At 22, I’m very aware of my age. Every day. In the beginning of December, I attended the Root Cause Coalition conference on the Social Determinants of Health in Chicago and was fortunate enough to hear the surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, speak. He spoke of working with young people and the changes that are happening in public health, community work, and healthcare. As he addressed the crowd of community health veterans he tackled blunt questions about race, politics, and business honestly and directly, admitting that no one has the answers but fostering discussions about them with young people, future leaders, is key. It was encouraging to hear CEOs and presidents throughout the conference talk about the importance of preventative health and socioeconomic factors, but I couldn’t help but wonder where were the other ‘newbies’ were. Where were the students, the young professionals, the people like myself in an entry-level position trying to figure out what their career could even look like 5, 10, 15 years down the road. And yet, the young voice that I did hear came from the surgeon general of all people; the one who, if we’re being honest, is also a really BIG DEAL.
As I thoroughly googled him after his talk, I found that he is not even 40 years old, the youngest surgeon general in U.S. history, and is a vocal advocate for universal healthcare & attacking health problems at their non-clinical root. And he also does yoga daily, so there’s that. In short, he’s a public health rockstar, and a young one, on the national stage advocating for an approach to health that challenges a lot of the traditional structures of American medicine. Every day I hear amazing thoughts on hard issues like hunger, race, economic injustice, and climate change from the young people in the Child Hunger Corps, at non-profits around New Orleans, even amongst my roommates and close friends. But I still go to work, the youngest at my food bank, and choke down my thoughts before I say them, some days proudly declaring my age, I’m only 22, others glossing over it, I’m young, and moving on. As my fellow cohort member so thoughtfully put in her blog, I wonder almost daily “when it is best to speak up or when to wait my turn.” All at the same time as I advocate for bringing more teens to the table, inspired by Feeding America’s recent teen study, and involving youth activists in a community listening meeting I’m planning on child hunger.
I know that young people have amazing ideas, the fresh idealism that has yet to hit the this is the way we’ve always done it mentality that can understandably come from years in food banking. As I work on raising my own voice, I hope other young people can do the same, and that they are encouraged to do so. I hope that future conferences give as much clout to attracting young minds as they do to attracting industry leaders, both important pieces of the puzzle. I love that the Child Hunger Corps allows young people the freedom to take charge of a project and develop real voices at their foodbanks and I hope this attitude continues to change the network for the better.
Erin Brock serves as a member of the Child Hunger Corps at Second Harvest Food Bank. The Child Hunger Corps is a national service program designed to increase the capacity and capability of food banks to execute programs targeted toward the alleviation of child hunger. The objective of the program is to increase the number of nutritious meals served to children in need in local communities around the country. The Child Hunger Corps initiative is sponsored by the ConAgra Foods Foundation.