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Conquest or Collaboration: When Boomers and Millennials meet

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 Conversation Bridging the Generational Divide

Perhaps the most intense generational rivalry of the ages is between Baby Boomers (1946-1964) and Millennials (1980-2000). The boomers, reflecting the largest population cohort in history, then gave birth to a progeny that now outnumber their older predecessors. Somewhere, squeezed quietly in between, are Generation Xers, like the smaller, neglected middle child of the three. Both generations have made enduring marks on politics, culture and social norms that will reverberate long after they pass on. While the aging Boomers, breaded on change and activism, refuse to quietly fade away, Millennials have staked out new demands on their world, transforming the contemporary landscape.

Our Associate and Content Creator Levi Perrin sat down with Richard Montgomery, a longtime McKinney & Associates artistic collaborator. They talked about generational differences and sensibilities with the aim to explore truth or myth to this notion of Boomer-Millennial rivalry. Both Rick and Levi are Hampton University graduates – though their matriculation is separated by more than 30 years. But their work in communications and the values of McKinney & Associates have served as glue in an ever-changing culture.

Here’s their conversation.

Levi: I’d describe Baby Boomers as super ambitious. Both of my parents are Boomers and they, along with the friends’ parents, were always telling us to think big and that we could do or have anything. But, it feels like every day a new article is calling Millennials “entitled” or spoiled and my argument remains that we were taught to go for what we want regardless of what anyone thinks. So, what’s a common misconception from or about our generational cohorts?

Richard: I think we Boomers are the original innovators. We’re the ones who saw opportunity. Growing up during the Civil Rights Movement, we were very optimistic about what the future could bring. Our generation raised yours to be bold and seek new opportunities. Now with the Millennials, there is a common misconception that they’re all slackers – but I disagree. I’d say more privileged because you’ve grown up with so much at your fingertips. However, I think this easy access made things more difficult for you than we realized. It’s harder because with so much available to you, it can be difficult to make decisions or retain information.

Levi Perrin

Levi: Every generation is usually book-ended by a major event. World War I and the Great Depression defined earlier generations. What is the defining moment for Boomers?

Richard: The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and JFK – everybody knows where they were when it happened. I was 9 or 10 at the time when Dr. King was slain, so my parents did what they could to shield me from how horrible the news was and the riots that followed. We felt that – especially as Black people. It was the first major emotional event that I could see how it affected my parents, my neighbors, classmates, everyone.

Levi: For that moment to come at such a young age it mirrors the relationship a lot of Millennials have with 9/11. Everyone remembers what they were doing when it happened. And the country’s response to it almost normalized war for many of us who were either too young to remember Desert Storm or hadn’t been born yet.

Richard: Exactly. Which goes to our generation and Vietnam. When something happens like King’s assassination or 9/11, it completely changes the way you view the world. For us, I think it made us committed to continuing the fight for civil rights and protecting what we had achieved during the 60’s.

Levi: And maybe that optimism that we were raised with started to disappear after the attack. Horrible things could still happen even with our parents attempting to shield us from that reality. What concerns you the most about today?

Richard: Racism has always been here, but the socioeconomic divide bothers me most. There’s a huge part of the country that doesn’t have access to the American Dream, both Black and White. I saw that firsthand growing up in Cleveland when the factory jobs began disappearing. I want to see us do something about the groups of people who are always getting left behind in the national conversation, because this group is only growing bigger and bigger.

Levi: I agree. But, to go further I think that Millennials mistake a lot of Boomers to be wealthy, because in comparison we have a higher cost of living, borrowed way more money to attend college, and came of age in a weak or recovering economy.

Richard: That’s where I cut your generation a lot of slack. For as many advantages as you all have, you have some serious obstacles to overcome that older people just don’t see. You will not retire in 30 years from the same employer. You will have to continually upgrade your technical skill sets to be competitive.

Levi: Following Trayvon Martin, Black Lives Matter and other grassroots organizations have sprung up nationally. As someone who watched the Civil Rights Movement unfold, what do you think about some of the “new” activism?

Richard: Well, I think a clear difference is the emergence of many rights and justice movements represented by different groups. There’s a group for indigenous people, gay rights, women’s rights, Black women’s rights, and so many more. It seems that if you have an issue and a need for advocacy, then there isn’t anything stopping you from mobilizing your own campaign to get your message out.


Levi: Do you think this mass movement of activism is good?

Richard: I do. Different groups are finding common ground to advance mutual interests. We saw it with the Women’s March where many interests and issues came together. Any other day they’d stand alone, but on that particular day many joined together to protest a president that they have shared interests to oppose. Though that’s one example, there so much room for collaboration. And, the mass movement makes sure that no one goes unheard; it encourages everyone to have a voice.

Levi: So, you don’t believe at our core Millennials are that much different than Boomers?

Richard: Not necessarily. Both of us are generations that are unlike any other before us. We have different ways of viewing the world, which is probably due to technology – especially with mobile communication and social media.

Levi: I’ve run into that issue, but it seems like a lot of Boomers are apprehensive on engaging with digital platforms. Sure many are on Facebook, but why do you think they have been slow to plug-in, so to speak?

Richard: We didn’t grow up from such a young age with all the digital platforms being immediately accessible to everyone. There are those in my generation that think engaging in all these new platforms means telling the world all of your business. You guys don’t approach it as putting it all out there, it’s just the way you communicate. It’s the norm.

Levi: If I were to describe Millennials I’d say we are global-minded, fast paced and versatile – because we have been forced to take on different roles all of the time depending on what the need. What’s your thoughts about that?

Richard: I see you guys as the natural progression of us Boomers. Every generation has its own idea of what the next group needs to learn in order to be successful. Thirty, forty years ago we just couldn’t have imagined how much different the world would become. And one day you’ll become the new Boomers, and probably struggle to understand some of the uniqueness of the next generation. Just remember your frustrations with us and try to embrace the changes that come. It should be a lot easier for you. You’ll be talking the same tech language and have a greater respect and appreciation for social sharing in various digital communities.

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