For the last year I have been fortunate to film and air my own docu-series on MTV which chronicled my experience living for one week at a time with young people from all walks of life. Through that experience, along with Twitter, Facebook, a college speaking tour, and a flood of new introductions along the way, I have been lucky enough to connect with a wide array of people my age (I am 24) concerning the issues that we, as a generation, face. The more I travel, the more I listen, the more I have learned:
Juliet, a 23-year-old student that I met at a New York community college, passed me a hand written note that explained her battle with depression, the emotional scars that have ensued, a dropped medical insurance policy, and her struggle to care for her one-year-old. "It's not fair for my child," she concluded.
At 19, José, who I met in Pittsburgh, is the sole caretaker for his younger brother, Mike, who has autism. They live in a county with a failing school district that placed Mike in mainstream classes with many kids that regularly make fun of him. José told me that Mike now refuses to get out of bed in the morning. Bound by school district zoning, José wasn't sure how to find his brother an "adequate education".
Via Facebook, TaraMXXX said, "It's really absurd how expensive it is to go to school and how difficult and stressful it can be to get financial aid. To do anything in this age you have to go to college yet it's so expensive and unreasonable for people to pay that much. It's not fair."
The thousands of stories that I have come across have left a deep impression on me. These are not just notes of desperation. These are remarkable stories of resilience. It's clear that we are a generation seeking answers. Most importantly, each story demonstrates how urgent it is that we make a difference -- that we, as young people, can be part of the solution, not the problem.
The resilience of the people I have met exemplifies an underlying theme that is hard to ignore, as I read in this recent tweet:
@CYTXXX "I vote for compassion. It encompasses everything: love, understanding, tolerance, and respect, at the least."
Our generation is enduring the brutality of two wars, a struggling economy that is hitting us especially hard, and a political leadership that is mortgaging our future for today's votes. I was recently reminded of what this potentially means:
@McTXXX "'What's known as "The Greatest Generation" arose from deep economic problems and war. 2day we have a new set of challenges./I want to inspire my peers to create a future they believe in rather than live the future they have been told to believe in."
I am not a policy wonk and I won't pretend to have a litany of answers. I am simply a guy with a microphone.
Collective action has worked in the past: large numbers of everyday people rallying to put shame on those that are not giving them a fair deal. It's what Roosevelt did to the banks. It's what civil rights leaders did to their politicians. It's a way to get tangible results that make a real difference in peoples' lives. It's perhaps the best way to say that the world is not anyone's inheritance; it's what each generation makes it.
I agree with @Michelle2XXX who recently tweeted, "I want to help change the definition of my generation. I want to stand up and speak out... I just wish I knew exactly what to say."
The stories of Juliet, Tara, and José are our stories. They live in our communities. They are stories for which our generation needs to find solutions.
In the coming months, I along with many other young people will work together to achieve a civic discourse that results in a world that our generation will be proud to hand off to the next.