“The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow” – Nelson Mandela
Today’s youth are engaging in the conversation about racial bias, racial injustice, and discrimination more than ever – especially as social media continues to be an important tool in activism efforts.
“Everyone’s posting about Black Lives Matter their Instagram stories… It’s good to know that Gen Z is ready to maybe have another civil rights movement because it’s something that needs to happen,” says Grace Wolf, 16, who is a student at Shepherd High School.
Grace Wolf, 16, member of the Mt. Pleasant Area Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory CommitteeEmma Powell, YAC advisor and Associate Professor in the Political Science and Public Administration Department at Central Michigan University, as well as Campus Director for the Certified Nonprofit Program at the university, says she is seeing a similar movement at CMU.
“I’ve seen students change in what gets them fired up – it used to be health and wellness, then a shift to environmental issues, now it has something to do with social justice or human rights,” she says. “We’re definitely seeing a transition among our young people in highlighted campaigns that they’re getting involved in.”
While it is important for youth and young adults to get involved in this conversation, local youth leaders realize education needs to be a critical component of that conversation in order for it to be most meaningful. To that end, the Mt. Pleasant Area Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) created a multi-part program called “Explore Racism in Modern Day America”.
The program starts by encouraging participants to read “The Hate U Give,” a young adult novel by Angie Thomas that confronts racial bias and discrimination. The reading of the book is being followed by a virtual panel discussion that will be pre-recorded and then uploaded to the Mt. Pleasant Area Community Foundation Facebook page on Thursday, Sept. 17.
Emma Powell, YAC advisor and Associate Professor in the Political Science and Public Administration Department at Central Michigan University, as well as Campus Director for the Certified Nonprofit Program at the university
Coming from a community that is over 80% White, according to the United States Census Bureau, the YAC realized that having a panel discussion was an important part of this program, says Powell.
“The panel was a critical component because our YAC is not overly diverse by way of race and ethnicity,” she says. “We didn’t want to have the voice, we wanted to elevate the voices that needed to be heard.”
The featured panelists will be: Alivia Clark, Australyah Coleman, Monica Djietror, Dr. Vincent Mumford, and Jaylen Kisner. Though the panel discussion will be pre-recorded, the YAC is still encouraging the community to get involved in it by submitting questions they have for the panelists by Sept. 15 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Our panel of people is an incredible group of individuals who are going to make a difference in this community and give a lot of perspective and a lot of knowledge to this community,” says Kaitlin Otteman, 17, President of YAC and student at Mt. Pleasant High School.
In a predominantly White community, it can be difficult to know how to make a meaningful impact on a movement about racial injustice and discrimination. Developing this program for the community has been important for the youth in YAC so they understand they can a difference, says Powell.
Kaitlin Otteman, 17, volunteering on May 28, 2020 at Central Michigan University when the Mount Pleasant Area Community Foundation was packaging masks for the community. Left to right is Emma Powell, Anderson Griffin-Strand, Nancy Wheeler, Kaitlin Otteman, and Sarah Case
“I think it helps give the youth some confidence that they have a voice - even if they aren’t feeling some of the injustices, that they can be an ally in the conversation,” she says.
Kaitlin Otteman, 17, President of the Mt. Pleasant Area Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory CommitteeWhile racial injustice is not a new problem facing America, the fact that it is receiving so much attention right now – and so much attention among young people – is why Otteman feels the “Explore Racism in Modern Day America” program is so important for the YAC to have. In the aftermath of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others who have been killed during encounters with law enforcement officers, topics such as racial injustice and discrimination have received the national spotlight; however, those topics have also received local attention with several peaceful protests taking place in Mt. Pleasant and across the Great Lakes Bay Region, including a protest organized by CMU students.
“I believe the YAC is the right group to talk about it because we are the youth of today. We are the youth who will make a lot of changes in the world, and we need to understand what those changes need to be,” she says.
“I believe that by engaging in this topic, talking about it, learning about it, and absorbing all of the information, we are helping ourselves to not be ignorant in the future. We are going to vote on laws and we are going to vote on policy and we are going to be in government; and, if we don’t educate ourselves we are dooming ourselves to live in ignorance.”
YAC Vice President Samuel Powell, 15, who is a student at Sacred Heart Academy, feels that with the proper education about racism, his generation could use that information to make decisions that have a significant impact on an issue that has plagued the country for centuries.
Samuel Powell, 15, Vice President of the Mt. Pleasant Area Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory Committee“We are the people who, in 15 years, are going to be the adults forming society and making decisions and, in my mind, there’s high potential to for us to be a component of ending or minimizing racism in America,” Samuel Powell says.
He, Otteman, Wolf, and others thinking their generation may have an impact on ending racism in America could be correct, as a recent study by Pew Research Center, found that roughly two-thirds of Gen Z and Millennials are likely to say that Black people are treated less fairly than Whites in America; while just half of Gen X and Baby Boomers will say this, and even fewer members of the Silent Generation.
While the YAC is a group formed of youth, and they hope that the “Explore Racism in Modern Day America” program engages to youth, they also feel there is an opportunity for adults to get involved in this program – whether they read the book, submit a question to the panel, or are brought into the conversation by their children or grandchildren.
“I think that this program facilitated a really easy way for kids who may not have known how to talk to their parents about this subject to talk about it,” says Otteman.
Grace Wolf, 16, volunteers with the Mt. Pleasant Area Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory Committee
She adds that she has talked to her own parents about racism and the topics surrounding it, and her dad has told her he’s learned a lot by listening to her. Just as youth and young adults are using technology and social media to engage in the conversation about racial bias, racial injustice, and discrimination themselves, they are also able to use that technology to educate their parents and grandparents, she adds.
Not only is it important for youth and young adults to be educated about racial bias so they can learn to adjust their own behaviors accordingly, but they can also educate those around them. Wolf, who is also a member of the YAC, says she believes it is possible – though sometimes difficult - for youth to impact the opinions of adults.
“Sometimes maybe we aren’t taken totally seriously because adults don’t think we know what we’re talking about; but, when all of us band together and we are all speaking our minds for one cause, I think we can really make a difference,” she says.