About a month ago, I attended a town hall meeting called by a coalition of pastors to address the violence taking place in Prince George’s County. The deaths of two teens killed within a two day span sparked the urgent need to have this meeting. As I sat down and listened to the youth pour out their hearts about issues that concerns them most, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of deja vu. I asked myself, “Haven’t I been here before?” And in fact, I had. I have grown up in the same environment that our teens are currently living in. And as the meeting went on, a few youth shared their own stories about how they couldn’t walk down certain streets or buy certain shoes, and why they were disappointed in our school system. As these stories went on and on, the song Changes by Tupac Shakur started playing in my head. The first few bars specifically repeated, and I heard Tupac’s voice loud and clear venting his frustration, “I see no changes. I wake up in the morning, and I ask myself, ‘is life worth living, or should I blast myself?’ I’m tired of being poor, and even worse, I’m black…” I remember hearing this song as a pre-teen and saying to myself, “When I get older, I am going to change the world.” Over a decade later, I found myself sitting in a town hall meeting as a witness of real life events that I had a desire to prevent.
As the meeting went on, and I could see the signs of defeat on the faces of our youth, I tried to put myself in their shoes. Several questions surfaced in that moment. How did I feel when I was their age? What did I do? I didn’t do anything! Then a light bulb turned on. I didn’t do anything because I wasn’t told that I could do something. As a matter of fact, I was accustomed to hearing about what I couldn’t do, how things weren’t going to change, and how our communities were doomed from the very beginning. My most important mental flaw was this, when I recognized that change was needed, I told myself that I would do something about it “when I got older”. I believe that one of our biggest downfalls we’ve had as a community is that we disarm our youth of not only their potential but their present power. One of society’s most common questions to kids is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
The question that needs immediate asking is what would you like to do now? We must give them a voice, and ask what they see in their communities that needs changing. What gifts has God given them, and how can they currently use them to positively contribute to their communities? That town hall meeting changed my life and ignited a passion inside of me to empower our youth to be the change that they want to see in our communities. I don’t want another young adult to have to sit down in a town hall meeting and experience the same feelings that I had, feelings of regret and disappointment. I’d like to prevent the next youth advocate from wondering, “What if I could have done something as a teenager that would’ve changed everything”. One thing I know I cannot change is the past, but I can learn from history to make sure it does not repeat itself. I won’t be stingy with my life lessons either, and I’ll leave you guys with this; no matter how old you are, if you know that change is needed, be that change!