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Poverty & Equity Thought Leadership

The Youth Roundtable: Insight from Our Future Leaders

By Grant T. Michelle, Families First Summer Intern 

Growing up can be hard. The world seems so big and there is an endless list of options and directions your life can go, making the journey to adulthood a turbulent endeavor. Thankfully, there are other people who have previously or are currently going through those very same transitions who can share their own insights and experiences.

In a segment from the June 9, 2021 event by Families First, Unity for a Difference, viewers heard directly from five young adults about how the pandemic affected them. The participants spoke on a range of topics, from academic successes to societal observations.  


These five young adults, all in various stages of academia and life, each offered a unique perspective in how they all built resilience and persevered past obstacles in their way. 

Hosted by Shan Cooper, Executive Director for the Atlanta Committee for Progress, and sponsored by Georgia Power, this was a truly unique moment from Unity for a Difference. 

One of these insights from the roundtable members relating to accountability, unity, resilience, and investment in education was when Makilia M., 19, spoke about resilience through this past year of socially distant life. 

“I had to realize that I’m at the end, that I have to keep pushing forward to make my goals into realities.” 

Makilia M. and Joshua P, are both current students in Atlanta Public Schools and participants in Raising Expectations which is currently housed at Families First. Raising Expectations has positively impacted the lives of children and youth throughout the city of Atlanta with extensive services designed to develop their academic, social and civic abilities. 

Joshua P., 13, shared another important experience with us when he talked about the struggles he faced in school when classes transitioned to online. He then also reflected on the time and effort put in at improving his academic standing and performance after those initial struggles. Ultimately illustrating an early-life concentration and emphasis on investing in one’s own education for a better future. 

“When I got the chance to come back to Raising Expectations at Families First, I got all of my assignments done, grades up, I have good grades now, and I’m better with communication.” 

As for Timothy C.,16, he discussed a very prevalent and vital topic to the health and foundation of our youth in the building of good mental health. He went on to talk about the necessity of having elders and peers who listen to what you’re going through and help you decipher what some of what you are feeling/have experienced means. 

“I think listening to the younger generation and how they feel about trauma that may have affected them mentally and then having the older generation sharing how they dealt with those things is important.” 

For Alex S21, accountability was what he saw as the most valuable and important trait people can have when trying to make a better future for themselves as well as for everyone else, including our institutions. “Accountability for our past mistakes, change isn’t overnight, it happens over time. And when policies have been in place for 10, 20, 30 years, some of them need to be looked at and changed to where they’ll help promote our future instead of taking away from it.” 

College student Vlada W., 23, also spoke about how the best way to collectively facilitate change is to invest in education and support systems that are open and available to all people. 

It is important to note that these young adults are our future. They are the future leaders of this country, frontline healthcare workers, doctors, lawyers, CEO’s, and somewhere out there is our future president, probably riding their bike on the way to the pool for swim practice. 

Our entire world is going to be shaped by the younger generation, just as it was 100 years before us and countless centuries before that. It is vital to impart to these younger generations our own life lessons when they ask for them or need them because we have all been in their shoes at one time or another. 

 We should care not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because we were all once trying to figure out who we wanted to be when we grew up. For some of us, that will be a lifelong question we ask ourselves, and that’s okay. 

What’s important at the end of the day is that we, like Vlada, Joshua, Alex, Timothy, and Makilia, look within ourselves and to each other in both times of struggle and of splendor. To invest in both our own and others’ education, to listen and be listened to by our peers and elders while also seeking the help we need, and to be accountable for our and our institutions’ actions and policies. Our goal is to seek a purpose and meaning that is bigger than ourselves, to find strength in shared experiences and in the people around us. 

That is how we build a resilient future. 


Grant T. Mitchell is a Knoxville based writer with experience contributing to The Daily Beacon with a weekly column since Spring of 2020. He has been a co-host on WUTK 90.3 FM since Fall of 2020. Grant attended the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and has experience writing for film review articles as well as non-profit and public relations professional writings.


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