During her childhood Anya Dillard discovered that she had an early passion for animal behavior and earth sciences. Her expansive knowledge of these topics showed through her academic achievements, and inspired her to explore more STEM careers upon entering middle school. However, after participating in more STEM summer programs Anya realized that there was a massive racial disparity within the STEM field and began to wonder why.
Growing up in the diverse suburb of West Orange, New Jersey exposed Anya to many rich cultures and backgrounds as a kid. She had never been made to feel different because of her race until she began exploring the world of STEM. This realization inspired her to take a closer look at the role rale played in society as a whole and catapulted her into the world of social activism. After spending months educating herself, getting into current events, and asking her friends and elders questions Anya had uncovered a fresh outlook on life.
"I had lived to see the first Black President, but I also lived to see the murder of Trayvon Martin".
- Anya Dillard
"What a polarizing time" she realized. There were so many things going on in the world and so many communities in need of support. Eager to get young people involved in conversations about these issues, Anya began thinking of how to she wanted to make an impact.
When she was 15-years-old, Anya founded The Next Gen Come Up (a.k.a. TNGCU) as a news publication. In its earlier stages, The Next Gen Come Up was dedicated to creating social media posts, news articles, and video content about everything from the most common teen dilemmas to the most controversial social/ political issues impacting young people today. It later grew into a 501(c)3 that prioritizes boots-on-the-ground organizing and encourages youth to pursue activism, get involved in community service, and raise awareness through creating thought-provoking works of art.
"I’ve been an activist since I was 12, but my journey as a changemaker started over half a decade prior. When I was just 5 years old I kickstarted an annual holiday gift-giving charity that helped raise tens of thousands of dollars to provide the children suffering from severe physical and neurological disabilities with toys, socks, clothing, musical instruments, and more every holiday season. In the past 4 years alone, The Next Gen has helped to raise over $5,000 in support for that initiative."
- Anya Dillard
Since its founding, The Next Gen Come Up has done outstanding work in communities all over the tri-state area. Last year, during the summer of 2020, Anya contributed to the largest civil rights demonstration in West Orange, NJ history and helped organize West Orange’s first-ever public Juneteenth Celebration, as a member of The West Orange Youth Caucus. This year, following the establishment of Juneteenth as a federal holiday, Anya brought The Next Gen Come Up and The West Orange Youth Caucus together to host the sequel to that monumental event. The Next Gen Come Up has also organized countless school walkouts, demonstrations, and social media campaigns advocating for climate change awareness, fighting against racism and police brutality, and advocating for period poverty awareness.
Though organizing is one of TNGCU’s top priorities, philanthropy is as well. In addition to being huge contributors to Anya Dillard’s annual holiday gift-giving charity initiative at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, The Next Gen Come Up has also been extremely dedicated to providing underrepresented and economically disenfranchised communities with resources.
In 2019, The Next Gen Come Up also hosted their first school supply drive and, created a period poverty awareness campaign and partnered with the Nu Theta Omega Girls Step Team to raise money towards eradicating period poverty in Ghana. The Next Gen Come Up also partnered with the very first all-female all POC Student Council Cabinet of West Orange High School to recreate these awareness campaigns and continue raising money towards eradicating period poverty.
The Next Gen Come Up prides itself on its expansive community outreach focus and strives continue inspiring young people to be intersection thought-leaders, radical creatives, and bold organizers. TNGCU hopes to continue organizing in this capacity and developing communities of creative young changemakers all over the nation.