"CHARTING THE FUTURE OF THE AMERICAN DREAM"
Continuity - and change - in a signature event.
The great American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." He meant, of course, that strict adherence to a single way of doing things, and a resistance to change, are to be avoided. Anyone who has spent 10 minutes with me knows that I couldn't agree more!
Each year since GENYOUth's founding we have hosted a gathering of select national leaders with diverse backgrounds in the areas of business, education, health & wellness, philanthropy, media, and most importantly, students. These folks come together in boardroom settings to support and advance youth empowerment. We call these gatherings Leadership Roundtables.
Doing things a bit differently this year, this was GENYOUth's first Leadership Roundtable held concurrently with our Fuel Up to Play 60* Student Ambassador Summit at the Colts headquarters and training facility, the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center - giving our gathered leaders a wonderful opportunity to interact with some of the highest-achieving students across the country. This year 156 students from 45 states took part in discussions, shared their award-winning student-originated projects focused on health and wellness, and so much more.
For this particular Leadership Roundtable, Noa, one of our amazing and inspiring Fuel Up to Play 60 student ambassadors and a rising senior, dazzled the room, providing incredible insight, counsel and authentic answers to countless questions from our participants; many of which were not easy.
At one point she observed, "The thing we struggle most with as students is whether the American Dream is alive, and if we will ever be a part of that thing we hear so much about called the American Dream." Needless to say she choked up when she spoke and many of us in the room were moved to tears.
Given the pending national election, Noa's comments were prescient, honest, painful, authentic, and deeply personal.
As I thought about it further, and as one of our other Leadership Roundtable attendees noted at the time, this is a generation that was born pretty close to or following 9/11; lived through the deepest and most painful recession of our lifetimes, during which many of their families were forced to make hard choices; now live in an environment in which global terrorism is a fact of life; endure a divisiveness in our country that feels like it is at an all-time high; and struggle to envision a future in which they can afford a college education or secure a job.
Personally, I never truly thought it about in that way, because I always try to look at everything from the most positive of perspectives. I constantly check myself to make sure I think about how the glass is half full, not half empty. And that is precisely what those kids represent to me and possibly to all of you as well - a half-full glass.
The tears to which we were moved because of Noa's comment were not of sadness, but tears of joy and deep appreciation. Those students assembled in Indianapolis possess the hope, joy, perseverance and passion to lead this country forward. Yes, the American Dream is very much alive - in each and every one of those students minds and hearts.
Rarely do we get a chance to take a moment to pause and reflect and ask ourselves why we do what we do, or if we are having enough impact. If we have the grit and the perseverance to get up each and every day, pound the pavement, make the calls, fund-raise, mentor, visit and engage with educators, students, parents, partners and funders in ensuring that ALL of our students can be healthy, high-achieving youth.
Sometimes we forget that we have the capacity to do the unthinkable because all we see are the obstacles, the roadblocks, the costs, the budgets, the politics and the setbacks. And yet, moments like this teach us why we have no choice but to deliver. We have no choice but to fight harder. We have no choice but to enlighten, share, and amplify our work. We have no choice but to knock on every door possible to fund our work. We have no choice because these kids have entrusted us with their futures.
These students are the leaders of today -- not tomorrow. We are their enablers. Help me show them, in our actions, in our support, and in all our efforts to uplift and empower their voice, that our nation's future is predicated on their ability to live and uphold the American Dream!
Alexis Glick is the CEO of GENYOUth.
*Fuel Up to Play 60 is GENYOUth's signature initiative, the nation's largest in-school health & wellness program, now reaching 38 million students in 73,000 U.S. schools.