A Youthful Perspective on our Future
“What I think we all need is a collective understanding that we’re gonna try to figure this out together.” ~Omar Elnour, young leader and activist
At the November virtual gathering of the WKKF Community Leadership Network fellows, four exemplary young leaders from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s priority places – Shawn Kelly of New Orleans, Michelle Murguia of New Mexico, Omar Elnour of Michigan and Maisie Brown of Mississippi – shared their perspectives and insights about the growing mobilization of youth activists. The inspiring panel discussion was moderated by Linda Samarah, a current fellow and a communications specialist at the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, and Oronde A. Miller, a class one fellow and WKKF program officer.
Much of this youth mobilization has been catalyzed by gun violence in schools, the climate crisis, an overdue reckoning with racial injustice and the inequities laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate impacts on people of color. These rising leaders talked about what they’ve learned over the course of this challenging year, how we can create stronger intergenerational partnerships and what they envision for the future of their communities, the nation and the world.
Shawn Reflects on This Moment in History
“This year has been a point of no return. You can’t go back to old notions of normal,” said Shawn, an organizer trainer and advocate for Social Change from New Orleans. This pandemic has created a situation where everyone has time to pause and consider what is really important. Differing priorities have revealed different visions and hopes for America, and have inspired young people to rise up and fight for the future they want to create.
Maisie’s Hopes for Elevating Youth Activism
“Activism is not just for a ‘chosen few,’” said Maisie, a youth program director and communications associate from Mississippi. “Activism is something that everyone can take a part in even if it’s in different ways: through art, through music, through different expressions.” Maise hopes that the fire and energy young people bring to social change movements can inspire others. She would like to see movements grow from promoting awareness to promoting action.
Michelle on Identity and Collaboration
Identity has played a major factor in pushing these leaders into activism, many of whom find themselves at the intersection of multiple identities that impact their daily lives. Michelle, a New Mexico Dream Team field coordinator, is eager to continue building cross-cultural collaboration. “It’s not just for immigrant communities, but for Native communities, for Black communities, for every community to start (increasing) our knowledge, letting the world know we exist, that we can create change, no matter what age we are.”
Omar Looks to the Future
Omar, director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at University of Michigan – Flint, is looking forward to doubling down on engagement and working to find solutions to problems existing even before the pandemic began, such as the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. “As we think about post-COVID, we have to think about building some infrastructure to make sure that if another pandemic were to occur, these things are in place so that people won’t be as negatively affected by these issues.”
A Challenge to Support the Next Generation of Leaders
This year has brought many lessons, for the four young panelists, for the WKKF Community Leadership Network and, likely, for everyone who’s open to learning. It can be daunting and overwhelming to continue the work of adapting and growing when we feel, as Shawn noted, “nobody knows what’s going on and nobody knows what’s next.” His subsequent challenge and invitation perfectly embody hope and vision that inspire all leaders to keep moving forward. “What I think we all need is a collective understanding that we’re gonna try to figure this out together.”