“Look at yourselves. Some of you teenagers, students. How do you think I feel and I belong to a generation ahead of you – how do you think I feel to have to tell you, ‘We, my generation, sat around like a knot on a wall while the whole world was fighting for its hum an rights – and you’ve got to be born into a society where you still have that same fight.’ What did we do, who preceded you? I’ll tell you what we did. Nothing. And don’t you make the same mistake we made….” – Malcolm X
I do not like guilt. That’s not to say that I haven’t done some crumby things and felt bad about them, because I have. I just don’t like feeling as if there was something more I could have done, can do still, and should be doing in a minute that I’m not doing right now. So I’ve lived my life in the now. Throughout my 20+ year long career in youth work I’ve done some hard work, quit suddenly, moved jobs, worked too much, and didn’t learn lessons in the moments when I should have. There were times I struggled with bosses, coworkers, community members, politicians, movement leaders, and young people themselves. As Frank Sinatra said, “Regrets, I’ve had a few.”
So tonight as I look back on these years, this time since the middle of my teens where I mark the beginning of my career, I smile over my work. The scan of the lands of engaging communities within themselves has taken me on a wonderful course through life and done me right. My experiences have literally brought me around the world, in front of intimate groups of great young people and adults, and opportunities to speak to massive crowds, decision-makers, and activists. I have influenced fields and driven policy agendas, motivated campaigns and rallied social change. This has been the most rewarding work, with powerful impacts and transformed realities.
Reading Brother Malcolm’s quote, I take umbrage at his suggestion that his own generation somehow failed the Civil Rights movement, as would many people today, I’m sure. As history has taught, it takes time and the long view it provides to see the arc of transformation over the generations.
I am fortunate to be able to see, within my own generation, the heart of transformation beating throughout my own work. Without bragging or arrogance, I am glad to know that our communities are more engaged than they have been in generations. According to Robert Putnam’s measures of social capital from Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, my analysis shows that we, as a Western society, are on an uptick. That excites me. While I cannot claim that I alone have changed anything in the grand scale of the movement, I do know that my work, in concert with that of millions of people around the world, is rapidly transforming society.
Thank you for joining me on the first part of this journey. Ahead is a grand new terrain that I am looking towards longingly, and that I’ve begun to reveal. I look forward to sharing more with you throughout the rest of this long, wonderful adventure!