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First person: 'Can you listen?' Young people reflect on 'the pessimistic generation'

People wear face masks on the red steps in Times Square as the city continues the re-opening efforts following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on October 28, 2020, in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)
People wear face masks on the red steps in Times Square as the city continues the re-opening efforts following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on October 28, 2020, in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)

This is part of our hour “The pessimistic generation: How grown-ups can grow up and give kids some hope.”


Kids today face a unique combination of challenges, from the pandemic, to climate change to political unrest. On today’s hour, we heard why so many kids today are looking to the future with everything from trepidation to impending doom.

Here’s Hannah Baptise of Massachusetts, a teenager who sees the challenges around her clearly, but is also cautiously optimistic about the future:

My name is Hannah Baptiste. I’m 17 years old and I live in Brockton, Massachusetts. I felt very isolated. I had a lot of my activities cut from my schedule. Because they were either canceled due to COVID guidelines or they were restricted for upperclassmen. To get by, I would usually try and talk to my friends as much as I could. And during the last 18 months, any form of connection that you can find is good.

During the pandemic, we could focus on ourselves a lot more, and we could focus on the world around us a lot more. We had the Black Lives Matter movement erupt, and then we had a lot of people getting evicted because they were losing their jobs due to COVID. And I just feel like even though the restrictions are loosening up, a lot of that is still present today. And it’s important that no one forgets that.

I do experience microaggressions a lot. Comments about my hair, or about how well-spoken I am. People saying I sound white, it usually just comes as a shock. And in that moment, you just don’t know what to say. I just think, am I really just well-spoken, or do you just not expect someone like me to sound that way?

A lot of people are just standing up more for what’s right. So I do feel like this generation can change the world.

A world worth returning to is one where we can recognize the problems in our society, and actually work towards fixing it. If we recognize it, and make efforts to ending systems of oppression, making improvements in everyone’s lives so everyone can live their best life regardless of race, wealth, class, status. A world worth returning to is one where everyone is seen. In order to get that, we have to work towards it.

And here’s Zaynab Jawaid on how grown-ups can grow up and help kids: 

My name is Zaynab Jawaid. I’m 19 and I live in the Bay Area, California. I was in middle school. It was either seventh or eighth grade, and I was coming home from my local mosque with my mom. I was in the passenger seat and she was driving, and I remember looking ahead of us and saying, Mom, I think that Mount Diablo is on fire. It’s not a big mountain, and it’s just like a local mountain that everyone knows about. And as any good mother would do, she reassured me that, no, it’s just like clouds or whatever. But then later that night, my dad was watching TV and we saw that Mount Diablo was on fire. I think that’s the first wildfire season that I really remember.

In 11th grade was our first smoke day. You know, you always hear about kids in the East Coast having snow days where white snow is falling from above. They’re excited, they’re happy. They get to get off school, they get to play outside. And then smoke days are almost the exact opposite. Ashes falling from the sky, and it’s deemed a health hazard where you can’t go outside and play or do anything.

I was walking with my family in downtown Culver City this summer, and it was just a big crowd of people and I don’t know what happened. I was just walking and something just hit me and I was like, What if something happens right now? What if there’s a mass shooting?

Whenever I walk into a classroom, I kind of make sure I know where the exits are, I know where the windows are. Because you never know what might happen. It is something that I don’t think older generations get, especially one of my cousins, he’s in his thirties and on our cousin group chat, something came up about gun laws. And he said something and I got really upset because I was like, You haven’t been in school for God knows how long. You don’t know what it’s like. You don’t know the anxiety behind sitting there, and not knowing what a loud sound is.

I often hear adults saying like, Oh, wow, the youth are so strong, they’re so empowering. They’re this. They’re that. OK, like, you think we’re empowering? Thank you. You think we’re strong? Thank you. But can you do something to improve our situation? Can you listen to us?

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.