As baby boomers retire and relinquish the reigns of power to the next generation, much speculation as to the future of America is at the forefront of discussion and concern. Today’s youth-teenagers and young adults, are the cornerstone of America’s future, yet little is known about them because the world is speculating about their ideas, concerns, fears, hopes, dreams, and goals instead of gathering firsthand information from the source-today’s youth.
Over the next few weeks, several young people from all over the city will share their views, concerns with us. Through interviews, group discussions and observation, we will attempt to capture the essence of today’s young people and allow the reader an opportunity to look at their lives and listen in to their fears, pain, hopes and frustrations.
We will talk with teens and young adults, assisted by a team of young people who will conduct “man-on-the-street” interviews. I recently sat down with four young men and women: Carl, a 15-year-old resident of Bellwood; Becky, an 18-year-old from Oak Park; Jacquain, a 16-year-old from Austin; and Keisha, a 17-year-old from Maywood.
We discussed the premise of this series and their views on their world, school and family. They spoke of many things, but what resounded loudest was their fear for their safety and the safety of their friends.
“I’m not convinced going to school and preparing for a future is the right thing to do,” Keisha said. “It seems like every day someone is getting popped in broad daylight. And it’s not always a gang-banger. Sometimes it’s someone like me who was trying to go to the store or an innocent bystander.”
Jacquain, a high school junior, says he has lost several friends to gun violence. “One was a drive-by victim and the others were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’ve been to more funerals than I’ve been to birthday parties,” he said grimly.
The young people agreed that opportunities exist out there for them, but believe adults aren’t doing enough to ensure they have access to them. Today’s youth are living extraordinary lives, facing and dealing with major issues and challenges on a daily basis. They are living in a world of opportunity that is full of peril. They are in a land of plenty yet plagued by famine. The world is contradictory and biased. It’s the best of times, wrapped in the worst of times.
Educational opportunities are plentiful, yet our nation’s dropout rate is soaring. America, the richest nation in the world, is not number one in education. When asked about the dropout rate in their schools, all knew at least two people who dropped out by age 16. Several had family members who have set an alarming tradition of dropping out of school. Becky dropped out when she was 17, only two credits short of what she needed to graduate.
“I had enough of those fake teachers,” she said. “I figured being out in the streets could not be as bad as being in the school where everyone is treated like a criminal. The teachers didn’t care if you learned or not. They were there for the money and the few white smart kids who knew everything anyway.”
When asked what school was like for her, Becky said it wasn’t what she thought it would be. She found it hard to make ends meet and to keep herself in an apartment. She finally decided to finish school by taking courses at Triton and transferring them back toward her high school diploma. In the fall she plans to take additional college courses and become a nurse.
“I got a job at Target and moved in with my boyfriend,” she said. “He caught a burglary case and went to jail for two years. So then I was on my own. I kept the apartment for about two months; then I couldn’t pay the rent, so I decided to go back home. My mom said I couldn’t stay there unless I got my GED or finished high school. So I decided to go back and finish school.”
Keisha, a high school senior and soon-to-be teen mother, plans to finish high school. She and her mother have worked out a plan so she can finish with her class. When asked about her plans beyond that, she is unsure. The number of teen pregnancies is unprecedented. Even in light of the AIDS epidemic amongst teenagers, sexual activities seem to be the norm instead of the exception. Today many families have less than 14 years between generations. Today’s grandparents are barely in their late 30s.
Sociologists and psychologists say most of our ills revolve around our relationship-or lack of a relationship-with our mothers, so next week we will explore the maternal relationship focusing on what their mothers do that upsets them most or causes “drama.”
We invite readers to become involved in this series by forwarding questions, comments or suggestions of things you’d like to hear our youth discuss or comment on. You can e-mail them to www. firstname.lastname@example.org or log on to our blog www.talkalotteens.blogspot.com and post your comment.
The world of today’s youth is complex, exciting and, in many ways, a mystery. By reading their stories, perhaps we can gain insight as to how to help make America’s future bright instead of bleak.