Today I attended an annual MLK Prayer Breakfast and Teen Summit event for the YMCA. Both events were held in Charlotte, NC. The keynote speaker was Ben Jealous, Former President of the NAACP. While I think he did a fine job speaking at both events, I quietly wondered to myself if what he was saying resonated with the young adults that were in attendance.
The world of today is in many ways a world apart from that of Dr. King. We have an African American President, African Americans are able to vote and many school districts are desegregated. Yet, in the midst of these advances, there is a clear cradle to prison pipeline, the African American high school graduation rate is far less than the national average, and poverty is still a major issue.
As I reflect on these issues, it confirms that there’s still a long way to go. It also reminded me that as adults we must work with the youth as much as possible to ensure that a strong legacy is in place, and things don’t fall further behind. Many of the strides that have been made were accomplished by young adults and the elders working together toward a common goal.
Whether you look at the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. or the dismantling of Apartheid in South Africa, young people played an instrumental role in changing the laws and privileges that we take for granted. Whether your cause is Literacy or Racial Profiling, please remember that without young people, that cause will have no teeth.
Without creating a line of succession and without incorporating young people any cause no matter how noble it is, is destined to die. We oftentimes brush young people aside and disregard their perspectives. When this happens they are left to their own devices and we all suffer the consequences. We essentially tell them to wait their turn, when in actuality their time is now. When you inspire a young a person and encourage them to stand for something, you will open the door to limitless possibilities.