Guest Post by Kelly Silay

I am a planner. I love a detailed “to-do” list and my functionality for the day depends on the organization of my calendar. Organization is a strength of mine that has led me to be a planner through and through. I am also, however, a dreamer. My plans are often interrupted by inspiring news stories, video clips, emails, conversations overheard on public transportation, and the like. I am taken off schedule by these simple diversions and thrown into daydreams glittered with possibility and opportunity.

Inspired by the Pluralist Generation

Most recently, I was stirred by a video a friend sent me of Asean Johnson, a 9-year-old student in the Chicago Public School system. About 10 seconds into the video, Asean steps onto a platform to reach a microphone in front of a crowd protesting the school closures in Chicago. For the next three minutes, Asean delivers an eloquent and improvised speech that not only captivated the enormous crowd, but over 200,000 Internet viewers from around the world.

Asean Johnson

Featured image courtesy of The Video Catalyst Project.  

After this powerful three minutes, my mind raced with possibility. While I could not dream up a solution aimed at avoiding school closures, I started to dream of what the world could be like with leaders like Asean. Current leadership dialogue focuses on the Millennial generation and rightfully so. We are the generation being shaped by higher education. We are the generation entering the workforce. We are the generation with the most clout here and now. But what about tomorrow?

Inspiring children like Asean Johnson and Robby Novak – aka “Kid President” who swept the nation with his YouTube “Pep Talk” – must be a part of our leadership conversations today in order to plan for the future we dream of. Currently, this generation lacks an agreed upon title which can serve as a catalyst for in-depth research and public dialogue about these youngsters. An interactive article from USA Today opened naming this generation to readers with a poll featuring ten different names; the name “iGeneration” is currently in the lead.

The Pluralist Generation

While “iGen” is a favorite of USA Today readers, Magid Generational Strategies – part of the research-based consulting firm, Frank N. Magid Associates, Inc. – has produced one of the few leading documents on this generation which they refer to as the “Pluralist Generation.” The “Plurals” are defined as children born after 1997. This document estimates that there are approximately 68 million Plurals who are being shaped by an increasingly diverse society, large economic downturn, changes in media and information delivery, blurred gender roles, and Gen X parenting.

This document provides a solid foundation for cultivating the next generation; however, it is only a start. We must plan the next step in uncovering this generation which should start with an examination of the characteristics Magid has missed, but other sources – such as the YouTube video of Asean – highlight. These characteristics include honesty, passion, fearlessness, empathy, and whimsicalness. We must plan to cultivate such characteristics in these children. Imagine if we had done so for previous generations. Imagine if we had planned to develop Millennial leaders when they were 9-years-old versus when they were entering the workforce. We can only dream of the possibilities that could have been accomplished if we started planning then for now.

Planning and Dreaming for the Next Generation

Planning our dreams for the next generation may seem like a daunting task; however, we can begin dreaming up strategies today to prepare us for tomorrow. Now is the time to brush up on our understanding of child development and uncover best practices in working with children and youth by utilizing current research. (A favorite resource of mine is the National Association for the Education of Young Children.)

We can even use strategies that are closer to home by changing the ways we interact with our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, neighbors, and other important youngsters in our lives. We can start by really listening to them, really talking with them, and really taking them seriously. We can show them respect, give them dignity, and provide them support. We can both learn from them and teach them. We can help them experience and understand by sharing stories – our stories and the world’s stories. We must plan to go beyond the bedtime story today so the next generation of young leaders can write the story of our dreams tomorrow.

Guest Author

Kelly SilayKelly Silay is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in social work at Loyola University Chicago. Her course work and research focus on children and social justice. This passion developed when Kelly served as an AmeriCorps member for Jumpstart, an organization focused on empowering young children in low-income neighborhoods. Kelly plans to continue working with the next generation by focusing her professional work on children in underserved communities in Chicago. You can connect with Kelly via email or LinkedIn.