This essay begins in response to a conversation that started last summer which spoke about a deep generational divide in North Omaha of leadership. Issues like a vision for systemic change, community investments, and ultimately the future were raised by reporters and answered by elders.
It didn’t take long for me to notice the common mistake most make when trying to address the issue of a generational gap: Youth, my generation, were left out of the conversation. Conversations that mistook enabling the status quo and complacency, for radical substantive progress.
Here’s my take as a young black leader on this generational power struggle and how we continue our work as young political activists.
A resident of North Omaha for nearly 10 years, allow me to formally introduce myself. I’m Mike Lee, 26-year-old social justice advocate, political consultant and activist.
Many believe that youth equates to a lack of experience or because of age that our ability to affect meaningful change is minuscule. Some even think that we should be patient, or “wait our turn,” before we can lead. This couldn’t be any further from the truth.
Having recently run State Sen. Terrell McKinney’s election campaign in November 2020, Jonathan Lathan’s campaign for City Council District 2, as well as working for Jasmine Harris’ mayoral campaigns as finance director, I want to dispel the myth that youth equals anything other than endless possibilities.
In truth, this divide didn’t just happen but was further exposed because of COVID-19, political and social unrest, and community disengagement. In North Omaha, the same leaders have been in power for more than 40 years. During these years, we have seen our community suffer and struggle. If asked, I would say this stems from the initial issue of a generation struggling to hold onto power in a community it no longer understands. In previous conversations, we heard excuses saying it’s the youth who are at fault for the community’s decline.
Our elders have failed to realize that this surging energy from young activists is because of the lack of progress we’ve experienced under their leadership. Young people are tired of seeing death and ever-growing poverty enabled by a system meant to protect them. A system that told a generation to aim for the stars and that anything was possible. Instead of harnessing that energy, our current Black leadership has continued to place their faith in a system that perpetuates harm and values relationships over morality and substantial change. History tells us change doesn’t come in the form of idle conversations but in activism and community and a deep desire for a new way of living.
We’re all idealists setting out to change the world, but it must begin with our community.
I write this to emphasize the truth about the generational divide and begin a coalescence of vision and clout that cedes power to our youth and their ability to create change.
Michael Lee is a North Omaha community activist and political consultant.