When I was 19 years old, I was organizing my college friends to help tutor children of Southeast Asians who found refuge in America, and was delivering donated food to hungry Americans stuck in impoverished neighborhoods in Southern California.
Decades later, I empathize with young Egyptians who put their ideals of justice into actual action. It reminds me of my late teens, when I was so determined to change the world for the better, that I was willing to redirect my future to complement my ideals.
Today, when I see young Americans, at the sunrise of their adult lives, take steps toward embracing the path of injustice and malevolence, I am deeply saddened.
For example, the lead character in the popular teen television show iCarly has been on a damaging campaign to ridicule homeless persons. Her blog shows repellent pictures of her dressed up in "homeless" garb, and even has pictures of homeless men stretched out on the sidewalks of Hollywood.
As the leader of the largest adult homeless program in Hollywood, I feel compelled to respond.
Sure, the creators of iCarly do not actually use the term "homeless", but instead feel justified by making fun of "hobos". They claim hobos are men who freely roamed the country in the 19th century, with no care in the world. But then they use a picture of a homeless man in Hollywood who they call "Hollywood Hobo", to poke fun of.
I know... sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. But that is a childish myth. Words not only wound, they could actually become seeds of emotional bashing.
The stars of iCarly, who are idolized by pre-teens all over this country, are giving their consent to the condemnation of homeless persons. In other words, let the bashing begin. And, sadly, bashing is what has been occurring in our country.
First it started with videos called "Bum Fights," then young male teens have been taking to baseball bats to literally kill homeless persons.
Okay, I admit, a few jokes about 19th century hobos don't cause the youth of America to start killing homeless persons. But the depiction of homeless men on the streets of Hollywood as free-wheeling, lazy people is planting little mustard seeds of injustice in the hearts of our youth.
Especially when those of us on the frontlines of homelessness know that one out of five homeless Americans were war veterans, and more than half struggle with severe mental health issues without the ability to pull up their bootstraps on their own.
David slept on the streets of Los Angeles County for nearly 10 years. He looked like "Hollywood Hobo." But he was no hobo. He was a decorated veteran of the Gulf War who was so overwhelmed by the killing and devastation of battle that the ghosts of his war experience haunted him every night. Alcohol was his only remedy to soothe his soul.
For those of us who helped David, we know that the act of physically placing him in his own apartment, along with surrounding him with compassionate social workers, saved his life. The caring team who helped him, did not see David as a lazy hobo, did not make fun of his homeless existence, but instead acted on their convictions.
The conviction that justice put into action is what will make our world a better place for everyone.
I know not all young Americans reflect the insensitive actions of iCarly's cast. Zach Bonner, the 11 year old boy who walked across America to raise money to battle homelessness instills hope for a new generation of young Americans. The young interns who work at our homeless agency have set aside their careers in order to spend a year fighting injustice on the streets of Los Angeles.
I embrace this new generation. It makes me feel like my generation of Americans who have invested decades of our lives to fight against poverty and the systematic injustice of a society that allows a million Americans to flounder on our streets, has not worked in vain.
Today, the CNN images of a mass of young people in a square in Northern Africa is a snapshot of the passing of the mantle of change. A new generation, a new voice is willing to take hold of the charge against injustice.
I just hope the same hungry zeal for justice I see in the eyes of young Americans giving up their careers to fight poverty and homelessness, would convince the young celebrities on iCarly to give up their not-so-funny campaign against "hobos."
So let's tell the creators of iCarly that homelessness is not a joke. In fact, join this Facebook campaign, as well as support our efforts to help redirect the creative and influential energies of this television show to embrace the fight against homelessness.
For the sake of a hurting generation of Americans living on our streets. For the sake of a new generation just starting their life's journey.