Today’s youth often live in the moment, not giving thought to what the long term future holds. But by seeing other young people making a difference, maybe they can be inspired to demand change now.
One of the beauties of youth is the naïve carelessness that allows young people not to think about risks, the future, or how their actions impact the world, rather always assessing the rewards, living in the moment, and espousing the “you only live once” or “YOLO” mantra that promotes carefree living. But there’s a cost that comes with such a nonchalant, blithe attitude. The price paid is that poor decisions impact the future and lives are altered in one unthinking moment.
But let me not paint such a grim picture. Not all young people are so blasé when it comes to life. Last weekend, BET aired Black Girls Rock!, an awards show focused on profiling Black women and girls who have made a positive impact on life and changing the perception of women of color that is often portrayed in the media. This year, one of National Action Network’s own was part of the show as our National Youth Director, Mary Pat Hector, was honored during the program.
Mary Pat has been a driving force of youth activism not just for NAN, but for the country itself. She is a well-regarded and highly sought-after speaker that has received national recognition for her efforts including a recent honor on the floor of the United States House of Representatives by her Congressman, Hank Johnson.
Mary Pat does not live the YOLO life. Sure, she has moments where she does things that every teenager should do and maybe sometimes shouldn’t, but she also thinks about her future goals and aspirations and takes them in to consideration before acting. It’s a lesson for many young people to follow.
I often meet young people who are intelligent and have the potential to be influential with their peers and with adults, but they make bad choices. The bad choices that they make today impact tomorrow, but not just for them, for our community. As I talk to young people and find out what motivates them to be active in the community, it is not their parents or even older leaders, but their peers.
It’s the key to what will help change our community – not Mom, Dad, big brother, or an elected official telling a young person that they should be involved or that they need to stay out of trouble. It’s the positive peer pressure that leads youth to good decision making. Seeing a young woman like Mary Pat Hector on Black Girls Rock! most likely made some young woman sitting at home say, “If she can do it, so can I.”
When I think about the stories that I’ve heard of the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s, I often hear about how it was youth-led. Youth are still present in the struggle today, but they get drowned out by who the latest celebrity drama is or who is dating who. But if we seek to cultivate the promise in future generations that we know they already possess, we have to start showing them images that they understand and can relate to. Young people just like them. It’s the only way we get the YOLO Generation to realize that they are change agents and don’t have to wait for permission to change the world. They have the tools they need and can start now.
Janaye Ingram is the Acting National Executive Director of National Action Network (NAN) and oversees NAN’s action agenda and legislative advocacy work under Founder and President, Rev. Al Sharpton. In this role, she focuses on various issues including education, criminal justice, housing, technology, economic development and healthcare among others. Janaye has been with the organization for two years, previously serving as the Washington, DC Bureau Chief, during which she led the organization’s efforts around the 2012 Voter Engagement Tour, coalition work on issues like Stand Your Ground, planning of the 2012 and 2013 conventions and most recently planning the “National Action to Realize the Dream Rally and March” in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.