By James Hill Jr.
Just a few weeks back, I was at home, eating a Turkey sub from Subway, and watching a little show called The Breakfast Club. For my uninitiated friends, it’s a morning radio show where the hosts interview celebrities and musicians and discuss the latest rumors in the entertainment world. This interview I was watching featured Standing Rock activists talking about the Dakota pipeline. Gyasi Ross, one of the activists said, “I get the opportunity to work with young folks across the country and people try to tell me this vicious lie that Millennials…don’t care…I see so many contradictions, so many errors in that message. “
A feeling of pride rushed over me.
Let’s get right to it, and let’s be honest. Millennials get a bad rap. The things that are said. “Lazy.” “Entitled.” “Sensitive.” “Undisciplined.” There are endless descriptions made with such disdain and a matter-of-fact tone that you almost never bother to question its legitimacy. But we really should.
Earlier in 2016, the Dakota Pipeline made headlines. Energy Transfer’s Dakota Access pipeline is a billion-dollar project designed to transfer oil out of state. While there may be some positives, such as the creation of jobs, the Standing Rock Sioux activists argue that the environmental risks far outweigh the economic benefits. The Deepwater Horizon (BP) oil spill in 2010 will give you some idea. The youth of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe made an effort to raise money so that they could join their brethren in protesting the pipeline.
That particular tribe hails from the Pine Ridge Reservation. If you’re not aware of the statistics, prepare yourself.
- Over 90% (97% to be exact) of the population live below the poverty line
- The median income is no more than $3,500 annually
- Around 70% of students drop out of school
- The teenage suicide rate is over 100% (approaching 200) higher than the national average.
- Infant mortality is the highest and exceeds the national average.
Two years ago, MSNBC published an article detailing the school experience and general life of residents in Pine Ridge. In this article, a student by the name of Carleigh Campbell, shouldering a life where her mother’s alcohol addiction could destroy her family, demonstrated proficiency on state exams. Out of 150 students, she was the sole candidate to do so. At a school where it’s common for students to attempt suicide. Common, as in normal. And she was 12 at the time. Yes, a sixth grader.
If you were to turn on your television, you’d likely see a commercial with a piano playing over footage of kids in another country; they’re dressed in rags, exhausted and starving, eyes full of sorrow, and then a message plays, asking you to donate. Donating to starving children who are overseas is a noble gesture, and I have no doubt that you care, but keep in mind what’s happening right in our own backyard.
Young Native Americans even went to the doorstep of Hilary Clinton to convince her to make a stand against the pipeline. Despite having homes that are below the standards of living, where in the absence of water and electricity lies black mold, the youth — Millennials — in the face of hardship, demonstrated passion and determination. They didn’t run from the problem. They took action. They disproved the myth and stereotype. Millennials found something worth fighting for, and they made a stand. They’re everything previous generations should be proud of.
Ever heard of Joshua’s Heart Foundation? At four years old, a young boy was so passionate about making sure his fellow man had something to eat that he did the impossible. He founded a nonprofit organization! It’s been 10 years since the organization started, and Joshua remains an inspiration to Millennials. Just a few months ago back in September, CBS local news reported on young 12 year olds being so inspired by Joshua’s Heart that they too are giving back to the community. They want to see families in a better place.
A 22-year-old Long Island woman won the 2016 Millennial of the Year Award. You raised an eyebrow, didn’t you? I promise, it’s not some condescending award. The young woman was recognized for some outstanding achievements. In addition to working as an HR Coordinator, which easily requires taking on 30-40 hours weekly, she sacrifices time to mentor Human Resources Coordinators. Additionally, she is a full-time grad student, who worked with a nonprofit organization as part of her program requirement. Working a 40-hour-a-week job can take the most out of anyone. But to pursue other time-consuming endeavors and succeed? How many can say they do that? How many Baby Boomers or Gen Xers, without using vacation time, can demonstrate that same balance that she did? It’s something that would challenge any person, regardless of their generation.
Millennials are criticized for quite a few things: safe spaces, trigger warnings; the list, at times, seems infinite. But maybe there’s something there, something deeply concealed. Take the participation trophy mentality. Even I think this initiative is silly; however, maybe it’s a perfect representation of what a Millennial wants: to be valued. Whatever competition the Millennial may be participating in, the idea that he participated — made sacrifices, showed genuine effort — wasn’t in vain. That, he’s valued as a person.
Whatever criticisms may be directed against Millennials, no one can question if they care. You don’t get called sensitive if you don’t care. As Gyasi Ross said, “It’s not that they’re overly sensitive, they’re just sensitive…” Millennials believe that people should not be treated differently because of race or gender. They’re the first generation that wants to eliminate the problems left behind by their predecessors.
With 2017 on the horizon, we’re left to wonder, will Millennials continue to redefine their image or will they forever be associated with negative traits?