Editor’s Note: This column was originally published on gospeltoday.com.

Sharisse M. Alexander
Sharisse M. Alexander

What legacy will our children leave? What cause will our youth stand for in their generation?

During Black History Month, we reflect as a nation on the accomplishments of African Americans. From the injustices of slavery to the innovators of our time, we remember those who are strong and courageous, and who make a difference, despite any obstacles.

While reflecting on the past is necessary, we must also encourage our youth to realize their potential and dream for a brighter future.

A recent conversation with a friend stirred my heart for change. While speaking to a group of African American boys, my friend posed the question, “Who is Martin Luther King Jr.?” After receiving many blank stares, one boy replied, “Is that the man that stood in the back of the bus?”

The concern is about accuracy, but even more about relevancy. Our youth need to see themselves in the lives of those that have gone before them. They must recognize that the same strength, courage, power, and creativity lives inside them. Unless they see a connection, they will reduce black history to mere facts.

Black History isn’t about learning a bunch of facts. It’s about connecting with the courageous generations that had faith to make a difference in our world.

We can stir a passion in our youth to be change agents and live faith-filled lives. We can encourage them to:

1. Be responsible – The choices that our children make now will influence their lives in years to come. We must train our children to take responsibility for their actions. Through our example, we can show them the beauty and blessings that come with hard work, discipline and maintaining good character. (Proverbs 22:6)

2. Be bold – Many leaders of the civil rights movement were young when they stood for change. Similarly, we can encourage our youth to pursue their dreams now. The Bible says, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12 NIV)

There are no limits to what our youth can accomplish, as long as we believe in them.

We can ask powerful questions to spark their imaginations, such as:

• What are you going to do with your life?
• What passion burns in your heart?
• What idea could make the world a better place if it became reality?

Our children should know about the African American struggle, but more important, they should know about the strength we have as a people to do great things!

3. Be compassionate – Our culture is rich with stories of young men and women who stood for something greater than themselves. Our youth can follow in the footsteps of great African American leaders by getting involved in organizations and agencies that reach out to others.

Here’s a few:

Big Brothers, Big Sisters
Volunteer Match
Feeding America

The legacy of our children begins with the leadership they receive today. We can stir our youth to stand for righteousness in their generation. Ultimately, their names can be written in the pages of history books, not as statistics, but influencers who dared to dream.

Sharisse M. Alexander lives in Charlotte and is a middle school teacher and author of “In His Presence.” A graduate of Hampton University, she also received a Masters of Arts in Teaching degree from Wingate University. Sharisse has worked in Christian ministry for several years and enjoys encouraging others in the Word of God.