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Hundreds of conferences, cable news specials, and panels have tried time and again to answer this age old question… What is wrong with our youth? There are many answers to this question but few tend to tackle another important issue at hand which is the distinctive cultural & generational gap between older blacks and the youth, especially in lower income communities. Due to this generation gap, black youth are often dismissed as uncivilized, sagging pants wearing lunatics. A failure to bridge this gap may impact new and fresh black leadership for years to come.
Take a walk in the hood and ask some random teens who their role models are. Sure, you’ll get a few who may name President Obama but the majority of their responses will be athletes, entertainers, or most will state that they don’t have any role models at all. Sorry to say, but Obama’s election to the presidency did not create the widespread excitement amongst the youth that most had expected or hoped for. This may seem like a blasphemous statement but the fact is that many simply don’t relate to a President Obama or similar figures that are seen as the model of black success. Many youth are living and thinking about day to day survival, not about graduating from Harvard Law School. Youth relate more to athletes and entertainers because they are people who look like them, speak their language, lived their struggle and provided a blueprint to get out of the ghetto. This is not to say that there are not successful black college graduates, doctors, lawyers, and business people that rose from poverty because there are many. The primary question is how many of these individuals willingly try to connect and give back to our youth population while still maintaining a level of authenticity?
How does all of this affect the future of black leadership? Our liberation movement has always been youth led with support from elders who were able to pass down a rich sense of history, guidance, and inspiration. The cultural and generational gap has eliminated this dynamic which has created an environment where there are young people using their brilliant leadership skills without any guidance or sense of who they are. We need more mentors to help guide our youth so they can use their natural leadership skills to create positive change.
Without building a base of young, smart, and dedicated soldiers, our progress will continue to be minimal at best. Time and time again, we look to recruit, market, and showcase the same mediocre prototypes to be leaders in politics, education, business, etc. There are numerous young people who have the ability to lead and want to make a difference but they often feel like they don’t have a voice, let alone a seat at the table. Next time you attend a panel, conference, or town hall meeting look around the room and you’ll notice how everyone looks and acts the same. We can not continue to be afraid of black youth and dismiss them as lost causes as they bring value to the table as well.
As long as we continue to dismiss those who talk, look, and act differently than what is considered to be mainstream and safe, our community will continue to be out of touch and the lifeline to future leadership will be disconnected.