And The Young Shall Lead Us
By John Berry, Chief Executive Officer, Society of St. Vincent de Paul Georgia
In scripture, specifically Isiah, there is a well quoted line “And a little child shall lead them.” (Isiah 11:6). This line of scripture has been used, and often misused, for generations to inspirationally tag the actions of young people who had led movements and protested for change. While that specific line from Isiah is not meant as an anthem for protest, it was (in my belief) written as a prophecy of the perfection of co-existence in innocence, peace, and harmony.
And yet that line can and should be in our thoughts as we look at how the young have been, in many instances, the catalyst and drivers behind important change in our nation and our world; the voices against injustice and hate.
My first sense of social responsibility, and my choice to actively become involved in righting what I thought was a serious wrong, came about during the Vietnam War ear. I graduated high school in 1973, so if you know your history you know that I spent a good portion of my time in 10th, 11th, and 12th grade not only worrying about grades, college, and girls; but also about whether I might end up fighting and dying a half a world away in war that, for me, was senseless and wrong. I marched against the war when it was not a popular thing to do in (at that time) solid red and conservative Long Island, NY. I supported candidates who opposed the war. I became involved to change the world.
Others, with similar or different beliefs became involved in other causes. Young people were behind the movement that propelled Eugene McCarthy to the front of the pack in the 1968 Democratic Presidential race and drove Lyndon Johnson from office. Young people helped make Bobby Kennedy the leading candidate for President in 1968; and when he died, the hopes and dreams and aspirations of many young people died with him.
Martin Luther King was 39 years old when he was killed 50 years ago tomorrow. He began his efforts to drive change when he was a young man. His efforts created a movement that embraced young people across this nation and across this globe. So many young people came into the segregated south to push for equal rights. So many young people died. But a new generation of leaders, like Andrew Young and others, took up the cause. Young people. Leaders.
Today we see the youth of America stand up and demand changes in gun laws. They have seen enough of their fellow students die and they want something to change. This is not a movement that is going to go away. Young people. Leaders. We see them attacked daily for their actions and their beliefs. Attacked viscously and unfairly, not based on the merits of their arguments, but simply because they are young. And their opponents are old. And they are afraid. Of young leaders who can and will change the world.
That disrespect and vitriol directed against the beliefs, passions, and causes of the young people today is what needs to change most in America today. Not because the young are always right – we know that is not the case. Not because they are liberal, or conservative. Not because their youth gives them special powers. It needs to change because the young, the old, the right wing, the left wing, the men, the women, the gay, the straight, the people of all colors, yes – everyone has the right to try and lead. Everyone has the right to make the case for what they believe is right. And we have the obligation to listen, assess, and decide on the merits and morality of their arguments. Not on their age, race, gender, or lifestyle preferences. That is America.
And the young shall lead us; at times. And the old shall lead us; at times.