WEST PALM BEACH —Do not assume that today’s youth don’t have an understanding of the serious issues affecting them on a daily basis. They are, in fact, intelligent and politically aware but need guidance.
Georgetown University professor and MSNBC political analyst Michael Eric Dyson brought that advice to a West Palm Beach gathering as keynote speaker for the Urban League of Palm Beach County’s recent annual Youth Empowerment Luncheon.
The luncheon’s emcee, Tamron Hall, news anchor for MSNBC and host of NewsNation with Tamron Hall, could be an example of just how such guidance could be successful.
Hall said she grew up in a small town in Texas with her mother without much money in a single-parent home, with a background similar to that of many youths today.
About 600 people attended the luncheon at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in downtown West Palm Beach Sept. 26.
“We hear so many negative things about our youth everyday and to take time to celebrate some good things is a wonderful thing to do,” West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio said in an interview.
The luncheon highlighted the local arm of the National Urban League Incentive To Excel and Succeed or NULITES program which helps youths through community service and exposure to various professions, as well as teaching leadership skills.
NULITES co-chairpersons Tiareah Jakes and Jarrett Powell, both 17 and students at William T. Dwyer High School, 13601 N. Military Trail, West Palm Beach, said benefits of participating in the program include public speaking opportunities, meeting high profile people and travel.
“I’ve been to the National Urban League conference four times,in Washington D.C., Boston, Chicago and New rleans,” Jarrett told the South Florida Times.
“We have the opportunity to do some things that some (teens) can never get the chance to say they did,” Tiareah added.
Listening to children and what they have to say about their experiences can be enlightening, Dyson said in his address. Adults must discuss with them the complicated issues that they confront, “not condescendingly or assuming they don’t know what they’re talking about, but to offer them assistance by the examples of our lives and how we were able to overcome and how they can similarly do the same.”
Today’s youth may be dealing with homelessness, poverty or incarceration, which may lead to aimless lives, he said.
“Many are confronting extreme poverty and the extraordinary consequences of poverty,” Dyson said in an interview. “If you don’t eat well, you don’t do well in school. If you don’t do well in school, you don’t have a good job.
“If you don’t have a good job, you end up committing crimes or at least having a miserable existence.”
Dyson and Hall both said mentors are an invaluable resource and many helped to positively shape and impact their own lives.
“My church, my pastors, my teachers… these were very important figures,” Dyson said. “They gave me a sense of hope and what the future could be like.”
Hall said people with wisdom and common sense made a difference in her life.
“There are people that I grew up with who were not college educated (or) millionaires. They were people who barely got through the second grade,” she told the South Florida Times. “But they taught me life’s lessons. I would sit on the porch and talk to a woman whose name was Mama Susie. She taught me (things) I couldn’t learn in a book.”
Hall said young people see where she started and how far she has gone in her career.
“Particularly African-American kids see my life and when I tell them how I grew up, me and my mom riding around in a ripped up Gremlin,” she said.