Friday, March 23, 2018

Rural teens define the American dream and civic courage

Teen delegates discussed the meaning of the American Dream.
(Photo by Shawn Poynter, Center for Rural Strategies)
Twenty rural teens from around the country gathered in Arlington, Va., last weekend for a three-day meeting to discuss common issues before joining YouthBuild USA's 30th annual Conference of Young Leaders. YouthBuild is a nonprofit organization that provides training and leadership opportunities to low-income teens all over the U.S.

"If members of the YouthBuild Rural Youth Caucus are any indication, the nation’s young people define the American dream in economic terms first before moving on to more abstract concepts like freedom and opportunity," Dale Mackey reports for The Daily Yonder. "And while economic stability is a big concern, the ideal of civic courage is very much alive, as well."

One session discussed "civic courage," the theme of the National Rural Assembly, a gathering of more than 500 local, regional and national organizations dedicated to improving rural America. The teens will participate in the Assembly, which takes place May 21-23 in Durham, N.C. The group created a definition: "Civic courage looks like persistent, dedicated, and determined people showing up and speaking up for themselves and for those in their communities who cannot speak. Courage looks like vulnerable acts, like overcoming anxiety to become connectors and bridge-builders. We all have it within us to be courageous for our communities."

Assembly coordinator Whitney Kimball Coe "guided the delegates through a discussion about the expectations and shortcomings of the American dream. To prime the conversation, she used Langston Hughes’ 'Let America Be America Again,' the 1935 poem that gives a sharp critique of the nation’s fairness while offering hope that the U.S. can live up to its ideals," Mackey reports.

The teens defined the American dream in terms of freedom, opportunity, independence, and economic stability, such as a living wage and disposable income. They didn't mention democracy, free speech or the pursuit of happiness. Some delegates said that the U.S. struggles with equality in every sense, but said they feel optimistic about America's future.

"I think for a lot of people, they have this vivid dream of what America is, and it turns out to be nothing like it," said John Stubbs from Enid, Okla. "They’re wanting it to be how everybody dreams it, but it can be filled with discrimination."

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