If you believe what you see in the media, our young people are doomed. They don’t care about important issues. They don’t get out and vote. Their generation is fighting, bullying and killing each other each and every single day. They’re more concerned with Instagram likes and when the next pair of Jordan’s will come out than they are with their educations, their planet, their futures. It seems the only time they’re mentioned in the news is when another one commits a senseless crime or is shot and killed. In fact, this year’s report by the Center for American Progress shows young people under the age of 25 are dying by gun violence every 70 minutes. You read that right: Every hour and ten minutes. If you believe what you see in the media, our young people may seem like a lost cause, but if you look at the youth of Usher’s New Look organization, you will see something quite different. You will see what the media isn’t showing us. You will see hope.
Hope comes in many forms at Usher’s New Look, the youth leadership organization founded by Usher Raymond 15 years ago to give students from underserved communities all across the world a “new look” on their purpose and potential to be change agents. Usher’s New Look is developing global youth leaders who are thinking greater than violence and who are determined to empower their peers, and even adults, to think big too. These young people get it. They understand why their generation is being stereotyped, and they’re passionate about changing that perception. One of these students is Atlanta teen Mary-Pat Hector, recipient of New Look’s 2014 Global Youth Leadership Award. This past January, she was named by MTV News as one of eight ‘Teens and 20-Somethings at the Forefront of the New Civil Rights Movement That Will Change Our Country’.
Mary-Pat joined Usher’s New Look two years ago at age 15. Now, at only 17, she has already done more to effect change in the world than most adults will do in their entire lifetime. As a newly admitted college student, she’s just advanced from the UNL Atlanta Leadership Academy to our Moguls in Training Program. Last week, she started her freshman year at Spelman in Atlanta, GA. This week, she has been voted PRESIDENT OF HER CLASS! Her campaign platforms were to create more open discussions and solutions around rape and sexual assault, make campus more environmentally friendly through recycling and solar technologies and to help create a scholarship fund for the future freshman class of 2020.
Her career goals? To study law and then become the first black female President of the United States of America. Seeing what she has already done, it is impossible to not believe her. Mary-Pat serves as the National Youth Director of Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, which promotes civil rights. She travels an average of 4,000 miles a month speaking on non-violence and inspiring individuals young and old at high schools, colleges, conferences, women’s events, and crisis shelters across the U.S. —And that’s not all. In 2013, Mary-Pat took Usher’s New Look’s Powered by Service project grant competition to extraordinary heights when she developed her own anti-gun violence campaign called ‘Think Twice’. “I was tired of attending more funerals than graduations,” says Mary-Pat. “My movement uses graphic imagery on social media and billboards to encourage teens to ‘think twice’ before picking up a gun.” Mary-Pat’s campaign was awarded a $50,000 grant from the Peace First Organization and statistics from three inner-city Atlanta communities where billboards were posted show decreases in their rates of gun violence.
When asked why she thinks it is so important for young people to use their power to make a difference, Mary-Pat says,
“A lot of young people just don’t know the things they can achieve. They don’t realize they don’t always have to be mediocre…That they can think outside of the box and do extraordinary things. Usher’s New Look puts this into perspective for students, because we get to hear it come from other young people like us. We support each other’s campaigns and projects and we get to meet all kinds of corporate adults who support what we’re doing too. It becomes like having one big family of supporters.”
This is Usher’s New Look’s “secret sauce”. It’s how they’re getting 100% of their students to graduate high school and 98% to further their education. By giving students a family-like atmosphere of like-minded mentors and peers, New Look is helping them realize anything is possible if they place their passion behind it.
Support Mary-Pat Hector by following @JustThink2wice on Twitter and by liking Think Twice National Campaign on Facebook.
UPDATE: Thank you to everyone who supported Mary-Pat’s victory to become President of her class! Today, Spellman. Tomorrow, The United States of America!