5 Millennials Who Inspired Us in 2017

We The People was created to highlight and share the amazing work of millennials across the country in multiple fields with the goal of extending the American Dream to all people. 2017 was a year of action, especially for millennials; so much so that we have deemed 2017 the year of the Millennial Revolution. We have highlighted many of these inspiring stories and have a few more to share before the end of season 2, but wanted to uplift our Top 5. These 5 millennials inspired us this past year and look to see much more from them in 2018. 

Check out our list below, and feel free to add someone in the comment section that has inspired you this past year.

1. Chance the Rapper, Musician & Philanthropist

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Chance the Rapper, a native Chicagoan, is a musician, producer, actor and philanthropist. He has always been gifted in music, but wasn't always sure where it would take him. In high school he was known as a class clown. In 2013 he began gaining recognition after the release of his album Acid Rap, and the rest is history. He has worked with Kanye West to Kirk Franklin and everyone in between. In 2017 he won 3 Grammy's for his album Coloring Book. As he continues to progress in his career he has never forgotten where he came from, the city of Chicago. His philanthropic organization, Social Works, hosts many free events throughout the city and has partnered with multiple organizations and foundations to donate millions to Chicago Public Schools for the advancement of music and arts education. This past summer in addition to the many accolades he has received, he was awarded the 2017 BET Humanitarian Award. 

2. Randall Woodfin, Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama

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Randall Woodfin is the 30th and current Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama. Prior to being elected, he served as the President of the Birmingham City School Board and as an Assistant City Attorney for the City of Birmingham. This Morehouse alum is the youngest mayor the city has seen since 1893. Randall built a platform centered on improving the city’s safety and bettering the sense of trust between citizens and City Hall. “Our city, our 23 communities, our 99 neighborhoods, you have all spoken very clearly – we deserve better,” Woodfin said during his victory speech. 

3. Elaine Welteroth, Editor-in-Chief of Teen VOGUE

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Elaine Welteroth is the editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue. She is only the second African-American in Condé Nast's 107-year history to hold this title. Elaine's quick rise is a testament to her hard work. Within a matter of years she was an intern at Ebony Magazine, assistant to the Editor-in-Chief, and then in 2011, Beauty and Style editor. She later moved to Glamour magazine as the Senior Editor, and in 2012 made the move to Teen Vogue as the Beauty & Health Director. Condé Naste officially named Welteroth editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue on April 29, 2017. She is credited for the notable increase of Teen Vogue coverage of politics and social justice, encouraging readers to become civically engaged, specifically during the 2016 presidential election. Under Welteroth's leadership of Teen Vogue's shifting format, the magazine developed its first YouTube channel, featuring content on diverse subjects from campus style to cultural appropriation. 

4. Miguel Solice, President of Latino Center for Leadership Development

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Miguel Solis is the youngest board member and youngest board president ever elected to the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees. Having served the students of Dallas as a teacher, administrator, trustee, and advocate, Miguel knows what it takes to transform Dallas ISD Schools. Miguel grew up in Port Author, Texas and went to college at both Lamar and Harvard University. In addition to his work as a Dallas ISD Board member, he also serves as the President of the Latino Center for Leadership Development where he works to cultivate a pipeline of leaders, optimize their strengths and talents, and engage them in thought and practice to meet the growing demand for leadership in the Latino community.

5. Tamika Mallory, Activist & National Co.Chair for the Women's March

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Tamika Mallory a native New Yorker is no stranger to organizing and lending her voice to the equal treatment of women and people of color. Interestingly enough, her parents were founding members of Reverend Al Sharpton's National Action Network (NAN). Their work was a major inspiration for Tamika's interest in social justice and civil rights. She later became the youngest Executive Director at NAN stepping down in 2013 to begin her own work. After a personal death in her immediate family, she has since been dedicated to stronger gun restriction laws. She worked very closely with the Obama administration on gun control legislation, and has also advised Vice President Joe Biden. Tamika, alongside other great women organized the Women's March, a worldwide protest on January 21, 2017. This march advocated for women's rights, immigration reform, LGBTQIA rights, healthcare reform, environmental reform, Palestinian rights, racial justice, and racial equality. It was the largest single-day protest in US history. Tamika was recently awarded the ALC Co-Chair’s Phoenix Award in recognition of her exemplary leadership and profound impact on social justice and civil rights advocacy at the 2017 Congressional Black Caucus' Phoenix Awards Dinner.

Editorial: Criminal Justice, Violence and Trauma among Chicago's Youth

Contributing Author: Cristina Orozco

“We need to reframe what we see as the problem to have any hope at a solution.”  - Dr. Selwyn Rogers

Violence is a disease, a virulent one at that, disproportionately affecting Chicago’s young black males. This fatal narrative isn’t new, yet “has been reduced to statistics on TV. We need to talk about this in the context of humanity.” Kim Foxx said. Her panel at the Chicago Cultural Center on June 9th on trauma, violence, and the impact of the criminal justice system on young black males did just that.

Kim Foxx, Cook County State Attorney, framed the discussion with the reality of the numbers.

  • “4% of the population accounts for 50% of the murders in Chicago” she said. In 2016 alone, 754 people were murdered in Chicago.
  • 19% were between the ages of 10-19. 
  • 45% were between the ages of 20-29.

Practitioners on the panel explored the need to look at violence as a disease, the correlation between perpetrators and victims, and how a trauma informed approach can drastically alter the perception and treatment of these young men. Shari Runner, President & CEO of Chicago Urban League, also grounded the discussion with critical context: These young men are growing up in areas that have historically been impoverished and have struggled with unemployment.

Merriam Webster defines trauma as: “disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury.” A highly contagious symptom, trauma touches all with ties to the system: “We are traumatizing people. Victims are men of color and we won’t resource it. I’m traumatized from just working in the system” said Candace Jones, who earlier in her career ran a Cook County juvenile detention center. 

Panelist Eddie Bocanegra, Director of YMCA Metro Chicago Youth Safety & Violence Prevention, made a startling confession midway through the discussion; with roots from a low-income neighborhood in Chicago he had spent almost 14 years incarcerated, punishment for committing robbery at 18 years old. But this former inmate is also an alum of the prestigious University of Chicago. Eddie gave voice to the wish that he was the norm and not the exception: “You see my suit but what you don’t see are my tattoos and scars, the psychological and emotional trauma that I’m still dealing with” he said.

Kim Foxx and many others who did not feel safe growing up in their communities are examples of positive deviance. A term introduced during the discussion, positive deviance is based on “the observation that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers, while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges.[1]

Eddie’s story is why I am not only hopeful, but committed to inspiring action. Exceptions, or positive deviants, are changing the narrative. In my seat at the Chicago Cultural Center I realized something - I am surrounded by positive deviants who are making an impact every single day.

But this work cannot be done alone: “We need to challenge the Trump supporters who still think he is doing a good job…How do we break down these walls that were built before he brought them up?” Shari said.

While I may not know exactly how, I am hopeful that we WILL figure out how. By changing the conversation to one of chronic disease, where the “cure” is NOT working” we are shaping the solution: “The reasons why these zip codes have concentrated poverty – this is not an accident…the poor are demonized in our country. We have to decide as a country, as a community, that we are doing this wrong. We need to decide to invest in the community vs. things that aren’t working and locking everyone up” said John Legend.

In the words of Eddie: “A person has hope until they are in a box.”

Panelists: Candace Jones (Senior Advisor at Arne Duncan’s Emerson Collective), Dr. Selwyn Rogers (Director of the University of Chicago Adult Trauma Center), Eddie Bocanegra (Director of YMCA Metro Chicago Youth Safety & Violence Prevention) and Shari Runner (President & CEO of Chicago Urban League). Kim Foxx, John Legend

[1] http://www.positivedeviance.org


Christina Orozsco currently is the Senior Associate of College Success at Chicago Scholars where she works to support first generation students. Cristina attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned a Bachelor’s degree in History. Cristina enjoys reading, listening to her favorite Spotify playlists, and bragging about how she is from the most important city in the world, New York.