I hear people say this all the time: Today’s youth are lazy, entitled and self-absorbed. My response — my emphatic response — is they’re wrong. I’ve met remarkable young people in my life and work, and I’m inspired by them. Throughout history, young people have led social change, and today’s kids are no different — despite the negative labels often attached to them.
Take Destiny Watson, a senior at Homewood-Flossmoor High School in Homewood, Ill., who started her own nonprofit, You Matter 2, to mobilize other students to address issues like hunger and poverty. Take Griffen Saul, a junior at Lincoln Park High School in Chicago, who founded We Are Able, a nonprofit that empowers young people with disabilities and their families to improve the quality of their lives. Destiny and Griffen exemplify so many incredible kids in our country who are leaders in their communities. They’ve found their purpose and, in so doing, are making life better for others.
I see Destiny and Griffen’s resolve and am reminded of Claudette Colvin. In 1955, Colvin, an African-American, was told by a bus driver that she couldn’t sit at the front of the bus with white people. She said, “I can,” and sat down. She was 15 years old, and yet Colvin bravely stood up to segregation — as Rosa Parks would, too, a few months later — and helped foment a movement that would change the world.
The best message we — teachers, parents, mentors — can tell our kids is to believe, “You can.” They need to hear the message of yes. We need to help them harness the power of their ideas, because when they do, they will tap into their biggest, boldest dreams — and transform our world for the better. Allstate does its part to empower young people to dispel the negative stereotypes about them through #THEYSAY℠ project, a platform to share their stories of good.
Another powerful tool to shape tomorrow’s leaders is service learning, which teaches students to use academic knowledge and skills to address community needs. When kids organize food drives, start nonprofits or raise money for the homeless, they learn their awesome power to make a positive difference.
The benefits of service learning are well-documented: According to research firm Mission Measurement, 72 percent of educators said their students developed as leaders; kids were seven times more likely to see themselves as agents of change; and 89 percent of disconnected youth felt motivated to go to college.
So what do we do to empower our youth, as parents, business leaders and mentors? At Allstate, we’ve partnered with WE, a nonprofit that brings service learning to schools across the globe. The year-round WE Schools program helps teachers, administrators and others organize free, hands-on, student-led campaigns that allow youth to take action on pressing social issues such as access to education, homelessness and poverty.
We believe good starts young. Just ask the tens of thousands of Allstate employees and agency owners rallying to make sure youth around the country have the opportunity to learn leadership, critical thinking and collaboration skills; build character and confidence; achieve academic success; and become more engaged citizens.
Let’s encourage young people and give them the tools they need to succeed. Like Claudette Colvin, they’re the ones poised to build a better future for us all.
Allstate has partnered with WE Day in an upcoming broadcast special that celebrates young people like Destiny and Griffen who are making a difference. The WE Day special airs on August 28, 2016 at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT on ABC. The special is a commercial-free, national broadcast celebrating the transformative power of individuals coming together to create social change. Learn more at www.we.org.