Thursday, February 19, 2009

Finding Inspiration in Our Youth- The "Lost Generation"

Last week, I wrote about the impact of the economy on our children and explored if there is an "upside" to the down turning economy for families. (read here). I received huge responses on Facebook links far and wide, as parents explored their feelings about the inherent value of cutting back on accustomed luxuries, and how our youth can surprise us with their vision and resiliency.

When it comes to handing the keys of our future to the next seven generations; are we pessimists or optimists? Are our teens and young adults going to be known as the "Lost Generation" or the next "Great generation?" Are we giving them the tools to dream, imagine, create and strive or simply buying their silence and complicity?

One thing I do know- give a kid the tools to shine, and sit back. A youthful passion for change is afoot in America. A new band of revolutionaries; stirring up a Boston Tea Party to buck 'King George' out, and create a new leadership of founding fathers. We may question their "Twittering" ways and "texting" mania, but they are a plugged in generation: completely networked for rapid fire change. If we give them the keys to drive a car that works, we are out of the ditch for sure.

I have two poignant examples to share with you about the incredible power of what our youth can do. First, check out this very short YouTube video made by Jonathan Reed, a film student at Columbia College called "The Lost Generation." It was entered in an AARP video contest called "U at 50," and won second place. Notice your emotional reaction and how it changes from the beginning to the end.

We can have it either way. Which is it going to be? Pessimism drains energy, optimism infuses energy. Our youth don't want to be burdened with the negative labels we put on them, it is our job to teach them how to fish, for our future's sake. Once we are brave enough to clear away the clutter of too much stuff, show them alternatives, and empower them to take a stand for what they believe in, we can rebuild America into something we are all proud of once again.

While there are plenty of youth addicted to TV and videos, with nary a desire to leave the couch save for grabbing some Doritos, there are plenty of others out there scorching a new trail to follow, if we dare.

My second gold nugget is Cassie Zito: a 17 year old youth from the rough neighborhoods in Hartford, Connecticut. She is anything but a "typical" teenager. Cassie and her family run a juice bar, organic eco-friendly store called The Green Vibration, and are about to open a "Sustainable Academy for Kids" with a summer youth activist program. They have passion enough for ten families. All around Cassie are peers who are in gangs, with daily doses of violence, yet she has transformed herself into a veritable force.

Cassie considers herself an activist, and has been working for years on sophisticated causes such as teaching youth about the dangers corporate consumerism, reducing the carbon footprint, and conserving resources. She leads a teen poetry slam monthly, and delivers a power point lecture for school assembly programs around the state called, "Living the Green Dream." She was selected to travel to Florida last year and participate in the Jane Goodall Institute's "Roots & Shoots" teen leadership program.

Dr. Goodall writes about her program and her passion for empowering our youth:
"Roots creep underground everywhere and make a firm foundation. Shoots seem very light, but to get to the light, they can break open brick walls. Imagine the brick walls are the problems we have inflicted on the planet. Hundreds and thousands of roots and shoots, hundreds and thousands of young people around the world, can break through these walls. You can change the world."

Currently, Cassie plans to travel to San Francisco for a paid summer internship with Corporate Accountability International to help with an initiative called "Think Outside the Bottle" campaign, to challenge the marketing muscle of the bottled water corporations. She chides that most of the water in bottles comes from the tap anyway. I asked her what she would say to other adults and youth her age who don't know how to begin making the world a better place.

"Think outside the box,"
she said simply.

"Start seeing a bigger picture and stop being a drone through life. Think for yourself and not what everyone else is thinking about you. It's not about what you have or what you need, but what is necessary."

Pretty impressive. There is hope.

Tell us your stories of youth who have inspired you, and are "thinking outside the box". I'd love to hear and will try to feature some of them in an upcoming article. And, as always, I'd love your comments and always try to respond when possible.

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