A Letter to the Youth of our Generation~
I’ve always had a great passion for the youth and young woman especially.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the approximate number of teenagers who live in the U.S. as of 2008 is about 21 to 25 billion people. This estimate includes teens, ages 15-19. Our nation’s young people make up a large percentage of our total population but we don’t always hear your voice!
Let me share with you a few alarming statistics. Thirty-nine percent of homeless people in the United States are under 18. 1 in 4 new HIV cases are 13 to 24 year olds. Twenty percent of children and adolescents suffer from mental illness. Teen pregnancy rates, although declining, are high and so are violent crimes committed by young people. The numbers do not lie. Do we face challenges? Yes but we can and will overcome them. The solution lies with you and I. We are the next generation and thus the leaders of tomorrow. Why wait? Let’s start leading now. We are not merely a statistic but hope for shaping tomorrow’s future. Our young girls in particular are faced with society and media pressures to fit a certain mold and to look and act a certain way. Low self-esteem is derailing many young girls and robbing them of their full potential. I once said that self-esteem and confidence is a vital determinant of the overall quality of life that we experience and I still believe that to be true. It not only affects our mental and physical health as individuals but affects our self-imposed roles in society.
Today, I speak as an empowered woman but I was once a young person just like you. To say I was a troubled teen may be an understatement. I dealt with societal and cultural pressures and never felt like I fit in. Throughout my teen years I was plagued with feelings of depression and low self-esteem and my middle and high school grades suffered greatly. My high school grades suffered so much that in my junior year of high school my counselor called me in to tell me that if I don’t act now, I would have been in danger of not graduating; not to think of college. It didn’t sink in. Not then anyway. I didn’t understand my worth or value of an education or what I even had to offer to the world as a young woman. Not until my varsity soccer coach called me in shortly after to tell me I was in danger of being dropped from the team due to my G.P.A. I began to think. This is bad, really bad. The minimum G.P.A. to participate in sports at that time was a 2.0. I felt hopeless.
Being Nigerian-American, I was teased and bullied and out casted by other students. I was teased from everything from the way I looked dressed, talked and even my last name! Sports was the one thing important to me at the time because I was good at it so I did what I could to get my grades up just to play. I managed to get it together enough to graduate high school and make it into community college but my self-esteem was low and so were my hopes. While others went away to top four year universities, my so called friends teased me for going to community college. I felt inadequate and different. That is, not until I met one professor that helped change to course of my life. She did this because she was patient with me, she encouraged me. Most of all she believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. She instilled a hope in me that has never left. It is that same hope and courage that I want to instill in each and every one of you today. I pray that this hope will not only move you to action but be a hope that will outlive and outgrow you to inspire someone else.
So I’m sure you are waiting to hear my happy ending to my story but I don’t have one. Rather, I have a happy beginning. I overcame my shortcomings and I’m on a journey to greater things. To me the sky is no longer the limit but has become a stepping stone for greater things to come.
Some of the greatest people in history were the least expected. Albert Einstein for example, now considered a genius by many was once deemed “mentally slow” as a child and was bullied throughout high school. Or what about the famous movie entrepreneur Tyler Perry, he grew up in an abusive home and even once attempted suicide just to escape the beatings. Let’s not forget Oprah Winfrey, she faced rape and sexual abuse as a young girl but overcome her shortcomings to become one of the world’s most influential and successful woman. Another great influential woman of our time is Michelle Obama. One of my favorite quotes from her reads:
“We have this window of opportunity; we have a chance to make something real happen. Something possible happen, to live beyond our fear – think about that, and help us. Help lift us up, help us fight this fight to change, – transform – this country in a fundamental way. This chance won’t come around again.”
Each one of you, despite age, color, background, economic hardship or social circumstances has something to offer this world. It is not who you are but what you and I have the power to become in this world that matters. Someone once asked me, “Biela, other than family and your faith, what is the single most important thing to you?” I answered and said time. Time is crucial and it’s something you cannot get back. Spend time discovering and maximizing your full potential. Discover your purpose and you with develop your confidence. Don’t be afraid to dream big. As I said, the sky is no longer the limit. It is not your environment, your background, physical or mental challenges or even naysayers that will determine your success. Rather, it is the choices that you make given your allotted time on earth that count.
I’ll leave you today in hopes that you will leave here not only inspired but with a desire to inspire others. Remember, you are never alone. It is very likely that what you are going through someone else has experienced. So I encourage you to talk. Open up a dialogue with one another. Don’t have a support system? Create one. As woman we should encourage one another and build each other up, not tear each other down. Remember the greatest people come from the most unexpected places.
Be the change you wish to see. It starts with a decision. It starts with you.