On my way home from a colleague/friend’s election night party, I got into a lively discussion about “paying your dues”. This discussion began as a result of another young man deciding to run for office despite the fact that the “powers that be” urged him not to. His decision to run cost the Democrats a valuable seat in the election this week. Because of this, I completely understand people urging him, or the other democrat for that matter, to back out of the race. Two strong candidates will simply split the vote and lead to two strong losers in the end. However, it seems that some decided that this young man had not “paid his dues” and was therefore not qualified to run for office. When I asked what exactly does one have to do to “pay their dues” and get the green light from the “powers that be”, I was told, in this instance, he had not been practicing long enough and therefore, had not put in the work to justify his desire to rise to the next level. This thought process as a basis to stop a person from running for office is simply flawed, in my opinion.
There is a great deal of value in a person that is young, enthusiastic, and optimistic. Many of the power brokers that have assumed the responsibility of giving the “green light” are individuals that have held positions of power for so long that they, in my humble opinion, take their positions for granted. Feeling as though they cannot be touched makes them complacent, and they lose the enthusiasm that they once held for these important positions. So, while they have “paid their dues”, are they really doing our community a service? As a witness to complacent leadership I cannot bring myself to embrace the notion that one must “pay their dues” before being given the green light from the “powers that be”, or that one must get the green light from the “powers that be” before seeking to serve. If one has the passion, drive, and skill to do the job and has the ability to have a positive effect on their community, or the world, then why stifle that energy and enthusiasm simply because they are young?
Here are a few examples of young people that may not necessarily have “paid their dues” according to the “powers that be”. I, for one, am glad that they decided to push on regardless of their age.
At the age of 23 John Lewis became chairman of the Student Non-violent coordinating committee.
At the age of 34 Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” in front of approximately 250,000 people. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated at the young age of 39.
Elaine Welteroth was 30 when she was named editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is 29 and was elected by her constituents to represent them in the U.S. House of Representatives last week.
Abby Finkenauer is 29, and, was also elected by her constituents last week to represent them in the U.S. House of Representatives. Finkenauer defeated the 14 year incumbent to become the first congresswoman ever in the state of Iowa.
At the age of 22 Bakari Sellers became the youngest African-American politician in our country when he was elected to the South Carolina state legislature.