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    Making a Better America

    We need to lean more into a culture of learning and listening, rather than talking over and for others.

    ZIAD AHMED

    21-year-old social entrepreneur, speaker, and student, named to the 2019 Forbes “30 Under 30” list. A senior at Yale University, CEO of JUV Consulting, a purpose-driven Generation Z company that works with numerous Fortune 500 companies and other clients to help them understand young people.

    WJ: What is your vision or hope for America?

    I have many hopes; I hope for a world where more are welcomed, where more justice is possible, a world where every kid can grow up to feel safe, loved and accepted. I hope for an America and a world that trusts primary sources as the best sources and empowers more leaders that look like the world that we live in. I don’t know that all my hopes will come to fruition in 2021, but I hope that we try in earnest to get closer to where we ought to go.

    WJ: What are some of the greatest barriers to seeing your vision realized?

    One of the greatest is this mindset that because I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist: a problem doesn’t exist because they’re not personally experiencing it. I think we’ll get to a world with more empathy, more welfare, more justice when we acknowledge the shortcomings in our own perspectives and understand that oftentimes we don’t need something because of our privilege. We need to lean more into a culture of learning and listening, rather than talking over and for others.

    WJ: What encourages you to believe the change you seek is possible?

    My generation. I have the fortune of working with thousands of young people all around the world with different stories and who come from different backgrounds who are all so passionate about making the world better, and fighting for a world where more of us and all of us are accepted and celebrated. I’m encouraged by their incredible diversity and conviction and commitment and passion and hustle.

    WJ: Who or what inspired you to be a changemaker at an early age?

    I am the sum of so much luck and so much love. I have been so privileged across so many different metrics and ways. I’ve been inspired by my mom and my grandmother, my sister and my family, and the people that I’ve met throughout my journey, but also by my librarians and my teachers and mentors… so many people have believed in me and believed I can be better. It’s a lifetime of luck and love.

    WJ: What can young people do to be part of realizing the new America you see?

    I’m always wary of giving advice; I have far more to learn than I have to teach. But I would tell my younger self that sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves: I often felt that I am nothing, I will never be enough, or it has to be everything. What I am trying to teach myself is it is OK to just be something and to find power in that.

    We have to become more flexible on how we approach computer science education.

    IAN BROCK

    16-year-old computer science activist, speaker, and co-founder of Dream Hustle Code and New Nerd, whose story has been featured in Forbes, Black Enterprise, and Education Week. During the COVID-19 shutdown, he and his team launched a virtual Computer Programming + Personal Development program for young students.

    WJ: What is your vision or hope for America?

    My vision for America is a nation where everyone has equal tools, equal access, and equal opportunity to compete in our global tech economy. I see a country where people from all different races and gender can work together to come up with some amazing ideas that will solve the biggest problems that we face. I hope that we can all come together and sort out our issues regarding racial and gender differences.

    WJ: What are some of the greatest barriers to seeing your vision realized?

    When it comes to technology, we must be aware that people come to the table with different backgrounds and experiences. They learn in different ways that may require “nontraditional” approaches. In order to achieve the level of equity that we need to catapult us all forward, we have to become more flexible on how we approach computer science education. This includes deploying resources accordingly.

    WJ: What encourages you to believe the change you seek is possible?

    My generation, Generation Z. We are growing up in an age where we are digital natives and technology is part of our lives, unlike in any generation before us. Tech has allowed us to connect with one another and really understand others more than before. Because of this, we are growing up wanting to collaborate with each other and we are super-passionate about working to undo the wrongs of the past.

    WJ: Who or what inspired you to be a changemaker at an early age?

    There have been many people, but the person who started me on the journey in computer science and technology was Mr. Chris Bosh. I saw a Code.org video that featured him and he talked about computer science and coding and how cool it was. He was a two-time NBA champ and one of my favorite athletes. I could not relate to Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates in the same way. I needed to see someone who I could relate to, who looked like me.

    WJ: What can young people do to be part of realizing the new America you see?

    They should first find what they are most passionate about. From there, set a plan with clear goals. They will need to manage their time wisely and be willing to work extremely hard so they can reach their goals. If Generation Z can tap into these strategies, then “watch out world.”

    I believe that we are the most resilient and agile people—always wearing multiple hats and learning how to adapt depending on the situation.

    ANDRE HILL

    Holder of an MBA from Clark Atlanta University, McDonald’s franchisee in Columbus, Ohio, and creator of Wurrkflow, a digital approach to manual administrative flow, and one of the leads in tech startup Highsy, a decision search engine.

    WJ: What is your vision or hope for America?

    My vision is rooted in how America can work better for our people. That means Black businessmen and women don’t feel disadvantaged due to a lack of access to capital, investments, and credit provided to them just because of who they are or the ZIP codes in which they chose to do business. These types of biases continue to reinforce the glass ceiling for us to build wealth in our families and communities needed to help turn our communities around without the need of external gentrifiers.

    WJ: What are some of the greatest barriers to seeing your vision realized?

    One of the greatest is the old systemic discrimination being embedded in so many aspects of how America currently does business and allows people to create wealth. For instance, redlining state districts still goes on, but has also been replaced with more sophisticated forms of discrimination by proxy that use factors to allow computer algorithms to classify individuals in order to allow predictive analytics to guide their decision-making. Poorly designed algorithms and bad data disproportionately harm the Black community as industries increase the use of Artificial Intelligence.

    WJ: What encourages you to believe the change you seek is possible?

    I believe that we are the most resilient and agile people—always wearing multiple hats and learning how to adapt depending on the situation. One example that I get particularly excited about is the increasing number of young Black kids getting exposure to tech—whether it’s programming, understanding computer systems, or creating a group of special skilled individuals that will eventually develop or enhance algorithms that will reduce or completely eliminate biases in programs that continue to enforce discriminatory practices.

    WJ: Who or what inspired you to be a changemaker at an early age?

    Growing up in metro Detroit during the mid-1990s and early 2000s, I was fortunate to be surrounded by a network of strong Black influencers. I was blessed to have a mother who always had a progressive vision and that yielded her a circle of friends and associates that I was able to use as my examples of what I could become. They comprised a level of greatness that taught me the importance of confidence and hard work.

    WJ: What can young people do to be part of realizing the new America you see?

    I would tell them to get as much exposure to positive role models, advocates, and champions for them as they grow and develop. Start to think about what industries really intrigue them and what they are naturally great at doing. There’s a great saying that success occurs when preparation meets opportunity. So, don’t be afraid to reach out to others to learn new things and gain the exposure, but you have to grind and put the work in yourself to be prepared to meet those opportunities for success.

    I don’t have hope in America, I have hope in the people of America.

    REGINALD SHARPE JR.

    Senior Pastor of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, in January 2020, succeeding Charles Jenkins. One of the youngest inductees to The Martin Luther King Jr. Board of Preachers at Morehouse College, in Atlanta, where he has taught as an Adjunct Professor in the Religion and Philosophy Department.

    WJ: What is your vision or hope for America?

    That we learn two simple lessons: to listen to one another when we don’t agree and to understand the words of Dr. Jeremiah Wright when he says, “Different doesn’t mean deficient.” We have to be able to listen to each other because a person can stand under what she or he understands. The sooner we realize that all of our differences add flavor to our nation the better we will be. We each have different ancestries, different religions, different sexualities, different educational experiences, different ethnicities and different ideological convictions. Those differences don’t weaken the fabric of our country; they make the quilt of diversity stronger.

    WJ: What are some of the greatest barriers to seeing your vision realized?

    America must repent for her original sin: racism. Until America repents, which means to turn and go in a different direction, we will never be able to heal from the traumas that white supremacy has created for all of the people that are not cloaked with white skin and white consciousness. We, individually, cannot save the whole world but we can do our part in our own homes, schools, churches, and families to eliminate and condemn bigotry, discrimination, hatred and all “isms” that hinder us from living in love and peace.

    WJ: What encourages you to believe the change you seek is possible?

    One of my professors, Illya Davis from Morehouse College, taught us that optimism is arrogant and hope is humble. Optimism is the belief that things will be better. Hope is the belief that things could be better but even if it doesn’t get better one can still hold on to the possibility. I don’t have hope in America, I have hope in the people of America, that we can work to make the world more just, fair, equitable and loving for our children.

    WJ: Who or what inspired you to be a changemaker at an early age?

    Being that I’m from Atlanta, I was introduced to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at an early age and he was my greatest inspiration to use my life, voice and ministry to help others. My parents, Reginald Sharpe Sr. and Fay Sharpe, instilled in my brother and me values and morals to treat people fairly. My grandparents were examples of radical selflessness and love for me.

    WJ: What can young people do to be part of realizing the new America you see?

    Always start with love and end with love. Try to leave a trail of love behind you everywhere you go. Especially, to young Black people— never, and I mean never, harm your own people. We need each other as we fight systems of oppression in America. Always build your community with your support and actions. Believe in yourself and always find the good in others.

    We need to mobilize our community to rise up, demand change and advance police reform in our country.

    ANDREW STROTH

    Managing Partner of Action Injury Law Group, a national civil rights law firm representing victims of unjustified police shootings, excessive force, and police misconduct. He also created the Truth, Hope, and Justice Initiative, a charitable and social justice platform designed to publish the compelling stories of families impacted by police violence.

    WJ: What is your vision or hope for America?

    Our vision is to combine high-impact federal litigation with on-the-ground social justice and advocacy to advance racial equality in America. At this historic moment in time, we need to mobilize our community to rise up, demand change, and advance police reform in our country.

    WJ: What are some of the greatest barriers to seeing your vision realized?

    The criminal justice system and current power and political structure continue to block fair and equitable access to equal justice in communities of color. However, there was a historic awakening and breaking point last year as the world watched the murder of George Floyd. Video evidence, once again, showed the disparate treatment of Black men and blatant racism in America.

    WJ: What encourages you to believe the change you seek is possible?

    Look at God. We watched the transformative and effective leadership of President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama and now we have Vice President Kamala Harris.

    WJ: Who or what inspired you to be a changemaker at an early age?

    As a young adult, I remember meeting Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., Senior Pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ, and Father Michael Pfleger, Senior Pastor at St. Sabina Church, in Chicago. Both of these men of faith and their teachings inspired me to serve God and our community. They taught me to live by Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

    WJ: What can young people do to be part of realizing the new America you see?

    As we witnessed last year with the protests on our streets and the social media explosion following the George Floyd murder, young people have the power to lift up their voices, mobilize, and effectuate meaningful change in our world.

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