This is a guest post by Jason Reynolds, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.
Last night I had a dream I went to vote, but all the names on the ballot were of kids I knew. Some really young, and some closer to grown, but all part of the fabric we refer to as youth. I was so excited, overwhelmed with joy to blacken a bubble for a young person to run our country. Finally. Now, some of you might be saying to yourselves, “Man, I couldn’t be the leader of America. At least, not yet.”
And to you, I say, of course you could! You all could. Here’s why:
IMAGINATION: You still actually believe there are true ways and, more importantly, new ways to change the world. That there are things that could be invented to shift the way we live. It doesn’t matter how strange and far-reaching it is, or even how frustrating it makes older people feel: You aren’t afraid to let your imaginations run wild. And right now, we need that.
FAIRNESS: Once I was in an interview with a young person who expressed how absurd he thought racism was. And he felt this way about all the isms. None of them made sense to him.
I asked him, “How do you think we fix it?”
He thought for a moment, then responded. “People just gotta stop being mean.”
Such a simple statement (that even I, in this moment, want to dismiss as naïve) holds such profundity. Kindness. What if we could actually be kind? It’s easier to do it. Easier on our minds and bodies. It’s healthier for us. And this young man said it with such resolve. Such certainty. It was as broad and as big as his imagination was; he couldn’t imagine a reason for prejudice and hatred. And neither can I. And I’d like to believe most of us feel this way.
COLLABORATION: In my generation, and all the generations before me, there’s been a belief that a single person should sit in the top seat. Of everything. The gold medalist. The first placer. The winner. The boss. And everyone else is pretty much … everyone else. It’s a competitive energy I honestly think is healthy for many things. It teaches persistence and helps to structure life in a (sort of) functional way.
Your generation is a little different. You play together, and you celebrate together for playing together. We tease you about the whole “participation trophy” thing, because our fear is that you won’t have enough grit to compete with the world. But … I wonder if there’s something to be said for the fact that because you all push back against the single winner, you can see value in all your teammates. You can more easily acknowledge the strengths of each individual and how they all have a part to play. Which means as president you’d truly understand the power of a diverse and dynamic cabinet. As a matter of fact, maybe you all would make it so that the presidential seat was a bench shared by a few people at a time. Each important for different reasons. The presidents.
TECHNOLOGY: You all understand it better than the rest of us, which means you’d be able to use it better than the rest of us. The coolest part about it is you—through social media, video games and YouTube—have developed relationships with young folks from all over the world who are going to someday lead their countries. And it’s harder to go to war with whom you used to talk to everyday through a headset. Whom you partnered with in zombie killings. Whose cultural differences you’ve learned about through YouTube and whose cultural similarities you’ve celebrated through TikTok. Not to mention, it’s harder to hate people you can call by name.
FUN: It’s still a priority. You understand why it’s important to have it, and you will do anything for it not to be taken from you. And I like that about you. So maybe you’d invent a few new holidays. Like Block Party Day, where the whole country has to throw block parties, and we all have to get to know our neighbors. That would be cool. And maybe the most patriotic thing EVER. I’m sure you all could come up with something better than that, but … yeah.
Of course there are other things you have to know as far as policy and law and blah blah blah, but all that can be learned. It’s much, much harder to learn imagination, fairness, collaboration, technology and fun. But more than anything, what you all have is courage. And it’s that courage I believe in most.
I would tell you that you’d have my vote—like in my dream—but the truth is, you’ve had it for a long time now. Whether your name is on the ballot or not, just know you already are the leaders of the free world. I’m just trying to make sure I stay close to you, waiting for the day you create the world of the free leaders.