The Younger Generation

Last night, I attended a community forum sponsored by SPEA students of John Clark. John is well-known in Indianapolis–he has long been active as a public intellectual and sponsor of the website Provocate. His enthusiasm for global-local connections has clearly motivated his students.

The subject of discussion was: can Indianapolis become a “humanitarian hub”? The venue was the Athenaeum, and the room was filled with an interesting mix of Indianapolis’ residents. There were old folks like me (and a couple even older!), but mostly, attendees were in their twenties and thirties–and it soon became obvious that most of them were already deeply involved in humanitarian and nonprofit enterprises. Worried about Haiti? The experience of immigrants in Indiana? Efforts to integrate minorities into the broader community? Fair trade? These young people are working on all of these issues, and many others, with passion and realism.

The students who convened the forum asked participants to consider who should be involved in an effort to make our city an international humanitarian “hub,” and what benefits might accrue to the city from such an effort. The clear consensus was that creating such a hub should not mean trying to lure the headquarters of large humanitarian organizations–that instead it should be accomplished, if possible, by encouraging and facilitating the efforts that are already percolating among our young social entrepreneurs, and working with organizations like Kiwanis, the National Guard and many others who are already engaged in these efforts.

There was also a consensus that creating such a hub would make Indianapolis a more inclusive, welcoming city–a city that people would want to live and work in. (Others noted that changes in the Indiana legislature will be needed in order to create an “inclusive” culture. Immigrant-bashing and anti-gay measures aren’t exactly helping.)

I left the meeting feeling the way I often do after a discussion with students in my class–hopeful that the next generation will be able to clear away some of the social debris my own generation is leaving them. Americans talk a lot about values–the young people with whom I interact demonstrate the values important to a just society–compassion, personal responsibility, a recognition of what we might call social duty. They are both idealistic and realistic, and that is so encouraging at a a time when major party Presidential candidates are neither.

The class will hold its next community forum at the Lilly Auditorium in IUPUI’s Library from 7-9 on November 29th. The topic: distrust in government. (Full disclosure: I’ll be on one of the panels.)

If you are interested in learning more about these efforts, and the literally hundreds of humanitarian programs and organizations that already exist, check