Greg Thompson is director of education for Hyde Family Foundations:

“To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.” – Franklin Roosevelt (1936)

Seventy three years later – with hard economic times befalling us, with racial harmony eluding us, and with the promise of economic and educational equality not yet realized, these words are a renewed calling to this generation of young people assuming the responsibilities of leadership.

In Memphis, we have a legacy of greatness – a city which represents all of the triumphs and failures in the American story. On our soil, the most gifted musicians, revered civil rights leaders, and successful entrepreneurial ventures the world has ever known, have dwelled. Also, on our soil, we have known great tragedy (bigotry, hatred, and the slaying of one of America’s most courageous leaders). That is our heritage (and the story is long from finished).

It’s up to us, particularly our young leaders, to reclaim the greatness of this city which America once crowned the quietest, cleanest, and safest city.

And they are answering that call.

We have inspiring and tireless leaders changing our politics (I think of MPACT and New Path), educators giving our kids, many first generation college goers, a renewed sense of hope and optimism (I think of some of the charter schools, Jubilee schools and Teach for America loaded with talent), young community leaders attacking poverty, homelessness, joblessness (I think of Seedco, New Directions, Habitat for Humanity) and many others which are too numerous to name.

The call of this generation is to not just lead our nation’s best companies, but also our best social enterprises tackling society’s most pressing problems. Now, more than ever, we need our nation’s brightest minds formulating solutions to what holds us back as a nation (a well-educated workforce capable of maintaining the country’s economic competitiveness, equality of the races – not just equalizing of civic rights but true equalizing of the opportunities for economic and social mobility).

We are, and have always been, a nation of doers. We have faith, but we also act, we have hope, but we also have the will. Our diversity is not a source of division but one of strength. The world has never produced a more idealistic civilization filled with the spirit of faith, charity, volunteerism, and patriotism. As president elect Obama has frequently said “Only in America is his story possible.” I would also add that his story became possible in a nation, which facing many great odds, should not have been possible. But we, with all of our ideals, did become possible.

As we enter 2009, I humbly encourage you all to realize that our city, and what we make of it, will define not only our own destiny, but America’s destiny. Memphis, as one of the first African American-dominated cities, has been an historical battlefield for the fight for human justice, and we can become the first city to capitalize on American diversity in all of its splendor.