Jamal A. Sowell: Engaging Millenials in service for the community


Jamal A. Sowell

Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 3:31 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 3:31 p.m.

Ask anyone over the age of 50 what comes to mind when you think of today's Generation Y, or Millennial generation, and chances are words such as “engaged,” “selfless” or “involved” may not come to mind. There exists a prevailing perception of young people as being indifferent and disengaged. Unfortunately, for some perception may be reality, despite the growing truth that Generation Y is doing its part.

I bring up this point because I will turn 30 on Oct. 3. While I was tempted to celebrate this questionable milestone with a huge party or a trip to Europe, I have decided instead to organize a service project for my community. After traveling the world in my 20's, I am constantly reminded of how many important needs there are right here in my home state of Florida and in my current home of Gainesville. According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau report, one in four Alachua County children live at or below the poverty line, an increase of 10 percentage points in as many years.

Thanks to organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club of Alachua County, the numbers tell a sad story but one that isn't over yet. The mission of the Boys & Girls Club is to inspire and enable all young people, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances, to realize their full potential as productive, responsible, and caring citizens. The local club serves hundreds of children every day and about 4,000 kids each year. If not for the club, 28 percent of students said they would have dropped out of high school. The movement-wide impact for the organization nationally is 4.1 million youth served through club membership and community outreach.

As a Boys & Girls Club alumnus, I learned the principles of teamwork for the good of the community, which allowed me to see countless people take time to give back in ways that showed sacrifice and service.

The investment in youth is something that will pay off in dividends as it has been shown by the lives of many others who have changed the world, such as Jennifer Lopez, Gen.Wesley Clark, and Denzel Washington and President Bill Clinton.

Currently there is a growing trend for young people who were mentored to become mentors and engaged participants in the community, and I am one of those. Engaged millennials have become a growing norm. I personally serve as the second vice president of the Alachua County branch of the NAACP, in addition to hosting a community talk show on Magic 101.3, where I have interviewed local officials, pastors, educators, activists, high school students and law enforcement officials.

All of these activities have shown me the important role that civic engagement plays in our community and in shaping our youth. However, I am not an anomaly. Many of my peers who were born in the 1980's are now ambitious, goal-oriented and civically engaged in their communities. This has created a shift causing new lifestyle habits to emerge for young people, including how we celebrate our birthdays.

Partying with a purpose is the new normal for many members of Generation Y. A celebration of life in a way is a celebration of humanity, so what better way to celebrate than to give back.

Accordingly, this Saturday, Sept. 29, from 8 a.m. till noon, I will lead a 30th birthday service project at the Boys & Girls Club at 1900 SE 4th Street, Gainesville. Join me if you can.

Jamal A. Sowell,

Gainesville

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