Dear young person aged 19 and under,
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. It is written in a letter format and tailored especially for you. You probably don't know me, but I encounter many of you during my everyday travels around Baltimore.
I see you often on the MTA buses, the light rail, and the subway. A few of you offered your seats to me, and I thank you for your kindness. Others of you, when you saw me near, reminded your friends to stop cursing or shouting loudly because I was in your presence. I thank you for your respect.
Sometimes our paths crossed at the library and out on the street in neighborhoods throughout Baltimore. I watched as some of you took the time to find a trash can to discard your food wrappings and soda cans. I watched as others of you acknowledged the elders in your presence by opening doors for them or speaking to them in a friendly manner. I thank you for those caring gestures.
I love to see the light in your eyes and the smiles on your faces. It is something about the energy of young people. If you don't know it, we (adults) need you. We need your energy to keep us thriving. We need your talent. We need your brain power. We need you to live, and most importantly we (adults) need you to excel.
I apologize that so many of us (adults) have let you down. We (adults) have spoken too many broken promises, modeled too much bad behavior and put way too much responsibility on you. We have forgotten how precious you are. We (adults) take you for granted and make excuses for our negligence. We blame you for our shortcomings and demand more from you than we expect of ourselves.
I apologize that we continue to send you these types of conflicting messages. We (adults) demand excellence from you, but we don't provide excellent care or service to you. We (adults) tell you to do your best, but we (adults) don't provide the best for you. We (adults) tell you to do what's right, but we aren't doing the right thing ourselves. It must be extremely frustrating dealing with us (adults).
I can somewhat understand why so many of you have chosen to buck the system. I see the discontent, bitterness and anger that many of you harbor inside of you. I can feel your disregard toward everybody you encounter. I see how many of you act out because of the negative experiences you have had with the adults in your lives.
I apologize that so many of you have suffered trauma, hurt, loss and pain because of us (adults). I apologize that so many of you have to deal with parents, guardians, teachers and other adults who are confused about who they are - unwilling or unable to provide you with healthy doses of love, encouragement and support.
Yes, you do have a right to be angry. I admit we (adults) have really messed up. However, I challenge you to channel that anger and frustration into something positive. I know it is asking a lot of you, but I need you to do this. I need you to learn from the mistakes of the parents, guardians, teachers and/or other adults in your lives. Make the decision today that you will be the change that you want to see in your family and/or community.
Be the first, second, third or tenth person in your family to finish high school and obtain your high school diploma. Be the first, second, fourth or fifteenth person in your family to go back to school and obtain your GED. Be the first, second, sixth or tenth person in your family to graduate from college. Be the first, second or thirteenth person in your family to avoid or walk away from the drug life. Be the first, second or seventh person in your family to open and maintain a successful, legitimate business. Be the first, second or ninth person in your family to live a jail-free life. Be the first, second or hundredth person in your family to encourage the little ones by teaching them manners, helping them understand the importance of education and modeling excellence for them.
I know I am asking a lot of you. It is probably more than what most of us (adults) in your lives have been able to provide you. However, I believe in you. I believe you are wiser, more astute and better equipped to create positive change - not just in your family, but in our community.
I am asking you to take a stand with me. I am challenging you to do better. I am challenging you to be better. This means that many of you will need to take some independent action beyond what you are already doing or what the adults in your lives are doing for you. Here are just a few suggestions to get you going:
- Get a library card. Turn off the television and go to the library. Challenge yourself to read one book a month. It is 12 months in a year. If you double up in February and March, you will have read 12 books by the end of this year. Be sure to explore different genres of books and to challenge yourself to read about things you don't know about. Attend a few book fairs and/or festivals. Meet the authors and learn from them.
- Strive for Academic Excellence. Unfortunately, your school might very well not be the best place for you. It might not have the most encouraging teachers or the best learning supplies/equipment to help you achieve academic excellence. Still, you must do your best to learn all that you can. This might be a daunting task for some of you who are really behind in your reading or math. However, you can excel. Ask your principal or your teachers for help. Most schools in Baltimore City are required to offer some sort of free tutoring to students. If you have parents or other adults in your life who demonstrate an interest in your studies, be sure to talk with them about your need for a tutor. Find a church in your community and request that the church provide tutoring for you.
- Do Something Fun that Uplifts You or Your Community. There is more to life than sex, drugs, and alcohol. Unfortunately, that is a lesson that many of us (adults) have yet to learn. Even worse, you might attend a school that doesn't have any sort of extra-curricular activities like debate teams, writing circles, dance clubs or marching bands. Think about what you enjoy doing and talk with your principal and/or teacher about starting some type of extra-curricular group at your school. Visit your local church to see what type of teen activities they offer. Many local churches have activities and services catered just for teens. Research some local mentor groups and find one that offers support in an area of interest to you. Consider volunteering at a community center or a law firm to learn new skills.
- Get a Part-time Job. If you are old enough to work, find a part-time job that you can do after-school or on weekends. Remember, education first! At this point in your life, school is your number #1 priority. A part-time job will provide an opportunity for you to learn new skills, meet new people and develop a work-ethic. However, your part-time job should never have a higher priority in your life than school. Education is your greatest priority right now!
- Dream/Think Big. A gentleman I know who some of you may have met along your travels always tells the young people he meets that there is more to life than a chicken box and a half and half. There is so much more to life than what is in front of you right now. It might be hard to visualize a better life than what you are experiencing, but I want to encourage you that life is only beginning for you. Don't settle for mediocrity. Decide today to be a better person. Aim always to do your best, to be your best and to create the best environment that you can.
Again, I realize I am asking more of you than what many of the adults in your lives are providing to you. And again, I remind you that you will need to take action to create a healthy future for you. In doing so, you might just inspire some of us (adults) to get our acts together.
A Caring Adult