Embracing the Youth of Today, Preparing the Leaders of Tomorrow

Willow Smith, left, and her brother Jaden Smith arrive at the Roc Nation 2014 Pre-Grammy Brunch Celebration on Saturday, Jan.
Willow Smith, left, and her brother Jaden Smith arrive at the Roc Nation 2014 Pre-Grammy Brunch Celebration on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

I have always been a champion of young people, the next generation -- that 21 and under group who change their minds at the speed of light and who are always instinctively on the cutting edge. Many times we don't give our teens and young adults enough credit. We tell them what to do but we very seldom listen to them in return. But why not? We should, because their opinions are valid and their ideas are oftentimes refreshing. I've always believed that if we empower our young people to be the best they can be our global economy and world in general would be a different place.

Let's take the music industry for example. The industry of yesteryear was always about the young artist--a young Stevie Wonder, the Jackson Five, New Edition, New Kids on the Block, etc. But a lot has changed since then and now it seems as though we're in a space where no one wants to give the under 21, up-and-coming artists credibility. These days, if you're under a certain age, and not vulgar or using profane language, you're overlooked to some degree and not played on mainstream radio stations, particularly urban leaning artists. That's unfair and short sighted and has a negative effect within our communities in general.

We need to embrace these kids, because they are the next generation of leaders, artists, and thinkers. They are the ones we'll be looking up to one day, the ones who will be running this world. They just need to be given the chance. Radio stations don't always give young artists a chance, but because children today are so tech savvy and innovative, they've learned how to master platforms like Vine, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to promote and market their music and themselves. They're taking matters into their own hands and I admire that.

Look at Willow and Jaden Smith and how they're paving their own way with the MSFtS brand. Their parents, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, are allowing them to experiment and build their own fan base on their own terms. But what about other kids who don't have someone to champion them or encourage them? How do they get their voices heard?

Empowering our youth is very important to me, so a few years ago I founded the Next Generation of Leaders (NXG), a community and education driven program, focused on youth, teens, and young adults. A major component of NXG is town hall meetings, where young people have the chance to share with one another and really speak their minds. And I am always amazed by how honest the kids are. It makes me further realize that our future can actually be brighter if we support our young people and encourage them to shine their own light.

If I had it my way, there would be a youth council in every city, where teens and young adults would sit down with community leaders and government officials for a roundtable discussion on various issues. I truly believe that this type of dialogue and mentorship would help make for a better, more collaborative tomorrow.

I'm implementing this type of program into the Scream Nation Back 2 School Fest 2015 kicking off in September. We'll host town hall meetings in each of the cities the tour stops in and the meetings will focus on twelve codes of leadership. Youth across the U.S. will have an opportunity to connect with the artists featured on the tour, who are also their peers. We see this as a positive outlet for young people, but also as an opportunity for older generations to learn about the issues that are affecting them the most.

Even if we can't always relate to their music, don't understand what they're doing on social media, or think they push the envelope a little too much, let's embrace the next generation and take time to listen to what they have say. You'd be surprised at how insightful they are and how much we can learn from them. At the end of the day, all millennials and Generation Z want is a chance to be heard and respected, and a chance to spread their wings.

Michael Mauldin is the CEO of Scream Nation, a hip-hop and pop music tour franchise, and the founder and President of Mauldin Brand, Inc., a multidimensional entertainment company focused on music, motorsports, artist management, music-publishing and corporate endorsements. Scream Nation's Back 2 School Fest will kick off in September. Visit www.screamtour.com for more information.