Millennials. So many of us see them as lazy, naïve, un-motivated “Me-Me-Me” kinds of human beings who somehow threaten to bring the world to an apocalyptic end – all while taking a selfie.
But from all I’ve ever seen, it’s the Millennials, the 20-year-olds and 30-year-olds — and to think of it, the 40-year-olds — of any time who are at the forefront of societal change.
On behalf of the Lakota Sioux people, Sitting Bull — a spring chicken at the time, and being no Tonto — said to the powers-that-be: “Reservations? I don’t think so!”
My personal heroes, when it comes to fighting for equality, sure were on the young side.
Frederick Douglass freed himself from slavery in his 20s, and wrote about it and spoke across racial and ideological divides to end such human bondage.
Sojourner Truth did likewise in her 20s, and went on to seek voting rights for women, saying in “Ain’t I a Woman:”
“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women (those at a Women’s Rights Conference) together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.”
My main woman, Harriet Tubman, left her “massa” to do without her, as Frederick and Sojourner had, at age 29, joining the Underground Railroad to which poet, Eloise Greenfield, wrote:
“Nineteen times she went back South
To get three hundred others
She ran for her freedom nineteen times
To save Black sisters and brothers ….”
There’s no end to what young people have done in pursuits of dignity.
Susan B. Anthony, at age 17, worked against slavery; Elizabeth Cady Stanton helped organize the first women’s rights convention in 1848 when she was 35 — Cesar Chavez’s age when he infused “Sí, se puede” attitudes as a mantra in farm workers’ lives; Frank Kameny, at about 36 years of age, made gay rights a cause in his day …
Martin Luther King, who taught us how to love and dream, and Malcolm X, who taught us the truth step by step, left us at the tender age of 39, after many years of trying to civilize our country …
James Baldwin was 29 when he gave us much-needed insights into race, spirituality, and humanity in “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” his first novel …
Rosa was barely in her 40s when she refused to give up her seat on the bus …
Gloria Steinem was still in her 30s when she and other women got Ms. Magazine underway, lending her crisp, smart writing style to its uplifting pages …
John Lewis had his young skull fractured on a “Right to Vote” march from Selma to Montgomery on “Bloody Sunday” and went on to Congress where he remains today …
Our millennials are equally as talented and committed to doing what needs to be done when it comes to making a better world. Kendrick Lamar, one of today’s Hip-Hop millennials, illustrates just how far we still have to go to realize Jeffersonian ideals of all men being “created equal” in a four-four rap beat:
“Can’t let the government tell me how my future looking
I’m on Rosecrans & Central trying to duck the central bookings.”
Robert Jones, Jr., creator of the social justice social media community Son of Baldwin, highlights Kendrick’s remarks with the following:
“We can disagree and still love each other, unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”
Oh, where would we be without these “Me-Me-Me” people out here keeping it real? Groups like “Black Lives Matter,” along with millennials of all colors and sexual identities, showed up in large numbers in solidarity with the Sioux at Standing Rock, vehemently protesting the laying of oil pipes that threaten the primary source of drinking water for around 10,000 indigenous Americans.
And, surely the spirit of Sitting Bull smiles down on these young people for standing up and saying “No” to our nation’s ongoing injustices.
Our freedom fighting heroes of the past would see these modern day activists as keepers of the faith: people who care; people who were enamored with the first “progressive” presidential candidate to come along in their young lives; people who are educated, internet savvy, comfortable in diverse settings; people who are coloring our population, making us look like the world at-large, taking leadership roles and starting businesses that my generation can’t begin to understand…
They’re everywhere I go, in large numbers: in the streets for Trayvon; at conferences dedicated to social justice; at the Occupy and Women’s and Immigration Marches…
They have my unconditional love in spite of my not fully understanding all that they’re about. Like I’ve never taken a single selfie, as I don’t comprehend the concept, but these millennial folks can take as many as they like. Because the truth is, in my view, they’re a beautiful sight to see. A picture of hope.