Area millennials talk about their role in nation's future

Millennials share ideas for shaping nation

Step aside, baby boomers. Millennials are now in the driver’s seat for the country’s future.

 

Citing U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the Pew Research Center announced last month that millennials – those ages 18 to 34 in 2015 – usurped baby boomers (ages 51 to 69) as America’s largest generation. As of last year, there were 75.4 million millennials and just 74.9 million baby boomers.

Generation X (ages 35 to 50 in 2015) were ranked third at 66 million and are projected to pass the baby boomers in 2028.

Pew estimated that the millennial population – bolstered by immigration – would reach its peak at 81.1 million in 2036.

The Augusta Chronicle asked some prominent millennials in the Augusta area what role their generation should play in shaping America. The consensus was that they should embrace their responsibility in defining the nation’s future and build on what the baby boomers started.

“I think everything that’s been done since the baby boomers has set us up for now,” said George Claussen, the 30-year-old co-owner of South­bound Smokehouse and founder of Friends with Benefits, a promotion company with a focus on raising money for charities. “I think everything was done right by the baby boomers, but times change and technology changes.”

Claussen said there hasn’t been a better time for his peers to become more involved in their communities. At the same time, he said, millennials need to “make sure that we’re ready to take on those positions and get involved, whether that’s philanthropy or opening new businesses.”

“When you’re stuck in the past and you’re trying to deal with the present, it’s impossible for you to focus on the future,” he said. “I think our generation is really the one who can really take a grasp on that and can see that far in the future.”

That’s why Johnston, S.C., Mayor Terrence Culbreath became involved in politics. At age 33, he represents the higher end of the millennial age group but is also one of the youngest to hold office in South Carolina.

After graduating from Strom Thurmond High School, Culbreath spent time in Florida, North Carolina and Missouri before settling in Atlanta for an internship with rap group Outkast, later becoming a sound engineer.

Through Outkast, he was introduced to Kasim Reed, who was running what turned out to be a successful campaign for mayor of At­lan­ta.

“The light bulb went off,” Culbreath said. “It wasn’t a TV ad or seeing it in the paper. It was a guy running for mayor of this city and he’s here and I’m asking him questions. It made (politics) tangible at that point.”

He returned to Johnston in 2010 and ran a successful bid for city council two years later. In 2014, he became one of the youngest mayors in the Southeast.

In order for millennials to push the U.S. into the new age, he said, they have to quit standing on the sidelines.

“Young people need to prepare themselves for those seats at the table that are going to be vacated,” he said. “I didn’t want to come in and say, ‘I’m young and I don’t want to listen to the old guy.’ No, I’m here to learn. I feel like more millennials need to educate themselves on more than just social media and video games because we’re next.

“We’re not trying to change (government) or break it, but push it. We’re Amer­i­­cans, man. We’ve got to go boldly into the future. That’s what baby boomers did.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean millennials need to run for office, he said. Voting is another way for those voices to be heard.

A separate Pew study released this month found that baby boomers and millennials each comprise roughly 31 percent of the voting-eligible population, though the younger generation remains “far from the largest generational bloc of actual voters.”

“It is one thing to be eligible to vote and another entirely to cast a ballot,” the study said.

That’s why Josh Snipes, 24, feels it’s up to his generation to not only inspire each other, but also motivate the next generation to value those opportunities and learn from the generations before them.

“We’re teaching life skills,” said Snipes, who teaches geography and sociology at South Aiken High School. “Only half the stuff we teach is the actual content.

“We’re in the driver seat. A lot of the students we have, we might be the only adult they see on a daily basis. We make a huge impact on them. We’re paving our own future, I feel like.”

Kennedy Middle School teacher Blakely Burch, 27, said her parents taught her the value of hard work.

“My parents instilled in me to not be a quitter,” she said. “I feel like they weren’t lazy like kids now. They were hard workers and they knew what it was like to live paycheck to paycheck.”

It’s up to millennials who are teachers to instill those values into the younger generation, she said.

“We need to practice what we preach and be the role models for them so when they get our age, they can be the role models,” Burch said. “Teachers were the ones who taught us to pay it forward.”

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WHAT MILLENNIALS ARE SAYING

“We’re not trying to change (government) or break it, but push it. We’re Americans, man. We’ve got to go boldly into the future. That’s what baby boomers did,” said Terrence Culbreath, 33, the mayor of Johnston, S.C.

“We need to practice what we preach and be the role models for them so when they get our age, they can be the role models,” said Blakely Burch, 27, a teacher at Kennedy Middle School

“We’re in the driver seat. A lot of the students we have, we might be the only adult they see on a daily basis. We make a huge impact on them. We’re paving our own future, I feel like,” said Josh Snipes, 24, a teacher at South Aiken High School

"When you're stuck in the past and you're trying to deal with the present, it's impossible for you to focus on the future," said George Claussen, 30, the co-owner of Southbound Smokehouse and founder of Friends with Benefits, a promotion company that raises money for charities. "I think our generation is really the one who can really take a grasp on that and can see that far in the future."

FINDINGS ON MILLENNIALS

Findings on millennials from a research report published by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation:

Millennials are likely the most studied generation to date. According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, there are plenty of them to study, 80 million-plus (the largest cohort size in history). Most consistent is that this generation is technically savvy. A wired, connected world is all that millennials have ever known.

They are considered optimistic, with 41 percent satisfied with the way things are going in the country, compared with 26 percent of those older than 30. Optimism abounds despite the many tragic events that have shaped this generation, such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, school shootings such as Columbine, the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. Political, economic and organizational influences include the 2000 election, the impeachment of a president, the recession and the fall of Enron, to name a few. As kids, they were tightly scheduled and many would say overindulged by helicopter parents. They were products of No Child Left Behind, reality TV and an “iWorld,” where Starbucks is usually just a short walk away.

This generation masters self-expression, with 75 percent creating a profile on a social networking site, 20 percent posting a video of themselves online, 38 percent with one to six tattoos, and 23 percent with a piercing in some place other than an earlobe. There is also a trend toward personal branding.

Millennials’ main sources for news are TV (65 percent) and the Internet (59 percent). Lagging behind are newspapers (24 percent) and radio (18 percent).

Different from the youth of the two previous generations, parents have considerable influence on millennials’ political views. In one study of young American leaders, 61 percent listed parents as most influential, far in advance of public leaders (19 percent) and the media (12 percent). Faith leaders and celebrities ranked as having minimal or least influence.

Millennials are never far away from their next text, with 80 percent sleeping with their cellphone next to the bed. For some, this bed is in their parents’ homes, as 13 percent have “boomeranged” back because of the recession after living on their own. Thirty-six percent say they depend on financial support from their families.

 

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