Millennials are the products of a generation who had to fight to survive.  Our parents’ fight enabled us to receive much more than we ever had to give. We are the generation of hand-ups and hand-outs. We are a generation of scholarships and fellowships. We are the generation of “I’ll take that sushi with low-sodium soy sauce”. We are the generation of looking to Bey and Jay, Drake and Kanye, the way our parents looked at civil rights leaders and activists.  As many of us in our 20s and 30s enjoy a life of bottle popping and unlimited mimosa Sunday brunches, have we somehow forgotten about giving back?

I have been building my civic career for more than ten years.  In that time, I’ve come to notice a consistent trend: an overwhelming number of people working in our communities don’t look like the people being served. Though it should not matter the color of a helping hand, to see the face of someone that looks like you helping instills a sense of uplift and encouragement that only we can give to one another.

Young urban professionals have a lot riding on our shoulders. We are expected to win. We are expected to take The Dream and make it a reality. We are expected to be the change. However, many of us may be waiting to ‘get our money right’. We may be waiting for more free time. We may even be waiting for ‘better’ titles to feel like we can make an impact in our community.


This is the stage of the game where not only can we win professionally; we can win civically too. Now is the time to begin to groom ourselves to win through social investment, philanthropy and community service.

Giving is a strategic behavior that takes practice to perfect. Therefore, it must begin early. We are in the prime of our lives with nothing but space and opportunity. Why not share the gifts we have with our own communities now?

We need not be intimidated by the financial commitments of giving. Giving circles are an excellent place to start. Giving circles allow you to pool your money with other like-minded individuals, thus increasing the value and reach of your donation.  For example, if you and ten of your friends choose a charity and collectively donate $50 each, that is a $550 donation that organization now has because of your shared efforts.

Another area we can begin to make a difference in is through mentoring. Mentoring is not just a professional rite of passage; it is a personal commitment to the growth and development of a young person. Susan Taylor’s National CARES Mentoring Movement has served more than 125,000 young people because people just like you and I simply gave an hour of their time. Yes, just an hour.

And of course, there is volunteering. The great sacrifice of time we don’t really have because we are climbing ladders and attending happy hours. The devil is a liar! Volunteering is one of the most rewarding forms of giving- and it costs you nothing. It allows you to tap into the skills that actually exist outside your office. There are organizations that meet our needs such as, an online microvolunteering network and VolunteerMatch, a national site that matches you with a volunteer opportunity to match.

As the generation of can’t tell me nothing, there’s one thing you can learn today: “Service is the rent we pay for living”. Mary Wright Edelman didn’t say those words in vain. She said them so we will pay on time and not be late. How will you begin your service today?

Ebonie Johnson Cooper is a writer and blogger with a passion for community engagement and giving. Her energy can be read weekly on Friends of Ebonie, the digital platform aimed to educate and motivate 20 & 30 somethings to give back. Ebonie enjoys singing off-key, dancing on beat and eating cake a la mode. She currently resides in Washington, DC but home is Brooklyn, NY. Follow her on @EbsTheWay.