I believe in your leadership, in your genius, and in your capacity for greatness. Your number is massive; you experience the unimaginable every day; and you receive more criticism than any previous generation.
Yet, I believe in you. As I listen to you, talk with you and work with you in New York City, my adopted hometown, and in cities large and small across our nation, I am in awe. Last week, I spent two days moderating discussions with diverse groups of high-school and grade-school students, after they watched Spike Lee’s landmark documentary film “4 Little Girls.”
In their 12-, 13-, 17-year-old faces, I saw you all…speaking dynamically about four young Black children murdered by racists in 1963, while they worshipped in church—a time that you could not have imagined. But you did, and you linked that tragic episode to the killing of Trayvon Martin, to racial profiling and the New York Police Department’s infamous policy of “stop-and-frisk.” White students, Black students, Asian students, Latino students, sat next to each other, and openly discussed racism, hatred, violence, guns, love, peace, hate.
You offered solutions. Action steps. A new way forward. With great clarity I remember how you kept the discussion real, honest, raw, unfiltered, and uncensored—much to the surprise of the teachers and the mentors who brought you to the screenings. They told me how amazed they were to hear you speak with such passion and with such clarity on heavy topics.
This week, I traveled to Pace University in Pleasantville, New York, to participate in a class called “Men and Masculinity” taught by my friend John Agnelli. I dove right into a discussion with male and female students of diverse races and class backgrounds.
I pulled no punches, delving into domination, male violence against women and girls, and my own history of violence, anger and confusion regarding manhood. You listened intently and responded with measures of agreement, of consternation, and of discomfort. We discussed the manner in which you are influenced by music and music videos, reality television shows, sports, video games, our celebrity-obsessed culture, social media, cellphones, and other forms of technology.
We talked about our lack of education, regardless of the schools that we attended while growing up. Those who do not recognize the contributions of women and of girls to our nation and to our planet cannot be called educated especially if you believe women to be invisible, caretakers, mother figures, or objects for sexual favor who deserve to be violated, attacked, raped, killed, or discarded.
Some of the young men in the class got it, some did not. Most sat quietly. The women, on the other hand, said a lot. Women and girls are and have always been the equals to men and boys.
John Agnelli mentioned that 80% of the young women in this class admitted the previous week that they experienced sexual assault in their lives. How many girls and young women in America would say the same thing? What legacy do we leave to your generation if we allow our society to continue down the path of sexually based exploitation, violence and assault? When we couple those with mass shootings and hatred based on differences, we begin to comprehend the depths of our depravity.