I believe in black millennials. This shouldn’t be noteworthy or unusual, but unfortunately, it is.
I’m up against the recurring imagery that shows us shouting and fighting one another like untamed creatures (hey, thanks, WorldStarHipHop, The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Love and Hip Hop). Then, the moment we choose to evoke some sort of justified passion in an aggressive way (see Richard Sherman), mainstream media paint us as being angry, bitter, argumentative and defensive.
As if managing careers and starting families weren’t enough, we have to push past these and other historical stereotypes and work twice as hard to make our voices heard and our accomplishments recognized in the professional environment.
I first started to get frustrated a year or so ago, when I realized how many negative takes I was reading about young people born between 1980 and 1995, also known as millennials. From our laziness and entitlement, to our narcissism and Peter Pan syndrome, it became clear to me that the media define and generalize who they think we are.
But it got even worse when I paid attention to what was being said specifically about black millennials. The depressing coverage disproportionately spoke to topics like the bright young futures tragically snuffed out by senseless acts of violence, the plight of those not being able to achieve financial freedom or those who were being pushed out of the church.
These things are important, of course. But what about the equally important stories about our roles as game changers in the sectors of technology, education, social justice and government? What about the 94 percent graduation rate for black students at schools like Yale University and Swarthmore College, and the improvement in graduation rates for black students at schools like Wellesley, Bryn Mawr and Mount Holyoke? What about the black millennials with accomplishments that should put them in contention for lists like Forbes’ 30 Under 30 and Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business 1000 but who so rarely make the cut?
Plus, we’ve tragically lost so many beautiful young sisters and brothers who will never have the chance to see their dreams come to pass, which makes it all the more urgent and important for the stories about the Tristan Walkers, Ebona Oshunrindes, Gabrielle Turnquests, Phillip Agnews and Mia Loves of my generation to be told immediately. These powerful individuals and so many more are often hustling in silence but are working every day to shake a few tables to incite change.
The mainstream media often don’t want to pay much attention to how awesome we can be, and the worst part is, many of us fall for it.
A good friend of mine recently tweeted: “We’ve gotten so used to consuming other people’s dopeness that we forgot we’re capable of creating dopeness too,” and I couldn’t agree with him more. That’s one of the main reasons I started “Millennials on a Mission”—a feature on my personal blog, Young, Gifted & PRecise—not to brag on my peers, but to inspire and encourage others to tap into their gifts and talents and share them with the world.
I’ve always been so motivated by the work that my friends are doing in business, nonprofits and education that I felt it was necessary to share their stories. I wanted to amplify their outstanding works so that the world could know that black millennials are about making history and weaving new ideas and energy into the fabric of their communities.
To date I’ve spotlighted 25 millennials—capturing their insights into and experiences with success, overcoming obstacles and embracing themselves as they navigate life in their 20s and 30s. I’ve always been passionate about storytelling, so sharing the talents and capabilities of my peers was a no-brainer.
Although the format for the “MOAM” entries is the same, each story is unique and yields insight into the different struggles, fears and triumphs that millennials face. From the young man who has spoken all over the country, served our first black president in three capacities and worked with top NFL athletes and who was laid off without warning, to the young woman who is a marketing executive by day and a children’s author by night, these are tales of achievement from black Americans who won’t stop at anything to make their dreams come true.
While it’s fine to aspire to hoop like LeBron, ball out like T.I. and wake up flawless like Beyoncé, we have people in our ranks who are just as inspiring, whether it’s through their contributions to education, justice, fair business practices or philanthropy. It’s disheartening that America won’t pay attention to them. And if we black millennials don’t start the trend, then who will?
A PR and social media marketing strategist, Chasity Cooper works to inspire millennials to find the intersection of their passion and purpose. Follow her on Twitter.