Note: Anyone can read this, but this blog posting is specifically written to people 15-24 that live in Camden. If you know anyone that fits that description, please give or forward this to them.
Another note: I have been a mentor to young men in Camden for the last three years. I am always honest about the reality of being a change agent and not being prepared for the ridiculousness that comes with challenging the imperfect elements of the system. A few students requested that I write a book to teens. Well, here is a start…a letter.
Dear Young Leader:
On this season of giving people gifts, I offer you this letter. I hope that it proves to be more valuable than anything tangible.
There are many young people in this city. Over 10,000 people between 18-24 and half the residents in this city are younger than 25. There is an enormous amount of potential power there.
In the last five years, I have often been the youngest person in meetings with people society would consider powerful. I have attended events with the Governor, Mayor, City Council members, Pastors and Imams, Principals and Superintendents, and CEOs and Executive Directors. I have spoken, presented, questioned, and occasionally debated some of those just listed.
My commitment has led to me making both dreadful mistakes and significant impacts on what happens in this city. I have left meetings where people have been motivated to do great things based on something that I said that inspired them and I have left meetings with people offended or disturbed by my words. Therefore, I offer this letter as a flawed and imperfect man that hopes that lessons from my experiences can encourage an entire generation to get involved the smartest and most effective ways. I have identified a few lessons that will hopefully be useful.
Be concerned. Get involved.
Eldrige Cleaver, a founder of the Black Panthers, famously said that you are "either part of the solution or part of the problem". Be a part of the solution. Do not wait for others to do something. Change and progress starts with the person who desires it. Speak up. Let your concerns and issues be known. There are serious issues that are in our community. One of them is young people smoking wet, destroying their lives, following the path to a slow and destructive death that the previous generation followed high on crack cocaine. Another is young people that do not graduate from school struggling to discover their purpose and their direction, trying to make money and avoid jail with no skills. The list goes on.
We have to do something about the problems that we know about. Of course, we have to know what to do. There are so solutions, therefore there is hope. Hope begins with you. You are the hope of the world.
Be prepared. Be aware.
Jesus, a person who regardless of faith one can learn from, said "Be wiser than the serpent and harmless as the dove." The idea of being as harmless as a dove is easy to understand. Be peaceful and respectful. Being wiser than a serpent may take more time.
You have to know your facts, do your research, read, study, and ask questions. Stay curious. For every hour you watch television or play a video game, devote two hours to reading something related to current events, worlds history, science, math, or anything else that may lead you to discover the mix of beauty and horror that make our planet a world.
Be aware of the challenges in getting involved in important matters. Know your limits and then defy and surpass them. This is not philosophical rhetoric; this is words that describe the steps to success. People that support the status quo always criticize those that try to change it. They will call you names, tell you you're wrong, try to discourage you, and do whatever it takes for their agenda to continue. Bad things stay bad when they are allowed to. Frederick Douglass, an original civil rights activist, said "Power concedes nothing without a demand". To have a better community, you must humbly, yet forcefully demand it.
Be You. Do not conform.
When I was in high school, I was considered weird and geeky. Actually, some may say that I still am. Those qualities that made people identify me with those words are the same qualities that made college a little easier for me than some other students. As a teenager, with a lot of influence with my mom, I read, watched news and documentaries, and enjoyed intellectual conversations with adults more than talking about the Eagles losing with my few friends. A mistake I made at 17, a mistake that many 17 year olds make, was trying to change things about me to be like the "cool kids". I now know that the cool kids were miserable. They dressed with expensive clothes and disrespected the teacher at their long term peril.
You can listen to whatever music you want, wear what you want, be who you want to be, and people will still either unfairly judge you or love you anyway. Change only to make yourself better committed to your values; never change for people, since all people are equally imperfect.
Have an armed team.
There is an African proverb, "If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together." You must have a group of people to work with. Join people that agree with you or organize a group of people with common concerns. There are many people and books on this topic. If you want more information, contact me and I will provide it for you.
Forming a group has been my greatest challenge in Camden. Many people agree with me. They tell me this when I am buying oatmeal in Pathmark or eating delicious pancakes at Deborah's Kitchen on Haddon Ave. People may have read my comments in the Courier Post or heard me ask a question on channel 19. Yet, many people are not willing to go to a meeting or write a letter to their legislator. They complain, but with the exception of voting, do nothing else. This is common in many places. This is a trend that only you can end.
The day that our community is able to climb out of the pit of despair and reach the mountain top of progress, they will have traveled there together. They will have worked as a team. They will have had disagreements, but keeping their eyes on the top of the mountain, they will have reached their destination. Not everyone will have made it. Some will have fallen back to the pit. Climb the mountain. Be a part of the change that you desire.
Now that you have read this, do something. Share this blog. Discover what you want to do. Contact me. Reply to this so that others can know how this letter has impacted you, whether you think it is genius or idiotic. Be a part of the solution now. I cannot keep fighting alone. There have to be more leaders that are clean and prepared to act with a purpose. To contact me directly, call me at 856.236.2705 or e-mail me at email@example.com .
Visit my new website http://sites.google.com/site/camdenprogress/ . I will continue to add useful tools to this site within the next few weeks.
I offer you my peace, love, and commitment. And some inspiring and funny videos.