Each January, hundreds of middle and high school students walk along Biscayne Bay with FIU students at the Biscayne Bay Campus to reflect and promote the idea of world peace. The Peace Walk is a companion event to the MLK Youth Forum, which seeks to inspire youth to achieve their best and follow the ideals of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Shaun Derik, a speaker and performing artist, has been named the 2015 Youth Forum keynote speaker, which will take place on Wednesday, Jan. 21, at 10 a.m. in the Wolfe University Center ballrooms. The event is free and open to the public.
Derik, who resides in New York, travels the nation to share his inspirational message of becoming your best self and creating positive change in the world. FIU News spoke with Derik about the recent marches and protests following Eric Garner’s death, how he carries on King’s legacy and what challenges youth face today.
What’s your involvement been with the protests in New York in response to Eric Garner’s death?
“A buddy of mine, a march organizer, called me up and said we have to do something,” Derik said. The marches started with 10,000 people and quickly had 20,000 participants. Derik also invited community organizers to his home where he could teach them about how to engage with youth in making the world a better place. He says it’s about empathy for others, not just about race. “Today, everyone has a platform thanks to social media. Whether you have 300 followers or 3,000, every voice counts. If you don’t say anything, it would be a lot louder than if you did.”
How have you been influenced by King?
“He’s one of the greatest speakers of all time and the greatest speaker I’ve ever heard,” he said. “He never wanted to do what he did. He never said ‘can I stand up? I would love this risky job.’ But he responded to a call. There’s something so powerful to responding to a call. That’s purpose, as opposed to career. People need it, as opposed to being wanted. I understand that every time he got up on that stage it was something he was needed for.”
What do you think needs to be done to create the world that King dreamed of?
“This country has created a lot of comfortable people,” Derik said. “When you’re comfortable, there’s no need to fight, respond, act or react because everything’s great for you.” Derik recalled a recent trip to Nashville where his work with the marches was questioned. “They think everything we’re doing [in New York] is ridiculous. They’re saying don’t disturb our great life. We’re trying to make this movement go from inspiration to action – if we get people who don’t look like me, people who are not suffering from police brutality – when they start speaking out, the world listens. I tell all of our community activists and leaders, it’s not just a black thing. What affects one directly affects all of us.”
What are some of the biggest influences and challenges for our youth today?
“They have bucket lists,” Derik said. “Why in the word would a young person make a bucket list? They live for now. They don’t see themselves turning 25 or 35. They’ll smoke, do drugs, they don’t have the future in mind.” Derik says media and ad agencies work to make society believe that they need a product to look smarter, taller, better and that those messages influence the youth 24/7. “There’s a new fight, called social media. You never leave social media.” He also says that young people idolize rappers and celebrities on social media and set unrealistic expectations for their own lives. “In order to make impact, you’ve got to make contact,” he said. “If you want to make a real impact, you’ve got to touch that person. The people you care about the most are the ones you see every day.”
Derik says that his most celebrated workshop with youth includes the concept of saying something: “It’s so easy to be famous these days. The real question is what will I be famous for? Speaking is easy because everyone talks, through social media, texting, [and so on]. Speaking is easy but saying something is the hard part. What do you want to be remembered for?”