Last week, my organization UPstander International partnered with the State Department to provide leadership training for youth workers in Mali, West Africa. This country has been labeled as being “in crisis” due to its battle with northern Islamic extremists. During the evenings, I trained more than 30 leaders of organizations that work with youth. During the day, I would travel to middle schools, high schools, and universities and deliver my inspirational message “G.R.O.W. Towards Your Greatness!” If you didn’t know, Mali is a French speaking country so all of my presentations had to be in French. Pas de problème (no problem)! I relearned 3 main things from this Mali experience:
- Youth around the globe want inspiration. The enthusiasm with which these youth and youth leaders received my message was truly moving. I was reminded that, no matter what language you are speaking with youth, they will listen to you if they believe you are genuine in your professed care for them. In order to connect with youth you must understand your real motivations in wanting to work with them.
- Malian (like most African youth I encounter) place a serious value on education. Many Africans with whom I come across on the continent see education as the primary way to obtain success. In the United States, many students believe the same thing but mainstream media is so ubiquitous that too many youth here succumb to the false notion that their chances of success are greater by obtaining YouTube stardom, getting a record deal or landing on a reality show.
- Whether in America or abroad, youth respond to music that is uplifting. One of the travesties of our global entertainment culture is the manner in which our youth mainly see and hear music that degrades women, and celebrates drug abuse and violence. Many of us have been convinced that this is all the type of music our youth want to hear. In all of the 19 countries I have visited and performed in, I have found student after student who said they did not believe it was even possible to make music with an uplifting message. The entertainment industry is wrong in thinking uplifting music won’t sell. Our low opinion on what youth value perpetuates a continued arrogance and ignorance towards youth and we must change that.
While I was originally nervous about speaking to an audience of French speakers, I quickly forgot my nervousness as they continually nodded their heads in agreement with my 4 strategies for achieving greatness: giving, releasing (friends and letting hurt go), overcoming fear, and having a winning mentality. Even though these were performances blended in with motivational messages, students were studiously taking notes and posing very thought-provoking questions.
I have returned to States more committed to the idea that youth across the globe are in need of motivation whether they are in an economically developing country or the most powerful nation in the world. We have our differences, but at the end of the day, we all laugh and cry in the same language. I am going to continue to travel and speak the universal language of hope for a better day into our youth. Every day, if you think about it, you can also impact a young person. Just take time and communicate to them in the same way you needed to be talked to by an adult when you were younger and you will quickly see that you have an attentive audience. So what are you waiting for?