Last Friday I had the privilege of speaking at the United Nations. I left filled with optimism about the world and the road ahead. The next day was the horror story that unfolded in Charlottesville. While its aftermath jarred my hopes from the day before, it didn’t defeat them.
My enthusiasm for the UN Youth Assembly stems from its aim of bringing together for dialogue high achieving young people from around the world. Hostelling International USA has similar dialogue aims with a traveler audience using our hostels. As a Youth Assembly speaker, I looked forward to promoting youth travel as education and meeting the youth delegates first hand.
I wasn’t disappointed.
At a UN reception the night before our conference session, the room was filled with young creatives, entrepreneurs and change makers. At every turn I seemed to meet someone who had started their own nonprofit, authored a notable study, or formed their own company. And every one of them was under the age of 30.
Our panel session the next morning attracted an audience of several hundred emerging leaders from dozens of countries and cultures. Our topic was advancing youth employment and intercultural education through sustainable travel. Organized by the UNWTO, panelists were from globally recognized organizations like Hilton, the International Youth Federation, and Travel+SocialGood,. I represented the World Youth and Student Educational (WYSE) Travel Confederation (where I serve on the Management Board).
As the panel dived into presentations and discussion, the audience responded with a sea of raised hands. They questioned the tradeoffs between tourism development and local quality of life, and advocated for assuring local job creation and respecting indigenous cultures. While uniformly thoughtful and articulate, it was their empathy and listening that was most striking.
It was not difficult to imagine these young people eventually leading the world’s large institutions.
In contrast, as Charlottesville events unfolded, I saw deeply disturbing acts of hatred, bigotry and divisiveness. The mayhem should elicit important questions for all Americans about the state of race relations, discourse and tolerance in our country. Equivocation in the tragedy’s aftermath compounded the destructiveness, and if continued, will come at a deep cost to our institutions and ideals.
Looking ahead, we hear of the unfortunate possibility for similar events in other cities. Incendiary ideas have few boundaries, and neither do those who espouse them. With our civil liberties and the future course of our nation at stake, corporate, government and nonprofit leaders at all levels must unite to find answers to issues our country has been struggling with its entire history.
Yet we miss an opportunity if we fail to empower our emerging generation of young leaders as part of the response. The UN Youth Assembly, HI USA and other WYSE Travel Confederation member organizations, and others with aligned values can help. Meaningful investment and cultivation from governments and corporations will be essential for success.
In the aftermath of Charlottesville, there is hope once we fully embrace it.
This post first appeared in my HuffPost blog on 17 August 2-17.