We Got Next: Jay Seetharaman
Posted on 21 June 2017
This June YXU has launched our "We Got Next" campaign highlight more than 20 young leaders from across the country who are applying their passions to strengthen their communities. Be sure to follow along with YXU on Facebook and @yxulife on Twitter and Instagram to hear these stories. And grab your We Got Next tee supporting the Lebron James Family Foundation.
Often when we speak about leadership in the community, talented individuals become inspired to do good, make a name for themselves, and positively impact as many lives as they can. The issue with that is all the motivation and unbridled desire for success is not targeted towards a single cause. Think about the sun. It covers the earth with its pervasive rays bringing us to life with a consistent source of warmth; albeit short lived for us American Midwesterners. While consistent, presenting the sun with a couple of logs to start a bonfire will only lead to disappointed friends and cold marshmallows. However, add a magnifying glass to the equation and that distant sun has the potential to start a fire. Maybe it’s a dry metaphor, but it serves it purpose. The first step of impacting your community in a positive way is finding your magnifying glass so you can light the fires of change.
Finding the cause to direct your energy is an internal struggle that no one person can instruct you about nor should they. In this post, I’d like to present an option to those passionate about solving community problems but struggle to choose just one. I’m not going to tell you how to solve this problem (if I could do that, I would not be writing this post). Rather, I’d like to set the stage through a lens of opportunity and allow the bright minds of the YXU community to exert their creative muscle.
My personal and work experience has allowed me to gain a great deal of exposure to generational poverty from urban to rural, old to young, and across all races. Note the importance of the word ‘generational’. By itself, poverty indicates a lack of financial resources to sustain oneself and one’s family. Generational poverty indicates a cycle of culture, environment, and policy that results in the same groups of individuals continually having the financial capacity to just barely survive. Forty-two percent of children born to parents in the bottom fifth of the economic distribution remain in the bottom as adults according to an Economic Mobility report produced by The Brookings Institution. This is the primary example of the saying that ‘You are the product of the environment you are placed in’.
So, what about those three factors mentioned in the definition of generational poverty; culture, environment, and policy? I spoke a little bit about environment in that if you live amongst other people in poverty, there is a higher likelihood that you will end up with the same undesirable outcome. Environment is also inclusive of things like housing, criminal activity, the education system, etc.
Working in tandem with the environment you’re surrounded by is the concept of community culture. This is one that proves to be the most fickle for individuals at every level of society to address. Regardless of who you are or where you come from, you have been subject to a community culture that you are most likely not aware of. This takes the form of what people view as their ‘norms’. For some, graduating high school and going straight to work is the norm while other communities may have the expectation of higher education in the future of their children. Norms can be as innocuous as how you pay for goods and services i.e. cash, check, credit cards, debit cards or as unwittingly impactful as looking to join a gang at the age of 16. These norms form a community culture that can be detrimental to economic and social development but also are intrinsic to the identify to a group of people making change very challenging.
The final component of the cycle of generational poverty is the policy laid out by local, state, and federal government. These policies are set up to offer a safety net for struggling families to fall back on if their attempts to make progress falter or are focused on providing families a map to make their way from poverty to a sustainable and workable lifestyle. This is often where most of our inspired young people end up believing there is only one avenue of driving change for the masses. While the opportunity for driving change is certainly there, policymaking can be much longer and more political than people anticipate resulting in burnout and sometimes a regressive movement for those that policymakers look to serve! This is not to say good work is not and cannot be done by government, rather a word of caution in utilizing this approach.
So, what was the point of this? Was this a mindless exploration into an abstract concept that I essentially said cannot be solved because of its connections to environment, culture, and policy? For some of you, this may be that the case but for that I do not apologize. For those who saw beyond the abstract and why nots, my hope is that this was the presentation of a massive opportunity in a part of society that requires non-traditional thinking and a real passion to change outcomes and circumstances. If you saw the opportunity with your eyes, felt the fire in your gut, and let your mind outline the possibilities, ask yourself a simple question: Why not you?