ADORA MORA: I feel like our generation kind of has ADD in terms of you can't just sit down and, you know, let's relax. Okay? (laughter)
I'd say quick, fast, in a hurry is pretty much our motto. We want it. We want it now.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And 18-year-old Adora Mora is a woman in a hurry. Now, a freshman at Harvard University, Adora comes from a family of over-achievers … the sixth of eight children born to Nigerian immigrants, her father, Bosa, an accountant who works from home. Her mother Jini, a pharmacist.
JUDY WOODRUFF: With the exception of the two youngest, each of the Mora children is attending or has graduated from a prestigious university or graduate school with the help of scholarships or financial aid.
ADORA MORA: My parents, when they said they had money problems, they let everyone know. Even though, you know, at a young age you might not have understood. They let us know.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Despite their limited income, Adora's parents made a decision early on to send all eight children to catholic schools … creating both opportunities and challenges.
ADORA MORA: I live in two worlds. The world of Bishop Hartley, upper class, mainly white, and the other world, my home, my community, mainly African-American, poor. It's different, it's like day and night. And trying to reconcile both of those its been an arduous task.
I think I'm not black enough to be black. But I'm not white enough to be white, obviously.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Not black enough to be black? What do you mean by that?
ADORA MORA: Just the stereotype of being black. The slang. I don't know all the slang because my schooling was in a white world, the way I speak, the way I dress, it's different. It's not the same. I don't walk with, you know, hair-dos up here, weaves, ponytails, I don't do that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think they accept you? Other African-Americans … other African-Americans here?
ADORA MORA: I think they accept me, they respect me, but they may not like me.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You were president of the student body, and yet this was all going on.
ADORA MORA: Yeah.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Two things, people would say, that doesn't compute. How could you be elected head of student government if you were you know having this kind of -- these kinds of issues socially?
ADORA MORA: It wasn't as if I didn't talk to anyone. It wasn't as if I didn't have any friends. But -- they just didn't develop. They weren't extremely deep relationships with people. People can easily ask you, hey, you know, join our group. Let's work on this stuff together.
But they won't ask, you know, what are you doing this weekend? You know you want to come out and party with us. It's different.
JUDY WOODRUFF: That sounds like a lot of pressure on a young woman like you. On anyone of your age.
ADORA MORA: Well, that's the pressure aspiring African-American youth who want to break the stereotype face these days. You just have to make sacrifices one way or another. Some sacrifice family. I chose sacrifice social life a little bit … to a certain extent.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So what did you give up?
ADORA MORA: I gave up, I guess, I gave up caring.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But Adora does care about her volunteer work mentoring children at the local community center.
ADORA MORA: I think you always have to think about the next generation.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What -- like what? What would you say?
ADORA MORA: I'd say, we as African-Americans, the older generation, should have taught us more. My peers call each other niggers and stuff like that. I never really … I don't really say that, never understood that. But just the fact that we say it means that people really haven't taught us what, exactly, that meant. So that's what I have to say about that.
When you think of where we've been and how far we're going, it just makes me angry sometimes of what we've had to go through.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Her passion is clearly on display as Adora takes center stage at a community center spoken word performance … reciting a poem she wrote about her heritage.
ADORA MORA: Say to the world you can't keep me down. I rose from your struggle. You will hear my sound. On each page of history I will tell my story. Of how blacks like me, achieved freedom and glory.
A ghetto poet, the black Moses
JUDY WOODRUFF: Sharing the stage is Adora's good friend Chaz Hillmon
… a full time employee of the community center and a fellow poet.
CHAZ HILLMON: Despite all that I've been through, though, I do know who I am. See, I'm a black man, also known as the ghetto's poet. I stand before you as an equal, to repeat sequels, to reach the steeples of your mind. So … I would lead you to the promised land because I'm the black Moses.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You write poetry -- why?
CHAZ HILLMON: In all honesty, in all of my education in middle school, elementary school, and high school I was very quiet, the outcast, pretty much kept to myself, but I always had a lot of things to say. But I didn't know how to say it. So poetry was my way to get everything off my chest.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Raised by his mother and grandfather, Chaz grew up in this tough, Columbus neighborhood … staying clear of trouble while many of his friends did not. Now 20 years old, he tried college a couple of times, but never finished.
CHAZ HILLMON: Since I needed a job to pretty much help run the
household, I pretty much had to put school on hold for a while.
But since working at central community house, they are able to
pay for me to go back to school as long as I go for my early childhood
JUDY WOODRUFF: While Chaz may eventually find success, half the
black men in America's inner cities never finish high school …
and 50 percent of black men in their 20s without a college education
are jobless … that is twice the rate for whites and Hispanics.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You talk about education and some people your age look at the military as a way to pay for their education. Did you ever consider that?
CHAZ HILLMON: No. No. Even in high school I said I would never
join the military. One of my biggest role models was Muhammad
Ali. For the simple fact that he stood against not joining the
JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there anything that you think is worth fighting for?
CHAZ HILLMON: Family and religion. That's it. That's the only thing I will fight for. I'm not willing to die for a country while my neighborhood itself is still in poverty.
I'm trying to help out a local situation here first. That's where I want to have work here first. Until I see a change in that, I can't help the nation.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What kind of conflict are you talking about locally?
CHAZ HILLMON: Drugs, prostitution, poverty. Right now we're fighting the war to just raise minimum wage up. Just a few cents. If we could finally get all of those conflicts resolved here first, then I may decide to fight for the nation.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Chaz loves his work at the community center … but still struggles to get by.
CHAZ HILLMON: I have a college loan from when I went to OSU. I have
credit card bills. I have cell phone bills … about to have the
utilities of -- of my house put in my name. It's just so much
It's stressful that I'm trying to balance the needs and my wants. And I'm trying to take care of the bills but also trying to make sure that I have enough money where I could get groceries and have enough money to maintain my car. Make sure that it's up and running. Make sure I have gas in it. It's just -- (laughter) it's tiring just to think about it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Not long ago, people with just a high school diploma
-- or even without one -- could count on a well-paying, usually
blue-collar job, usually protected by labor unions, with benefits
and pensions. Not any more. Although the economy has continued
to grow -- many new jobs today are in the low-paying service sector,
frequently with no benefits at all.
This lack of opportunity for those with less education is a grim reality for this generation -- one that only promises to grow worse, especially in the face of expanding global competition.
From our interactive kiosk here's what other Gen Nexters had to say about the economy and their futures.
STEFANIE THORNTON, 22, Fayetteville, Ark.: Most people, especially in the area I'm from, don't go past high school. But high school is no longer appropriate for just getting basic jobs and money for their family.
MATT KINDIG, 21, Bourbon, Ind.: There's a big gap between the rich and poor. So I think if the trend keeps happening that way, then the standard of living -- there will be a big separation between rich class and the poor class and the middle class will shrink up.
GERMAN MORALES, Chicago, Ill.: The way my mom is working right now, struggling to get from one check to another, even with dad helping out, is a struggle for me and my sister, for the four of us. And I just don't want that. I want to do everything in my power to prevent that from happening to my kid.
KARL SRUBAR, Fort Worth, Texas: We live day to day, we couldn't
care less what happens tomorrow as long as we're happy and satisfied
with what's going on today in our lives we're good to go. Maybe
we'll wisen up someday and say, oh, we have a family and kids
to take care of, so let's get our butts in gear and start planning
for the future for them.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The urban environment of Manhattan's Lower East Side where Anya Kamenetz now lives, stands in sharp contrast to Baton Rouge and New Orleans, La. where she grew up.
ANYA KAMENETZ: We've been living here for about a year and half. And we picked the neighborhood because people said it was the last bargains downtown.
JUDY WOODRUFF: With the help of scholarships and the generosity of her grandparents, Anya graduated from Yale without any student debt of her own.
An expert on the topic since writing Generation Debt, Anya first reported on her generation's finances as a freelance writer for a series in the Village Voice newspaper.
ANYA KAMENETZ: Immediately I discovered that, you know, this was the story of my friends, this was the story of people that I met -- what was happening to young people around the country was part of a bigger pattern. Student loan debt, credit card debt, the changes in the job market, the fact that the old middle class bargain was no longer working the way that it was supposed to work for people my age.
Statistics show that people these days in their 20s are holding about 10 jobs for their first 10, 12 years in the workforce. And so, with all that leaping around, it becomes a lot harder to pursue, you know, a simple kind of plan, a one point plan or a five point plan.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Is your interest in the entire generation, or is it principally in those who are students, who are continuing their education in college?
ANYA KAMENETZ: No, my interest is absolutely in the entire generation. You have about half the students who are going to college, getting some experience, but only … less than a third come out with a degree. And so there's this large gray area of people, dropouts.
And that is an incredibly interesting group to me because they're people that took that chance, made that investment, and for some reason or another it didn't come through. And that's who I think we really need to be focusing on right now.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you think … or do you think there's something particularly remarkable about your generation?
ANYA KAMENETZ: You know, generations are defined in hindsight, and they're defined by history. And it's going to be history that's going to write the book on this generation. I think that the history that's going to be written about my generation is going to talk about how we've responded to unbelievable challenges like no other generation for at least this century, I think. I mean, when you're talking about America's place in the world, when you're talking about global warming … when you're talking about just dealing with inequality, even in the country and within the world. The question is gonna be, how did young people respond? How did the generation, my generation stand up and respond to those?
And I think that that is yet to be written.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The challenges that face this generation are all too well known ... terrorism, the Middle East, immigration, the environment, and how we will pay for health care and social security.
Yet, most young people we surveyed believe they live in a more exciting time, have more freedoms, and are more able to bring about social change, when compared to young adults 20 years ago.
They're developing new ideas and using technology to connect instantly with people here and around the world. And they are brimming with optimism about what the future holds.
As a mother of three between the ages of 16 and 25, I thought I knew something about Generation Next when I started this project. But -- no surprise -- I've found out that there was much more to discover than I ever dreamed.
I have come away mainly heartened by what I've learned.
Sure there are bumps along the way. But I'm optimistic that like every generation before them, they have the capacity for greatness that the times call for.
I'm Judy Woodruff. Thank you for joining us.