

Rose

Web Design & Educator Engagement

Thea Sebastian

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

About
Thea is the founding Director of the Futures Institute. In her role, she oversees a wide range of initiatives that include policy changes related both to advancing community safety and building cradle-to-career youth opportunity—extensions of the work that she led as Policy Director at Civil Rights Corps. 

Prior to her current role, Thea worked mostly on social and educational policy, including stints in local government and in the White House Domestic Policy Council. She also spent three years in the classroom, most notably two years teaching special education in the South Bronx.

A graduate of Harvard College, Oxford University, and Harvard Law School, she sits on a few boards—including the boards of Harvard University, which she joined as a petition candidate running on climate divestment, and the Appleseed Network. In her free time, she is passionate about hiking (the more vertical, the better), yoga, creative writing, and dancing bachata. 

Raeghn Draper 

STORY TELLER 

About
Raeghn Draper is a multifaceted writer, community organizer, and labor advocate based in Chicago. As a dedicated wordsmith and media communicator, Raeghn identifies as a storyteller with an unwavering belief in our collective power to shape new realities by harnessing the compelling force of narrative. Beyond the written word, they channel their creativity through painting and crafting fiction.

Inspired by the visionary works of Octavia Butler, Raeghn’s writing delves into the intricate realms of social justice and equality. Their prose sheds light on pressing issues, challenging the status quo and igniting conversations that demand change.

In parallel to their writing pursuits, Raeghn is a fervent community organizer specializing in narrative strategy and a tenacious advocate for labor rights in the hospitality sector. Overall, they are a skilled writer and advocate whose work is informed by their lived experiences and commitment to social justice.

Janae Ivory

POLICY ASSOCIATE

About

Janae Ivory is driven by a deep commitment to equity and community empowerment. Originally from Long Beach, CA, she made Mobile, AL, her home over a decade ago. Her professional journey reflects her commitment, with impactful roles in organizations championing racial justice and criminal justice reform. 

Janae has also held roles in local government structures where she created programs facilitating resource mobilization and simplified access to government assistance. With a desire to see an inclusive community safe for all community members, Janae provided policy recommendations and amendments to existing ordinances that purposely excluded constituents from equitable treatment.  

With a Bachelor’s in Political Science and a Master’s in Public Administration concentrating in Nonprofit Management, Janae has a strong foundation in community engagement, organizing, and advocacy.

Rose Sebastian

WEB DESIGN & EDUCATOR ENGAGEMENT

About

Rose is the founder of Spedhelper.org, a practicing special education teacher, a teacher educator, a web designer, and an educational researcher. Her work on engaging families, culturally sustaining special education, and teacher agency has appeared in Teaching and Teacher Education, Phi Delta Kappan, the High School Journal, and the Urban Review among other journals. 

She is passionate about making special education work for all students and teachers– and uplifting the stories of the amazing teachers in our classrooms. She is always on the lookout for fabulous special educators to hear their stories and spread their wisdom, so please reach out it you are one– or know any! 

She has taught or done research in schools in New Hampshire, Virginia, California, and Massachusetts– and received degrees in almost as many states! Back in the classroom after a stint in academia, she wants all the future teachers out there to know that teaching really is the most fun job there is– and special education is the most fun of all. Where else can you go from solving the dilemma of the not self-cleaning bunny poop to teaching the mysteries of self-regulation to persuading students that classes might not be more fun than vaping in a bathroom– but attending them sure has less negative consequences– in one day?

Meet Our Summer Policy Fellows

Ethan

he/him

Kaycee

she/her

Nura

they/them

Nyjah

she/her

Yurii “Ethan” Sage

SUMMER POLICY FELLOW

Tell a bit about yourself

From my undying interest in historical politics and propaganda, I am going to continue my study of Political Science and History in college to support my plan to work in civil services in Russia. Thus far, I created several art pieces using analogue camcorders, digital art programs, and oil paint based on all that I learned — a practice I hope to continue. I publish my film media on Youtube under the channel Tonsilitis. In my free time, I work on art projects, read, write, and study foreign languages. I have been learning Russian since 2021 and German since 2023.

What are you excited to learn or do during the Futures Keepers Fellowship?

Learning different perspectives — especially ones opposing my own — is something I am extremely excited for, as I scarcely have the opportunity in my community. I am looking forward to understanding how to interact with policy from the outside, and to build projects that send a message with conviction. On top of these projects, learning how to write op-eds is high on my list for opportunities to get my voice out intentionally and concisely which is something I have lately struggled with due to the sheer volume of material I cover in my readings.

If you could meet anyone from the past, who would it be?

Throughout all my research of history, the era of the Soviet Union has been by far the most mentally stimulating — perhaps of anything I have learned before regardless of the topic. In this case I would want to meet Joseph Stalin, the leader at the height of the USSR. After Vladimir Lenin’s death in 1924, he was the clear successor, having worked so closely alongside him for many years. This point I found especially interesting — what must he have known he would inherit, all of the hidden luxuries of the leader of the Soviet Union? How could Communism truly work to build the fairest possible society given an uncorrupted government, if that is at all possible? 

Kaycee Nguyen

SUMMER POLICY FELLOW

Tell a bit about yourself

My name is Kaycee Nguyen and I’m from Orange County, California. Though it took me a while to find my own voice growing up, advocacy was something I discovered in 10th grade and I’ve fallen in love with it since. I hope to help amplify the voices of youth similar to me who struggled to find a voice for themselves. In high school, I founded a nonprofit to advocate for issues within my community including book banning and noncitizen voting. I am also on the Youth Advisory Board for Congresswoman Katie Porter. In my free time, I love to read, bake, and play volleyball. This fall, I will be an incoming freshman at Stanford.

What are you excited to learn or do during the Futures Keepers Fellowship?

I’m excited to meet all the brilliant minds here who are similarly passionate about changing the world and to see what good we can do together. I am also looking forward to learning more about the legislative process and ways that we can advocate for the policies we feel strongly about and hold our elected officials accountable.

If you could meet anyone from the past, who would it be?

I would meet the students who led the anti war protests during the 1960s-70s. I would like to learn about what motivated them to speak out against their own government, how they dealt with threats against them, and how they were able to persist in advocating for what they believed in. From one youth to another, I think it would be valuable to hear about how they assumed responsibility for the future they would inherit and how they were ultimately able to succeed.

Nura Idriss

SUMMER POLICY FELLOW

Tell a bit about yourself

Born in New York, I moved to Germany for a year when I was in kindergarten and have lived in DC since 1st grade. Currently, I am a rising high school junior and am passionate about running, biking, singing, writing, and activism. During covid, I started an environmental business with my friend, where we held weekly, outdoor stands to sell homemade, reusable grocery bags and napkins. We also purchased bulk lotion, shampoo, and hand soap and refilled our neighbor’s plastic bottles to reduce plastic waste in our area. In addition to my environmental business, I also raised money to put up a green wall at my middle school and designed the layout. I am very interested in learning more about and tackling issues of social justice, such as climate change, reproductive justice, and the criminal justice system.

What are you excited to learn or do during the Futures Keepers Fellowship?

I am especially eager to share my voice and opinions through writing, so learning how to write op-eds is an element of the Futures Keepers Fellowship that I am very excited for. I also really want to learn what opportunities young people have to implement policy changes in their cities and communities, as I think trying to make changes in your local environment and hometown is a great place to start. Specifically, I’d like to learn strategies for drafting emails and/or making calls to local representatives and business owners.

If you could meet anyone from the past, who would it be?

This past year, I took an Asian History class and learned a lot about Mao Zedong, the creator of the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Republic of China—he ruled China as the leader of the PRC from 1949 until his death in 1976. I found Mao’s dictatorship fascinating, most especially his leadership in the Long March, Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, and his Hundred Flowers Campaign. I would love to meet Mao Zedong to learn the reasoning behind his policies—he managed to portray so many of his campaigns as victorious and had the support of so many Chinese people, even though his policies led to famine, violence, and loss of political freedom. I’d like to ask him how he balanced the failures of his leadership with pleasing the Chinese people because it seems to be something he managed to do quite well.

Nyjah Smith

SUMMER POLICY FELLOW

Tell a bit about yourself

My name is Nyjah Smith. I’m from North Philadelphia. I’ve been advocating for my community since I’ve been in the 6th/8th grade. I discovered my passion for community by being exposed to different things through a mentorship program I’ve been in since I was about 10 years old. I love to write, make music, and be in nature a lot. I’ve been a committee person in my neighborhood for 3 years now & I recently became the Youth Commission in my Council District. My favorite thing about me is that I can understand things from different perspectives even when I don’t agree.

What are you excited to learn or do during the Futures Keepers Fellowship?

I’m excited to learn about passing bills and legislation. That is something specifically a part of my role as a Youth Commissioner in Philadelphia so I look forward to learning what I can do to be a better commissioner. I am also excited to hear other people’s perspectives in different parts of the world. Last but definitely not least or all I would love to eventually collaborate with my peers in the program. I would love to see how we all could come together & make an impact on our generation.

If you could meet anyone from the past, who would it be?

If I could meet anyone from the past it would be my ancestors, my lineage, and people from my family that I never got to meet.

Meet Our Interns

Ilana

she/her

Hannah

she/her

David

he/him

Ilana Cohen

UNDERGRADUATE INTERN

About

Ilana is a climate justice advocate, freelance climate journalist and frequent contributor to The Nation, and a recent graduate of Harvard University, with a B.A. in Social Studies and Philosophy. This past year, she conducted original environmental policy research in Peru as a Fulbright Scholar and Steve Refeinberg Travel Fellow of Harvard’s David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. As an undergraduate, Ilana relaunched and co-led the successful campaign for Harvard to commit to divest its over $50 billion endowment from fossil fuels. She received a 2022 Brower Youth Award for this activism and her subsequent co-founding of the Campus Climate Network, a nonprofit organization that trains campus climate activists around the world. This fall, Ilana will enter NYU Law as a Joyce Lowinson Institute for International Law and Justice scholar, with plans to use her law degree to advance climate change accountability and justice. 

Hannah Riordan

UNDERGRADUATE INTERN

About

Hannah Riordan is a rising senior at Yale University, majoring in Political Science with a particular focus on social policy. As a former child, she is thrilled to be working at the Futures Institute this summer to advance youth opportunity and community safety. But seriously, she has always been a staunch believer that young people are our best path forward and she is very excited to be able to work on policies that reimagine the status quo to create a world where young people are truly cared for and empowered. She is especially passionate about empowering young folks with disabilities as someone who was diagnosed with T1 diabetes in high school. 

In her free time she loves to read, go thrifting, and most of all dance (she was a competition dancer for years and she still refuses to move on). After graduating, she hopes to pursue an MA in Public Policy and attend law school. Whatever the future may hold, she is very grateful for the time she gets to spend with The Futures Institute this summer.

David Gonzalez

UNDERGRADUATE INTERN

About

David is a rising Senior at Harvard College, double concentrating in Psychology and Economics with a Spanish language citation. He was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, and is the son of two public school teachers. Being raised by educators gave David a unique perspective on the shortcomings of education. Although he is unsure about what he wants to do in the future, his passion for equitable access to quality education and opportunities beyond the classroom for youth ultimately led him to his current position at The Futures Institute. David aspires to attend graduate school to pursue a JD or MA in Psychology. In his free time, David enjoys exploring Boston with friends, going to the gym, Latin dancing, traveling, and doing anything outdoors. He has also spent a semester abroad in Granada, Spain.