THE BLOG
02/13/2013 03:16 pm ET | Updated Apr 15, 2013

Have America's Young People Been Left Behind?

From access to education and jobs to safety, there are a lot of challenges facing an often overlooked generation: America's young people, who are just like me. And sadly, we feel like no one is listening.

In fact, only 10 percent of teens are confident that America's leaders will address our most pressing concerns.

As Boys & Girls Clubs of America's (BGCA) National Youth of the Year, I consistently hear these concerns from my peers across the country. The result is a generation that has real fears about the future and don't think they will be as successful as previous generations. I am honored to join BGCA to speak up on behalf of my peers and ensure our fears and concerns are addressed by America's leaders.

During a recent national survey of more than 1,000 teens, BGCA found that eight out of 10 said the issues they most care about have not been addressed. A shocking 61 percent of America's young people are concerned about getting a job or training or a college education after high school. And I can certainly relate to this concern. I specifically remember being excited to graduate from high school, but also worried about being able to afford college based on my mother's income alone. Fortunately, my Boys & Girls Club provided guidance and resources to help me go to college. I also had great support from companies like our National Youth of the Year sponsor, Tupperware Brands, which provided me with more than $60,000 in scholarships to attend college.

But sadly, there are far too many young people in America who are not provided the same opportunities and support. Even after finding a way to pay for college, 40 percent of freshman drop out because of academic, financial and personal hardships.

Given the recent headlines, it is not a surprising fact that teens are also concerned about violence. Sixty percent say violence affecting youth is one of their top three major issues. It's great that this issue is now getting national attention, but it's really difficult to have hope for a positive future when you don't even feel safe going to school.

As President Obama said in his Inaugural Address, we -- the young people -- are America's future and we must be protected. And as he said in his State of the Union address, we need to increase access to higher education and training that the jobs of the future require. I am hopeful that our concerns and most important issues will be acknowledged.

But to ensure this acknowledgement, we want a platform. We want a forum that will ensure that our needs, concerns and priorities are addressed by influential leaders who are willing to invest in America's future.

That's why I am so proud to join BGCA in calling for the creation of a Teen Advisory Committee, to be part of the National Commission on Children currently led by Save the Children, BGCA, Harlem Children's Zone and other leading youth organizations.

We are calling on everyone -- young and old -- to sign our online petition asking our nation's leaders to form this teen advisory group that can provide a continuous update on the status of America's most valuable asset: its young people.

We want -- we need -- to feel confident that they will deliver meaningful solutions to the challenges we face every day. We are, after all, America's future and tomorrow's leaders. And more than that, we are America.

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