Jan 14, 2006

Searching for the Next Generation

I had lunch with a friend who runs a small community-serving non-profit today, and we spoke about one of my favorite subjects: the fact that the folks coming into community-based work nowadays are very different from those even 7 - 10 years ago. The entry-level folks come in with more knowledge, generally, about Asian American or South Asian American issues, but they don't have the context. They've read the books that we read, many even have taken classes in Asian American studies - something that was much more rare, especially on the East Coast, 10 years ago. So they are more savvy in traditional knowledge base. And they have been weaned on the internet, so they are quicker to pick up the new technology.

But there's something missing about many of them. This may be an overgeneralization, and I may have crossed over into the realm of the old-timers who can't deal with fresh new blood coming in and shaking shit up, but I don't know - it feels like a lot of the younger folks entering community-based work either have an entitlement issue about what they think they deserve, or they think that they know everything already (or better yet, that they don't need to know what or who had done similar work in the past). There's a seemingly deep gap in the area of humility. And it feels like there's a deepening gap between the new folks and the old guard who still run many of these organizations, because said old guard has already burned through (and stonewalled) the people of my generation who were rising in the ranks of their respective organizations only to hit a ceiling regarding decision-making power within the institution.

So we have more people entering the work, on the professional track of "non-profit community work" at the same time as we have fewer mid-level folks still around to help guide and support (and train them in both approach and a touch of humility). So what happens? These organizations that we wish would either have a revolt and new blood take over or just run out of suckers to fill the positions keep finding fresh bait to take over vacated positions, and the cycle continues, at the expense of a more expansive, inclusive movement-building effort.

It's very disheartening.

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