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Seeing Things as They Could Be, Not as They Are Seeing Things as They Could Be, Not as They Are

Seeing Things as They Could Be, Not as They Are

by Patrick Dowd
December 17, 2013

This past summer, I went on an epic train journey across America in the inspired company of 24 pioneering millennials. With the help of the GOOD community and about 1,000 individuals, they had crowdfunded their way on board with innovative projects focused on some our nation’s greatest challenges. Our inaugural journey was an example of what can happen when diverse groups of people come together to support the aspirations of one generation. It was the first in a series of journeys run by our Millennial Trains Project, the next of which will venture from Los Angeles to Miami in March 2014.

To paraphrase one of our on-train mentors: the point of traveling within these United States is not to see things as they are, but to see them as they could be — as we might yet make them.

From big data to reproductive health, poetry, energy innovation, and food waste, the projects on board our inaugural journey explored big ideas at the local level in San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Denver, Omaha, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Washington D.C. Armed with imagination in one hand and curiosity in the other, they tested their ideas on a national scale and came away emboldened to more powerfully lead, serve, design, and create for the common good.

We collected stories.

Catherine Meyer explored her Arab ancestry through a photographic essay: "As a Millennial whose coming of age coincided with 9/11, a war in Iraq and an Arab Spring; I quickly realized that most Americans’ perceptions of Arab culture were not formed with the Steve Jobs or the Khalil Gibrans of the world in mind. My contemporaries were defining Arab culture by the political turmoil of the Middle East rather than by the people who live in it.  On the Millennial Trains Project, I set out to meet Arab Americans in cities across the US to contribute a new storyline where the community’s values, hopes and experiences could take center stage."

We answered questions.

Sean Kolodziej was put in an unexpected situation: "Not many internships for college students list 'travel across the U.S. on a train with a group of entrepreneurs' as a part of the job description. I was assigned to such a task during my internship this past summer with Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union in St. Paul, Minnesota. I had a mission to establish new methods that would engage the millennial generation in their personal finances, which took understanding how my peers currently managed their student loans, credit cards, credit scores, and budgeting."

We formed business ideas.

Daniella Uslan describes her journey as a chance to find direction after her three-year public health fellowship at UNC Chapel-Hill: "Because Americans throw out an astounding 40 percent of food each year, a value of $165 billion, my goal onboard the Millennial Train was to find ways to improve healthy food access for the 23.5 million people who live in food deserts, or areas that lack fresh fruit and vegetable options. I set out to answer two questions. The first was, “In what ways do people recover food destined for the landfill and reintroduce it to the market in a meaningful way?” And the second was perhaps the more daunting, “Where should I go with my career?” After her trip, she decided to create a food business that would flash freeze misshapen or bruised produce and sell it to corner stores in rural areas and food deserts. 

Now, we want you involved.

For our next journey this March, MTP is putting out an open call to the new pioneers among us. Starting in Los Angeles, we will travel to Albuquerque, Kansas City, Louisville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, and Miami. In each city, participants will advance projects of their own design, meet with local innovators, and see our country as never before. Anyone age 18-34 is eligible to crowdfund their way on board as a participant, and older individuals can apply to serve as mentors.

We know from our last journey that there is an incredible amount of entrepreneurial energy in America’s often-overlooked small and medium-sized cities. Geographically speaking, these are the new frontiers of opportunity for our generation. And, to be sure, there is no better way to do this than on a train, in the company of other young people who want to build up our country through their diverse passions.

Our trains move at a pace that allows us to disconnect from the frenetic pace of modern life so that we have time to think deeply, listen intently, and really learn from one another. They also provide a window onto awe-inspiring landscapes that comprise the very bedrock of our national heritage. And, we got a glimpse of our future, seeing that many more young people will have the opportunity to explore the scale of opportunities and challenges that exists across America via mobile, rail-based innovation labs.

We look forward to sharing this incredible platform with more communities in the coming year, and hope that you’ll consider sharing the opportunity to apply for our next journey in March with those that inspire you. Share your innovative idea below. Add the application to your To-Do list here.

This project is part of GOOD's series Push for Good—our guide to crowdsourcing creative progress.

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