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On Faith

Rev. Vaughn Beckman

Today’s youths are striving
to create change

Young people today are highly progressive, according to the September edition of Utne Reader. In the 1980s and 1990s, we viewed young people as selfish and apathetic to the issues of our nation and world. The report says college students were conservative because "they were reacting against workaholic, divorced parents ... rejecting the idealism of the '60s. They painted the landscape with graffiti and medicated themselves on weed, Ecstacy and the status symbols bought on credit."

However, something has happened, according to the magazine, a digest of articles from the "alternative press." In the past two years, students organized more protests on college campuses than in any period since the 1960s. The issues are intense and diverse: the World Trade Organization, corporate corruption, wages, health care, sweatshop-made clothes, prison reform, issues of the Middle East, dioxin in tampons, genetically modified foods, strife with Iraq, AIDS, world hunger and global warming.

>> Many young people today understand how race, class, gender and sexuality interlock. Bitter arguments about who is the most oppressed have subsided, and talk is of building coalitions. Some of those coalitions seem unlikely: Jews with Muslims, laborers with environmentalists, gays with straights, blacks with Asians. They have learned to create alliances across what we would have termed "the great divide."

>> They reject the idea of an individual leader. They talk about "all of us" having a part in creating change. They believe in working side by side.

>> They come with new cultural and spiritual currents, such as veganism, poetry slams, hip-hop music, creating Web sites, media, art and dance. All these happenings may look like just another fad, but to many young people, they provide outlets for their brand of ethics and values.

How do we provide an environment in which young people can thrive? One place to find helpful data is the Search Institute, which has done decades of study and research on social issues. A common conclusion in their research is that "communitywide efforts are particularly important for supporting young people, especially for the most vulnerable."

In its study of 118 communities in the '90s, the findings challenged many of the myths:

>> Youths are the problem.

>> Families are to blame.

>> Schools should only teach the three R's.

>> Churches or religious communities are irrelevant.

>> It is not my responsibility.

Many of our young people have energy, ideas and a goal of creating change. We know it will take the involvement of all of us to help them, especially with so many still at risk. According to Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of the Children's Defense Fund, "America's child poverty rate consigns one in six children to hunger, poor health, homelessness and abuse."

What can we do in regard to our young?

>> Learn to listen. By listening, you can see what our youths are about and can provide meaningful input.

>> Give your time and energy to youth organizations. Coach a team, teach a class or volunteer to help in the office of a community organization.

>> Lobby politicians to promote legislation that provides quality community services.

>> Work with neighbors.

We live in difficult times. Drug abuse, an increase in youth violence and crime, hate language and bigotry are on the rise. We can make a difference. After all, these young people will someday be us.

The Rev. Vaughn Beckman is pastor of First Christian Church.


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