Isaac: Empowering Black Youth: The Revolution Begins with Self-Acceptance

(Photo by Katie Whitcomb/University of Notre Dame)

(Indianapolis Recorder) “The revolution will not be televised.”

Gil Scott-Heron’s words resound through my heart and mind whenever I share space with a young person. Generation Z, of which I am an elder member, is a generation of courageous questions and innovative solutions. Every day, I bask in the privilege of being surrounded by youth who question the status quo and wrestle with the discomfort of trying to upend it for the betterment of us all.

As a program facilitator for various programs at the Center for Leadership Development (CLD), the most thrilling and challenging question students ask me is, “Why?” Or more specifically, “Why are things the way they are?” The answer is that things are often exclusionary and unjust by design. By simply asking “Why?” kids show their wisdom. Our youth, especially the Black and brown youth of our city, carry vast potential to transform our most powerful institutions into ones that elevate, rather than exploit, our communities. The next question is how to draw out that potential and turn it into action.

Potential gives way to action only when we instill strong senses of self-acceptance, self-confidence and self-worth in our youth. This might sound fundamental, but it requires constant work. Our outpourings of love, encouragement and intellectual stimulation must be loud enough to drown out the noise of dominant societal narratives that tell us whose lives matter (or don’t matter). It requires us to look directly at our youth each day and tell them they are qualified, worthy and beautiful — even as social media, society and the 24-hour news cycle threaten to dim their radiant lights with the shadows of bias. When our young people realize their worth and importance are derived from a part of themselves that no one else can take away, they can finally shed the weight of unreasonable and unsustainable expectations, energetically pursue their own standards of excellence and freedom-dream this world into the equitable place they deserve.

The language of self-acceptance was and continues to be the greatest gift my community, and CLD in particular, has ever given me. As a young Black woman who has broken into predominantly white environments, freedom-dreaming of a world in which Black women set, convene and take their seats at critical decision-making tables in every industry has kept me grounded and motivated. While I continue to struggle with the temptation to doubt my strengths, I am getting better at bringing the fullness of who I am to every space I enter.

Through an ongoing process of learning and unlearning, I have reached the conclusion that I am composed in equal parts of gifts to contribute and the boundless capacity to grow. And in the spirit of self-acceptance, these gifts and capacities form the armor and weaponry that I bring to the revolution. As I stand on thousands of shoulders, my weapons outstretched to knock down every glass ceiling I see, I am actively dusting off my own shoulders for those coming after me to stand even taller and shatter even more ceilings.

For me, this “dusting off” means paying forward all that has been poured into me. By supporting and mentoring current CLD students, not only am I committed to nurturing their character through CLD’s robust curriculum, but it is also my personal mission to assert their worth at every given opportunity. We are responsible for building a generation of youth who know and stand firmly in their worth, who stand tall as self-advocates in their classrooms and as community advocates far beyond. I take this responsibility seriously, and I urge you to do the same.

The revolution will not be televised because it begins and ends with our very personal, very radical decision to accept and embrace ourselves. No television program, LinkedIn update or Instagram story will be able to capture the true power of that decision when it comes from the hearts, minds, souls and mouths of the ones who hold our collective future in the palms of their hands: our youth. History has unfairly oversaturated their workload, but through our willingness to ease their burdens with our love, encouragement and guidance, our youth are more than capable of transforming the future into something truly spectacular.

MacKenzie Isaac is a former AmeriCorps Public Ally, a current health educator and active CLD alumna, an aspiring social epidemiologist and a lifelong freedom-dreamer. She was recently elected to the American Rhodes Scholar Class of 2022. Upon completing her doctoral studies at the University of Oxford, MacKenzie hopes to return to Indianapolis to begin her career as an academician, minority health advocate and champion for positive youth development.