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Maya Enista Smith

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Mobilizing Millennials

Posted: 07/06/2012 10:23 am

This Fourth of July was my son's first, and although he listened to the fireworks from inside my belly, the holiday gave me pause to reflect on what kind of country he will grow up to inherit.

I am fortunate to be part of the millennial generation -- a generation more diverse, networked and socially conscious than any generation before it. It's a generation that is uniquely positioned to call attention to today's issues and shape the future based on the legacy we have inherited from our parents and grandparents.

Our founding fathers intended for every generation to build and innovate on the American experience. Our democracy is an unfinished project. Our government is only as effective as the sum of its citizens. The most disadvantaged people in our society are not civically engaged, often neglected and left out of the conversation about solutions.

That's why, 10 years ago, Mobilize.org was founded. Mobilize.org is a national millennial-led organization that improves the way democracy works by investing in millennial-driven solutions. Mobilize.org empowers and invests in millennials to create and implement solutions to social problems. Utilizing technology and social networking to connect millennials on and offline, Mobilize.org convenes millennials from around the country to discuss issues impacting our generation and to develop sustainable solutions to address them.

As the CEO of Mobilize.org, I believe that in order to create long-term, sustainable solutions to the challenges facing our society, millennials must authentically engage each other in identifying problems and proposing solutions. Most importantly, I believe that millennials must have the resources needed to implement these solutions on their campuses or in their communities. I view our work and investments in millennial ideas as a catalyst for meaningful, collaborative problem solving and action that leads to systemic social change.

While our country faces serious challenges, I am certain that the answer lies in getting more members of my generation involved in the conversation, active in their communities and aware of their powerful capacity to make change. This is the legacy I want to leave for my son -- a country in which all of us are engaged in building a better America.

Two weeks ago, I attended a Mobilize.org summit in South Florida alongside more than 100 local community college students to understand the challenges they face in achieving their academic goals and hear their solutions to overcoming them.

In 2010, President Barack Obama announced his goal to raise the college graduation rate to 60 percent by 2020, adding at least 5 million graduates from community colleges. But according to a report by Complete College America, only 12 out of every 100 Florida community college students will graduate with a post-secondary credential within four years. In 2020, it is estimated that 63 percent of jobs will require a certification or college degree. So understanding and addressing the low community college completion rate is a pressing concern in South Florida.

The top five ideas, proposed and voted on by summit participants, won a share of $25,000 and a year of expert support to implement the ideas on campus, in their community or online. Ideas were judged on potential social impact, creativity and innovation, sustainability, and the use of new and social media.

The winning projects, all proposed by millennial students, included an initiative to empower women to make informed decisions that positively effect their college completion efforts and a high school community outreach program to mentor young undocumented students.

For many of the students in attendance, it was the first time they had ever been given the opportunity and encouragement to become civically engaged; to view themselves as leaders, whose voices have immense value in their communities, and in our democracy. Seeing the energy and excitement about helping others achieve their goals -- from millennials who themselves face many obstacles to completing their own education -- was deeply inspiring and exactly the kind of collaborative problem solving that leads to long-term systemic social change.

As a first-generation American, a daughter of Romanian immigrants and the daughter-in-law of a Major in the United States Army, I am proud to live in the greatest country on earth, and proud to be a member of a generation that believes we can be even greater -- for my son, and for all members of America's next generation.

 
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