Bad economy may spark renaissance

It’s amazing how time flies.

I took a peek at the calendar recently and realized that this graduation season marks 20 years since I wore the cap and gown.

When I graduated from Howard University in 1989, media jobs were plentiful; journalism was a growth industry.

Back then I looked forward to living in a big city, making more money each succeeding year, buying that house, growing in affluence.

All the indicators pointed upward. George H. Bush was president, the economy boomed and the possibilities seemed endless at the time.

But within a few years, as the 2002 election approached, the economy soured and I spent many afternoons interviewing middle-aged white guys, who had lost their six-figure jobs on Wall Street.

Sound familiar?

We’re experiencing one of those periods that shake our faith in the future.

This recession has been accompanied by the loss of 5.1 million jobs; thousands are being tossed on the street after banks foreclose on their dream homes.

With an 8.5 percent unemployment rate and rising, first time job-seekers are competing fiercely against experienced older workers for a shrinking number of jobs.

This could be a long, hot summer.

While individual graduates may have personal stories of hardship and want, the class of 2009 as a whole has little frame of reference to understand the perilous times in which we live.

These are uncharted, choppy waters.

This generation may be too young to know or appreciate the business cycle – periods of boom and bust that characterize American history.

But that’s life.

Better days will return.

There’s no guarantee of when or how soon, but they will.

The uncertainty and bloodletting of 2009 will eventually give way to optimism and another bull market.

But can we hang on until the good times return?

It is imperative that we all do.

The pay off is worth it.

This FAMU graduating class will walk away with something that no other graduation class even dreamed of.

There is an African American in the White House.

Despite the current gloom and doom, that radically changes the parameters of their ability to dream.

The expectations have never been higher; this time for real the possibilities are truly endless.

But tough times demand that you stand and deliver.

Decades ago, the Harlem Renaissance, the unprecedented cultural and artistic flowering of African American literature and culture, fizzled under the weight of the Wall Street collapse and the subsequent Great Depression.

The current worldwide recession is being viewed in similar terms.

But unlike generations ago, this downturn must be seen as a beginning, not an ending, an opportunity, not an obstacle.

These worst of times are the perfect time for our young, our graduates to spark another renaissance, not simply of art and culture – although one is sourly overdue – but a renaissance in excellence, innovation and entrepreneurship.

We’ve given them the tools. Go out and use them.

Andrew Skerritt is an assistant professor of journalism and adviser to the Famuan.