A few days ago, on August 15, 2015, Julian Bond transitioned from time to eternity. To say that he lived a progressively full life is an understatement. While still in his 70’s, Mr. Bond retired from a 20 year teaching career as a history professor at the University of Virginia, “Mr. Jefferson’s University”, having also taught at several other universities. More than a decade earlier he served as president of the Atlanta chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People before becoming the chairman of the national NAACP, at the age of 58. At the age of 31, he became the first president of the newly established Southern Poverty Law Center. At 28, he became the first African American to be nominated as a major-party candidate for Vice President of the United States of America. At 25, he was elected to the Georgia House of Representative where he served for 10 years and afterwards, to the Georgia Senate for 11 years. And at 20, while still a college student, he became a founding member of SNCC (pronounced SNIC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. SNCC, a prominent part of the 1960’s civil rights movement, was organized by and run by students and Mr. Bond served as SNCC’s Communications Director for several years. (http://www.naacp.org/preview/pages/julian-bond) Mr. Bond lived to see the age of 75, but when he became active in the movement for civil rights and social justice, he was, in many respects, still a child.
Now before you argue that college students are young adults and not children, consider this: As schools gear up for the fall semester, ask any parent who is taking their 20, 19, 18, 17 or (heaven forbid) 16 year old son or daughter to college and this parent will still refer to this son or daughter as their “baby”. That’s because the parent realizes that even at the age of 20 (and definitely younger), this young person is, in the scheme of life, still a child. And, in the scheme of life, they still need someone with more years of experience and, hopefully, more wisdom, to point them in the right direction. In other words, they need parental guidance.
This is not to say that children, youth and young adults can’t or don’t take the initiative to do wonderful and meaningful things. A prime example is Julian Bond and the young people in the 1960s who organized and led SNCC. Another example is the young people who, today in 2015, are leading the lines and the chants as ‘America’s Journey for Justice’ marches across the southern states on their way to the nation’s capital. And when these young people do these wonderful things, older people have a tendency to quote the bible verse: “And a little child will lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6) (Even people who never pick up a bible quote this verse!)
The problem is that when this scripture is used to applaud the wonderful things that young people do, it is being used completely out of context. This particular verse and the passage from which it is taken does not advocate for children to lead adults or even lead other children in doing good works to establish a better world. This verse describes what the world will look like after justice, love, peace, joy, happiness and all those other good things have already been established in the world. As adults, we need to stop saying, “and a child shall lead the way.” And I’ll be the first to say that I have probably quoted this verse out of context as well, and now, I repent!
Using this verse out of context (I believe) excuses adults from our responsibility of giving young people the instruction and guidance they need, even when they do great and wonderful things. Child development specialist have been saying for years that the part of the brain that is responsible for distinguishing between right and wrong and making moral decisions is not fully developed until around age 25 or 26. We adults seem to understand this when a 20 year old is in the news for some horrific act like killing someone or a 16 year old is in the news for stealing someone’s property. When bad things happen, adults often ask, “Where are the parents?”, because we believe that this was: 1) a child; and 2) a child who was still in need of parental guidance.
I am 100% in favor of encouraging and praising young people when they do well. And in addition to being proud and starry-eyed when young people take initiative, instead of chiming, “and a child shall lead the way”, we adults should remind ourselves to, “Direct [our] children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.” (Psalm 22:6)
Children, youth and young adults need the wisdom and experience that older adults have to offer. They need parental-type mentors in their lives, not just for personal, individual decisions but also for communal/shared social issues. Ella Baker, in her late 50s, left the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to serve as an adviser to the young students of SNCC. Somewhere along the way, we, the Baby Boomer generation, have dropped the ball. I recently heard B. Courtney McBath of Calvary Revival Church in Norfolk, Virginia say, “When you’re too old to play, you ought to coach.” (http://www.lightsource.com/ministry/voice-of-revival/video-player/united-for-purpose-483268.html) This is, in fact, the complaint that young adults have with the Baby Boomer and older generations: that we have failed to coach them and instead have left them to fin for themselves and find their own way, particularly when it comes to issues related to social justice. Baby Boomers, we need to get our heads back in the game!
There is a saying that goes something like this: “We call the young because they are strong. We call the elders because they know the way.” This is a call for the elders, which, in this case, is probably anyone 40 years old and above. The young people, who are strong, who can still do the heavy lifting, like those in SNCC and in America’s Journey for Justice, still need the elders to show them the way. Baby Boomers? We dare not think we can pass the baton and then sit back and relax. Our teens, ‘tweens and young adults, even those in their 20s, need us. Heads up Baby Boomers! Millennials Approaching, Parental Guidance is needed.
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Copyright © 2015 by Kanisha L. Adkins.