Times and circumstances create new leaders, and the torch is passed on to the new generation. Common to great leaders is the ability to articulate what is in the hearts and minds of people, instill hope and the belief that we have the power to determine our destiny.

Leaders often come into our lives during hard times when they are most needed. President Franklin Roosevelt gave us hope that helped us through the Depression and World War II; President Ronald Reagan made us believe in ourselves and be proud to be American. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the fight to overcome the injustices and civil rights violations brought upon people simply because of the color of their skin. He spoke on behalf of the powerless and gave them hope that, with peaceful means, they could help the nation to fight injustice.

His dream was that one day his children would live in a nation where they would be judged not by the color of their skin but the content of their character.

Now, the word of the day is "change," seen by many as a thing with a conclusion, an end. However, leaders view change as a movement that has endless possibilities. They don't expect to see the results of their vision, rather to inspire, give hope and bring people together around a common cause.

Those of us who lived through the civil rights struggle of the '60s still tend to see the racial barriers and injustices and continue to fight the same battles. We want to tell the new generation of the discrimination and injustices we endured because of our color, and tell them they are better off because of the struggles we fought and won. Forget it. Each generation sees the world from its own experiences. The older generation sees the glass as half empty, while the new one sees it as half full. The older generation still sees roadblocks; the new generation sees opportunities. Some of the new generation can't understand why applications for work or college invite them to identify their race. Many come from a mix of cultures and fail to see the differences. They wonder where they can check "none," "some" or "all of the above."

The beauty in how many young people see America today is that they don't seem preoccupied with race. They are coming up with their own leaders. Their leaders have the same qualities found in all leaders. They are saying what is in the hearts and minds of their generation and building on their hopes instead of fears, calling them to work together to create a new beginning for our country.

They are not waiting for someone to tell them who they are; they are creating their own identity and celebrating their varied roots. The previous generation fought to open the doors of opportunity for the new generation, and they are preparing themselves to walk through them, as many are doing now. We all have much to learn from them, if we dare to do so.

They are overcoming the vestiges of injustices by becoming leaders in the corporate boardrooms, professional ranks and political offices — local, national and the White House. They are the ones who are changing the face of America and forging a new day for all of us. Dr. King's dream that some day all will be judged not by the color of their skin but the content of their character seems closer to reality.


Utah native John Florez has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations, served on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch and on more than 45 state, local and volunteer boards. He also has been deputy assistant secretary of labor. E-mail: [email protected]