Think America’s youth are nothing more than a bunch of lazy and ungrateful text-messaging, mall-dwelling, iPod-blasting brats?
A recent survey released last week from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement says to think again, especially when it comes to America’s Black youth.
According to the study, African-American young people are “most likely to vote regularly, belong to groups involved with politics, donate money to candidates or parties, display buttons or signs, canvass and contact the broadcast media or print media.”
The study also said Black people between the ages of 15-25 were most likely to raise money for a charity, tying with Asian- Americans.
“Consistent with previous research, African-Americans are generally the most politically engaged racial/ethnic group,” the study said.
The Maryland-based organization compiled information from telephone and e-mail surveys done earlier this year with 1,700 young people ages 15-25.
The study’s results departs from other studies that conclude Black youth are more prone to wind up in the justice system, be killed by a peer, become pregnant or contract a sexually transmitted disease.
Melanie Campbell, the executive director of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, said she is not surprised that Black youth are getting more involved especially after the popular “Vote or Die”campaign in 2004 led by entertainers like P. Diddy and most recently Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts.
“The 2004 election, the youth vote overall went up but it was largely in part because Black youth turned out in much higher numbers than they had in about 10 years,” Campbell said.
“Katrina, young people decided to do an alternative spring break. That’s a clear example that young people are connecting the dots that they need to be involved.
It’s not just the vote but being involved in one’s community. That was volunteerism at its best. We should celebrate that but build on it.”
Campbell’s Washington-based organization was instrumental in registering young Black voters during the 2004 elections and in its 10th year of the Black Youth Vote Initiative.
As November approaches, the group is working even harder until Election Day criss-crossing the country in a voter registration drive. So far this year, the group has registered 350,000 voters aged 18-30 years old. Campbell’s staff and volunteers are all practically in this age group. She said peer-to-peer encouragement has been the most effective in registering voters.
“A lot of young people are out here organizing and they want to be involved and we as a community have to embrace that. We have to make sure we continuously find avenues and vehicles for them to be able to engage their peers and lead the effort for and with the community,” she said.
Asian-American youth came right behind African-Americans and like African-Americans are more likely to volunteer, sign petitions, raise money and persuade others about elections.
In direct comparison to young Whites, the study said “Whites are the most likely to run, walk or ride a bike for charity and to be active members of a group.
They are least likely to protest, donate money to a party or candidate or persuade others about an election.”
The study showed that Latino youth had the highest levels of disengagement and were the least likely to volunteer, contact officials or boycott. But 25 percent of young Latinos have protested “more than double the rate for any other racial/ethnic group.”
Recent large-scale protests about immigration may have contributed to these numbers and the study also mentions that the protesting may factor into increased Latino voter participation in November.
But while minorities are getting more vocal about their concerns, when it came to political knowledge, the study revealed America’s youth overall barely knew questions about the government.
A little more than half of America’s youth could not name the Republican Party as the more conservative party, 56 percent did not know that only citizens could vote in federal elections and only 30 percent could correctly name at least one member of the President’s cabinet. Of those who could name a cabinet member, 82 percent named Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
As for African American youth, the study said they believe have a reason to get involved because they are “most likely to view the political system as unresponsive to the genuine needs of the public.” Asians were more likely to believe the system is responsive.
For the most engaged young people, a number of factors contributed to their participation in community service and the political process including being Democrat, liberal, from an urban area, a regular church attendee, and from a family with parents who volunteer and are college educated.
Nolan Rollins, the president of the National Urban League’s Young Professionals, said it is no surprise the connections between Black youth, the church and long-standing Black social organizations like the National Urban League and NAACP boosted young Black
people ahead of other groups.
“It’s not really surprising because I think that what you’re talking about is a generation that is not far removed from the civil rights generation and I think what we’re seeing now is almost a trickle down effect,” he said.
Rollins said that youth participation in the NUL’s annual convention has grown every year to the point where there is a youth track with age-based sessions specially made for teens, college students and young professionals.
The Young Professional division of the NUL has a membership of 9,000 ages 21-40, representing 62 chapters across the country. The group is responsible for the National Day of Service and a number of educational programs on topics ranging from HIV/AIDS to financial responsibility.
Rollins believes this surge in social engagement comes from young people understanding they are the beneficiaries of gains made by the civil rights movement and with the unprecedented opportunities they have available, young people are confident they can make a difference from places their ancestors couldn’t in the boardroom, classroom and courtroom.
“There was a whole generation of folks that fought for rights that wanted us to have the ability to attend the schools we wanted to attend and get the jobs that we wanted to actually get and you come up with a group of folks who have access to those opportunities,”Rollins said.
“We no longer have to depend on our back in order to ensure that we can be successful. If we want to laborious things we can. If we choose not to we have the opportunity and the ability to find our ways to higher education find our ways to entrepreneurship and things like that. This is a generation that realizes we have more at our fingertips than before and is taking advantage of it.”