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Former Model says Young People Want more than What Pop Culture offers

Youth have a significant part to play in the transformation of our society
by Catholic News Service | Source: Catholic News Service

Young people have been "beaten down" by a message from media and pop culture that anything goes in their personal and public life, but what they really want is to "make a difference in the world," a former fashion model told a New York audience.

"Contrary to popular belief ... all youth want a challenge, they seek purpose and meaning in life; not an easy way to success or opting out of personal and public responsibility," said Leah Darrow. "They desire to make a difference, to put their mark on this great world."

Darrow made the remarks July 25 at the Church of the Holy Family during an event sponsored by the Holy See's permanent observer mission to the United Nations. It was timed to coincide with the U.N. General Assembly's high-level meeting on youths July 25-26.

Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, the Vatican's U.N. nuncio, hosted the event at Holy Family, which drew about 90 people, and he introduced the day's lineup of five young speakers.

Besides Darrow, now on the staff of Catholic Answers, the panelists were Megan Knighton, of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association; Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life of America; and Jeffrey Azize and Michael Campo of Grassroots Films.

The archbishop noted that last August when U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the U.N. International Year of Youth, he said "youth should be given a chance to take an active part in the decision-making of local, national and global levels."

"I could not agree more. We are here today so that your voice can be heard," Archbishop Chullikatt said.

"Youth have a significant part to play in the transformation of our society. Ours is a culture of instant gratification, of quick fixes and the quick buck," he continued. "Today's culture is eager to sideline God to the margins of our society.

"So, yours is the duty to transform culture following Gospel values and principles which are meant to renew societies as well as individuals. This is the challenge that lies before you."

In her remarks, Darrow said after she appeared on a popular TV show "America's Next Top Model," she made fashion modeling her career.

But she ended up creating an image of herself "that lacked authenticity and inner freedom." "It was clear that I was being employed for my body parts rather than my person," she said.

"I wanted to become one of the models on the billboards in Time Square -- this had been reiterated to me by the culture that it would bring fulfillment, purpose and happiness," Darrow said.

But when her picture was finally "hoisted up on that billboard," she realized "the deepest desires of my heart -- to be known, to be loved and to fulfill my purpose in life -- were not met."

Her family and community have helped her make better decisions, she said, and now she is fulfilling her "greater purpose in life -- to love my neighbor and help humanity in not falling."

"Young people desire to be seen as good, as persons with dignity and worthy of our love and support. ... I pray that we, the adults, rise to the challenge of loving them and offering resources and ambassadors who uphold their inherent dignity so that they may live in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity."

Hawkins and Knighton discussed the work of their organizations and showed videos highlighting their mission.

Hawkins said Students for Life of America's goal is to "abolish abortion in our lifetime" and "equip the pro-life generation" on U.S. college campuses. The abortion industry wanted the mothers of today's college students to have an abortion, she said, and now expects these students to support legal abortion.

In the last four years, she said, her organization has helped start more than 330 new student pro-life organizations and has trained more 5,000 students to become pro-life activists.

One project Knighton discussed showed how -- through the efforts of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association -- women and girls are being empowered in Ethiopia and their community life is improving with access to clean water and other resources.

The association serves the churches and peoples of the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe. Its programs focus on formation of clergy, religious and lay leaders, building religious and social service institutions, caring for children in need and humanitarian aid and development.

"We are standing between what has been and what could be and we have a moral responsibility to create a just society which includes a just distribution of services ... and a world where we act out of genuine respect and love for the poor and vulnerable by listening to them and taking seriously what they have to say and what they need," Knighton explained.

She told the young people in the audience that "every good deed, no matter how seemingly small, makes a difference."

Azize and Campo described the work of Grassroots Films, based in Brooklyn. The independent film company aims "to make a change in society, to plant the seed and (promote) the idea that things can be different from what the world says," Campo told Catholic News Service later.

"We all know that culture is affected by film, and our desire is to make great films that not only entertain but enlighten," he added.

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