Open Letter to America’s Youth and Young Adults

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Folks like me are waiting for you—to lead us and to be with us—in a powerful multi-cultural and multi-generational army determined to see freedom, justice, and equality for all people everywhere. This has been my dream since I was an 18-year-old first-year college student at Rutgers University. Since I was a youth and young adult, I strived to make a difference. Over two decades later, I am still here, still doing the work, and I feel that your generation is my generation’s partner in this journey. If not us, then who?

That is why I am both supporting you and challenging you: How will you deal with racism, with sexism, with poverty and with economic inequality? What will you say to people who preach hate toward homosexuals, and toward religions different from their own? How will you handle environmental challenges and climate change? What will you say and do when more mass shootings occur, when we continue to debate issues like guns, mental health and mental illness? What kind of leaders will you be when you know so many people do not trust politicians, religious leaders, or the talking heads who we see on television every day?

If you come from great wealth, or if you gain great wealth in your lifetime, will you be a leader who understands and who relates to people of lesser means? Where will you find the hope, the love, the compassion, to relate to people — not only those like you — but also those who are different from you, to be a voice for them when they feel their voices do not matter?

I challenge you to carry these kinds of questions with you for the rest of your lives. It is your time. What will you say? What will you do? Every generation must leave its mark. Never make peace with being mediocre or average, never do only enough to get by. If you want to see a better America and a better world, be that better America and that better world through your words, your actions, and your unique ability to be fearless in everything that you do.

Do it for yourself. Do it for your friends. Do it for your families and your communities. And do it for the generations that will follow yours. They will watch you, learn from you and follow you, just as I am doing—