How Ferguson Protests Were A National Pressure Release

Jury duty. That dreaded piece of mail that induces anxiety and panic among every American citizen. Such feelings are probably due the unplanned disruption in the rhythm of life to potentially determine the fate of another human being. What if you get sucked into a 5 day murder trial? The possibility is unsettling.

However, when I was first selected, I was actually excited. I could finally see a trial in real life! Right off the bat, I was selected for a cocaine possession case. The defendant was arrested in that part of town where you double check that your doors are locked, and you hit the gas a little harder than you should. Although the police didn’t find the cocaine on his person, it was found nearby on the side of the road after he ran from the cops. We found him guilty and sent him right back to the jail that he had just left for other drug related charges. As time has gone on, I’ve often wondered what would have happened if he was white, if he had a better lawyer, if he was actually innocent. I think about him even more during these media storms: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and the news stories of thousands of young men who die every year by gunfire, accidental or otherwise.

Courtesy of Common Dreams

While the media fixates on fanning the flames of the racism and police brutality, how are we as American citizens ultimately affected by violent protests in part of the country that many of us have never visited? What our society often forgets, or chooses to ignore, is that there are systems in place that keep groups of citizens in certain areas and the only way to get out is by luck or remarkable determination. As evidenced by the seemingly over the top reaction to a petty thief’s shooting death. Protests and violence never just happen, they are the result of years of pent up frustration with injustice. For example, the Occupy Wall Street protests were a response to years of abuse by the banking system that sent our once thriving country into a recession that we are still recovering from. 

Courtesy of Creative Commons

Now that the molotov cocktails have been put away and a civil rights lawsuit is being filed, will the fiery conversations and artistic performances come to an end? Will we continue to ignore the injustices our system encourages? Or have we gained a collective understanding that there is something very wrong with our system and we have the power to address it?   

Life Update!

Photo Credit: Miss Turner, Rekre89 on Flikr
Photo Credit: Miss Turner

There’s something magical to me about coffee shops. The constant din of coffee making machinery, the rumble conversations mixing together layered over mellow music has always been the recipe to help me focus on whatever work I needed to get done.

Returning to my hometown in Winter Park, Florida, I am sitting in the Park Avenue Starbucks that carried me through many of my college essays and job applications. Much like the rest of town, it has been updated to respond to the demands of its current clientele, but in many ways has stayed the same.

That’s what I am doing with the Millennial Takeover. After spending a year working in Haiti, and a mini hiatus, I am going to be writing about my observations from my time abroad, my insights on current events, and as always spotlighting incredible millennials. So keep an eye on this space for future posts and follow me on Twitter @themtakeover

 

The Return of Not So Common Advice

Most commencement speeches inspire their graduates to build their careers, reach for the stars, and do whatever it takes to reach their dreams. After all, they’ve accomplished the first part of that dream: getting a college education. However, my colleagues and I received a commencement speech a couple years ago about the importance of exercise and eating right and not… “letting yourself go” from an older gentleman who could very well have been speaking from experience. Naturally, we didn’t take too kindly to the speech and promptly demoted the bizarre experience to the “to shred” pile in our memories.
Ironically enough, a couple years later I find myself reflecting on that very commencement speech. I’ve been dwelling on the how to define what one needs to sacrifice to be successful. As they say one must sacrifice health, friends and finally family to achieve poster child success. But is that kind of sacrifice even necessary? Without those three things, what do you have? With the increased attention to what the Huffington Post calls the “Third Metric” how is it possible not to sacrifice one or all of these things when you are starting out? Climbing the career ladder often means late nights, early mornings, and often sacrificing the respite of the weekend. Accepting this reality has been difficult for me, because I just can’t help but feel that by now we would have found a way to not be “on” all of the time.
Maybe I struggle the most with this because participating in the Haitian work lifestyle often means having people come by to visit, grab a coffee, and eat up a good 2-3 hours of your work day. Although very nice, the decrease in actual work hours does cut into productivity, something Haiti’s economy most definitely needs. However, in that same breath I see this way of life slowly fade with the aging of previous generations. Life has become busier, people are more on edge, and the pressure that is often omnipresent in the States is increasingly claiming the lifestyles of the current population. Is workaholicsism, reserved for the select few? Or has it become a rite of passage for ambitious young professionals?
Whatever the answer, I have been keeping my sanity by spending my Saturdays with my younger cousins ranging from 17 years to 4 months. The constant energy and the simplicity of life as a young person has been such an outlet for me that Saturday lunches with them have become sacred.
Finding that outlet, even if it only takes place once a week for an hour is so necessary to not completely losing yourself in the work. What is your outlet, how do you keep yourself sane when work becomes overwhelming?

Millennial Interview: Luxury Boutique Hotel owner in Haiti.

When you first think of a hotel in Haiti, something like this might come to mind:

Image

Although similar places can be found, a visit to Haiti could land you somewhere like this:
Cafe36DiningRoom

Starting a boutique hotel in a poverty stricken country takes serious guts, commitment, and a stockpile of patience. I found these qualities in Lorraine Hudicourt owner of La Lorraine, the most recent addition to Port-au-Prince’s luxury hotel scene. Lorraine’s laid back ambition and perfectionism boasts from every detail.

Beyond the open walkway encased in linen drapes, you will find the popular restaurant Cafe 36, where I met with Lorraine.  Every inch of decor adds a sense of privacy and a sense of protection from the harsh realities of living in Haiti. All of the daily stress melted away once I arrived at the dining area that provides a Caribbean urban oasis.

The after work crowd starts to settle in as a popular D.J. sets up his kit on the humble stage. I look around for Lorraine and catch her as she is attending to the needs of an ongoing conference and smoothly transitioning the dinner crowd to the happy hour that’s about to begin.

Nothing alters a plan quite like a 7.0 earthquake.With a crushing demand for hotels in the area, Lorraine stayed on to manage the hotel. Coincidentally, a parcel of land that Lorraine had dreamed about for years also came onto the market. With encouragement from her mother, Lorraine did the crazy, risky thing and bought the land to achieve her dream of owning a hotel.  After three years of negotiating, patience, and perseverance, La Lorraine opened her doors in November 2012.

After a little over a year, the wild success experienced by the hotel has encouraged Lorraine to think of how to improve and expand. Although being a millennial hasn’t been a challenge, what has been difficult has been finding quality employees. With a significant portion of the population unable to read or write, finding people who will at least meet expectations can be extremely difficult. But ask her about her big travel dreams, she laughs and responds with: “They are extinct, but I’m happy here.” As Lorraine has shown, life has a funny way of changing our plans, often for the better.

 

Long term benefits to Student Loan Debt?

Each generation has had an issue that plagued their thoughts, dreams, and aspirations. For our grandparents, it was managing a Post WWII world. For our parents, it was dealing with drug abuse and the now invisible color lines. What could possibly plague our generation more than the broken system that we inherited? The financial crater left by pursuing the one thing that marketed guaranteed success: a college education. 
 
An estimated 7 out of 10 graduating seniors in 2012 walked into the “real world” with an average of $29,400 of student loan debt. According to this Huffington Post article, the burden can lead to a loss of license in some states and most importantly prevents many young people from qualifying for home loans, personal loans, small business loans, and car loans: the bread and butter of the American economy. If you don’t really understand how it all works check out this infographic that breaks it down.
 Student Loan Scheme.
 
Whether or not you or your child are dealing with this type of debt, it has market wide effects. Think about it, with significant portions of 30 million salaries going to feed a collective financial crater, who is going to be purchasing the high priced credit based goods that serve as the metric for a healthy American economy? How can you breed healthy work habits when personal finance is always going to be a significant anxiety? 
 
There are hundreds of suggestions on how to cope with the pressure of dealing with student loan debt, and it deserves serious attention and planning. But once in this crater, why not wear the burden as a badge of courage? Presumably, students don’t take out loans unless they need them in order to get to where they want to go in their careers. As it is in life, taking that kind of risk has forced many in this group to make sacrifices and choices in order to survive. It will be lessons we’ve learned from those choices that will mold the next Great Generation.
 
Lessons in dedication, perseverance, resourcefulness, and long term thinking will only serve us in in the long run. Our generation has already claimed the superlative “most entrepreneurial” and “most diverse” in U.S. history, once we have claimed positions of power these lessons will only make stronger leaders and truly change the direction of the world.
 
Have student loans impacted your life planning and decision making? If so, how?

Burying Dr. King’s Dream

“Our lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

January 20th for many in the States is a day of sleeping in, catching that movie on the “must see list,” and spending about 30 minutes thinking of the momentous impact of the life Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Although this is a testament to how far the U.S. has come from the painful pre-Civil Rights Movement, it also illustrates how well the mainstream has been able to downplay the conversation about race in the States and making it seem that we have become a “post-racial” society; especially when it comes to discussing the Millennial generation.

With the continuing existence of “yolo” culture, living a life of excess is not only presented as desirable, but attainable. With an 11.1% unemployment rate of 20-24 year olds, recent college grads are left in this drastic gap between the new American dream and reality. Most T.V. shows, movies, and music focus exclusively on the experience of the upper to upper middle class white demographic (a la Real Housewives or the Kardashians) or objectify the honest struggles of lower middle to lower class Americans (a la Teen Mom). With such an overload of superficial mainstream media, where is the space for showing a bit of the honest American experience, peppered with some people who are the new face of the United States?

By masking the reality of the life of the minority in the United States, we are burying the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In reality, he was just a member of a thousand person, decades long movement. However, his ability to move all kinds people to action created the catalyst the movement needed to end segregation and ultimately move the United States to a more equal society.

But what does this have to do with today’s conversation about race? Today, prejudice has evolved from violent crimes to more subtle exclusions from jobs, social gatherings, and justice. Just look to the reaction towards the recent verdict of the Trayvon Martin case to understand how deep are the wounds of modern racism in the United States. But much like every other major news story, it has faded away something that would surely disappoint Dr. King.

What is encouraging is the openness in which the Millennial generation approaches the discussion of race and diversity in the United States. Even though it doesn’t immediately change policy, talking about what it means to be a minority has the potential to change a mind at a time. Better representation in the media is slowly providing stronger role models to help frame the aspirations of younger generations. Change is painfully slow and requires constant attention or else we risk repeating our history.

ImageTallahassee, Florida 1963 – a demonstration outside a segregated theater.

Sacrificing for the Balance

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Photo provided by Flickr and Pink Sherbet Photography
 
With the taking down of the decorations and repairing whatever damage was incurred from the holidays, comes the familiar call to action to improve yourself with a new job, a new life; a new everything! For someone who has recently embarked on trying something new in a huge way, this kind of sent me into questioning the merits of changing everything in your life at a time that boasts the importance of tradition and things staying the same. Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had made the right choice in abandoning the privileges of First World life for to chase a dream that was providing more stress than that expected euphoric “I just mastered a this really cool trick” feeling. 

 

Then my friend Darrell Kinsel sent me this link to an NPR interview he was featured in and it hit me like a fatal coconut falling from the top of a tree: things are unbelievably difficult for our generation EVERY WHERE IN THE WORLD. Every one is making or has made incredible sacrifices just to nudge their careers forward, because that is what we have to do right now. Although we were promised this was going to be easy, and social media lets us portray our lives as flawless, beautiful and inspiring, there are an incredible amount of tears, self doubt, and drunken binges behind every story. Each person interviewed reminded the audience that our generation was handed an incredibly difficult hand and that things are going to take a lot longer to accomplish, but they can be accomplished. The shear optimism in every response was enough to get me to take a look around and realize that things are the way they are right now because they have to be, its an incredibly frustrating step on my path to go wherever I am supposed to be going. 

For me, I thought moving to Haiti would be easy since I have such strong family support and I’m was familiar with the country. I never dreamed that I would feel the void of the incredible friends that I left behind or come to expect the statement, we don’t have gas, desk planners, etc. because there’s a hold up somewhere in the supply chain. Though these things were unexpected, I know that I need the work experience and very few other places can offer it while I live with my grandmother and my uncle. This sacrifice is what I needed to do and it will pay off. In many ways, it already has. What have you sacrificed this past year so you can move your dream forward?

My 2Cents: Internet Privacy, the No Mans Land for Governments

I’m not sure if you have seen this article on Buzzfeed, but it outlines how a sophomore at Ohio University, Rachel Cassidy, has basically been attacked by the forces of the internet. Why? For allegedly being a featured in a public sex video as a willing participant and allegedly pressing charges for sexual assault. Where the situation gets hairy is when an international “watchdog” organization who identifies female abusers of the justice system at the expense of their male victims, identified Cassidy such an abuser. As punishment, they have brought on hell, fire, and brimstone on this student,and she is not even the right person.

There are various aspects to this story that make me tilt my head to the side, squint at the screen, and potentially attract attention from my co-workers. Questioning looks aside, the big questions that come to mind are: how in the world did this happen and how have we gotten this place?

Right to Privacy?

Peter Nolan, the featured member of Crimes Against Fathers organization looks to correct the government’s inability to respond in an appropriate fashion to the plight of men. Slow government reaction time seems to come up repeatedly in issues as local as the need for a stoplight at an intersection to as international as a response to the war in Syria. Although we can point the finger at the inefficiency of our governments (even though they were designed that way), what really is the issue is the complete lack of privacy while online. According to the organization, appropriate punishment was to release all of her personal information. The result? A colossal case of cyber-bullying requiring Cassidy to completely eliminate her web presence and take time off of school.

In our digital world, where it seems privacy is more of a luxury rather than a right, where is the legislation and the government protections for us, the individual? Instead of shutting down the government because a political party can’t move past a battle lost, why not actually take on a real problem: creating a solution for our loss of privacy in the digital realm. But who’s responsibility is it to protect users? The provider of the service, like Facebook or Twitter? Local authorities? International governments? The NSA? (since they have a proven track record of snooping the interwebs?) There isn’t an apparent institution that could logically take on internet privacy, calling into question if our current government systems are even relevant.

The Justice System

Another aspect that our current governments can’t seem to get right is how to deal with criminals and those taking advantage of the justice system. One of Nolan’s central arguments worth discussing is the amount of abuse in the justice system. At least in the United States, the very system designed to protect the rights of all people has been reduced to a battle between who has acquired the pricier lawyer. With such constraints how can true justice be served? Furthermore, with social media a microphone has been provided to just about anyone with an opinion, individuals are defenseless to libel and slander on the internet. The target of Peter Nolan’s attack, Rachel Cassidy, has had her life destroyed for something that she didn’t even do. As great it is to have such a free flow of information, there is no oversight or no safety net to protect users. Should we be asking our governments to step up in this way? Or will they never be able to appropriately take on this task?

I for one, see this as a HUGE problem. With plans to get the entire population online, there are only going to be increased issues with privacy and power on the internet. Digging our heads in the sand on this issue, is not a solution. But educating ourselves and actively participating in our government is.

ECSSA: Turning Haiti’s Trash into an Economic Lifeline

ECSSA Operation Center

When visiting Haiti as a child, I was always baffled at how the streets housed so much trash. It seemed like every side road had a mountain of garbage where just about anybody had to pick their way around. Many years later, though trash heaps still fight to claim areas where creeks or rivers once were, the roads are becoming cleaner and the cleanup has created hundreds of jobs that were not there before. How did Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince, turn their massive trash problem into a treasure trove? One millennial, Edouard Carrie of Haiti, took on the challenge while studying entrepreneurship at the University of Tampa. As a student he asked the question: how can we employ local people while clearing the streets of Haiti? Well as they say, timing is everything and as Edouard was developing his business plan two key events took place: the devastating earthquake of January 2010 and an internship.

While the 300,000+ population of Port-au-Prince was stunned by the havoc left by the earthquake, Edouard immediately started crafting ways to help his country work its way out of the rubble. Initially, he considered cement recycling. There was so much rubble and it needed to be cleared before recovery efforts could be pursued. It proved to be too big and too complicated, especially with experienced companies already working in the area. That’s when Edouard started to look at recycling other materials, specifically plastic.

How It Started

With Haiti on his mind, Edouard networked his way to an internship at a recycling facility in Connecticut. As an intern, he interacted with leaders of the recycling industry who came to know about Edouard’s desire for recycling in Haiti. Moved by his determination, a mentor discounted his extra compactor to help bring Edouard’s dream to a reality. Paired with an old generator from his dad’s factory, Edouard had the machinery needed to found Environmental Cleaning Solutions S.A. (ECSSA). But, as any entrepreneur knows, getting the equipment was just the beginning of the challenge.

Post-earthquake Haiti was flooded with businesses, non-profits, governments, and individuals all trying to help with the effort; creating very confusing market conditions. Banks weren’t lending and donations were earmarked for immediate relief items like tents and water, not capital for aspiring businesses. Not to be deterred, ECSSA quilted together capital from international grants and other funding sources to open their doors in the fall of 2010. After opening day, it has been a roller coaster for ECSSA. Success has been celebrated by earning Entrepreneur of the Year Awards every year they have been in business from his alma mater, University of Tampa (2010, 2012) and mega cell phone provider in Haiti, Digicel (2011). Challenges have arisen in the form of accessing equipment and handling supply. Through it all Edouard has built a social venture in a very risky market and made an impact in his community.

Nuts and Bolts

ECSSA aspires to do three things:

1) Eliminate waste in Haiti

2) Teach the Haitian community the value of waste

3) Educate the community about the importance of recycling

To achieve these goals ECSSA has developed a process where collection centers around the country weigh and pay those who bring in a variety of plastics and aluminum. Then the supply is sorted, processed, compacted into bales, and then shipped to international buyers.  ECSSA covers the transportation of the material as well as the collection bags to encourage as much participation as possible.

Such a logistics heavy operation requires the help of a dedicated staff. In Edouard’s case, the help of an assistant and his family are doing everything from logistics to keeping up the motivation despite the various challenges that arise in Haiti. Going forward Edouard is leading ECSSA as the largest plastic collector in the country and has learned a couple of life lessons. So what is Edouard’s biggest piece of advice? “Luck is a huge part of starting a business, but you have to go out and create your luck. Don’t get discouraged, because there will be good times as well as bad, but as long as you focus.”

If you want to learn more about ECSSA and the work they are doing in Haiti check out their website at: www.ecssahaiti.com.