New York Times Bestselling Author Luvvie Ajayi Jones Wants Teens To Change the World by Making Good Trouble
Before Luvvie Ajayi Jones was an internationally recognized speaker, two-time New York Times bestselling author, and podcast host, she was a bold young girl navigating an unexpected move from Nigeria to the United States.
She's built a platform that emphasizes the importance of speaking the truth, being authentic, and owning your boldness to propel you toward your dreams. Now she's expanding that message to reach the next generation of youth and inspire them to lean into John Lewis' call to make "good trouble." She credits her ability to stand tall to the adults in her life, namely two fierce Nigerian women—her mother and grandmother.
"When I came out with Professional Troublemaker in March 2021, so many people were talking about how they're sharing the message with their teenagers and how they wish they had heard it when they were 17 or when they were 15," Ajayi Jones told Kindred by Parents.com in an interview.
She says many people ask teens what they want to be, but few people tell them it's OK to be unsure. Parents and mentors can help with this process. "So if people think [adults] have it together, imagine how teenagers are feeling," she says. "We're asking them what they want to be when they grow up; meanwhile, that answer is going to change." She knows many adults were learning that it's OK to be uncertain and fight fear with her second book, Professional Troublemaker, released in 2021. She wants children to learn that message—and the power of their voices—earlier.
Her latest book, Rising Troublemaker: A Fear-Fighter Manual For Teens, does that by encouraging the next generation of youth to own who they are and feel empowered to change the world.
Ajayi Jones says her family encouraged her to use and develop her voice and taught her that her perspectives mattered. She says this is especially important for Black youth who are labeled as problems, over-punished, and criminalized.
Black parents and caretakers know this and often worry about the consequences their children might face in the larger world. "Black parents live in this world where Black kids get in trouble for just showing up—for just being themselves," she says. "It's really important for parents to double down on the idea that they matter, their feelings matter, their thoughts matter."
She asks parents to "imagine if we were told early on that the thing that made us different is our superpower that we shouldn't be ashamed of it." Ajayi Jones believes we achieve this by preparing our children to speak up for themselves and get into "good trouble" which is credited to the late civil rights activist and senator John Lewis. He spoke of "good and necessary trouble as a pathway to redeeming the soul of America," saying, "I want to see young people in America feel the spirit of the 1960s and find a way to get in the way. To find a way to get in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble."
She leans into Lewis's vision noting that being a troublemaker isn't "creating random chaos." It's teaching youth the power of their voices and when to use them. For parents and caretakers, it can also mean reframing the qualities that are labeled "problematic" or "disruptive" as essential for changing the world.
"We talked too much when we were little, and now we're making these great livings as speakers, as hosts, as people who are using their words to impact the world," Ajayi Jones says. "Imagine if kids were told early that you have permission to be in this world and be audacious—you can be somebody who takes up space without apology."
She says you can spot a professional or rising troublemaker by their commitment to changing the world for the better. "They're the ones saying and doing the hard things; they're people who just feel this conviction to be a part of positive impact," she says this can be done online or in person. "And to do that and be a troublemaker, you're gonna have to do scary things."
Ajayi Jones says youth learn from, and model themselves after, the adults around them and that she didn't realize how much she had modeled and how much she learned from her grandmother.
"We all know like an older Black woman who takes up space where you can't tell her nothing, who's been to hell and back—for me that was my grandmother," she says. "Even when we don't realize it, we're picking up certain things from them. We're modeling ourselves after them."
Her grandmother was crucial in teaching Ajayi Jones the power of her voice. She says that parents can support youth by letting them know it's OK to be uncertain, to change plans, and to be afraid.
Personally, she's felt what's on the other side of fear most viscerally while skydiving. "I think about that moment about how the fear could have stopped me from doing it," she says. "Even when we're talking about speaking the truth and showing up in this world, we're often afraid of those moments, and so we'll stop."
She believes Gen Z, the next generation of youth—especially activist Marley Dias, actress and producer Marsai Martin, and national spelling bee champion and world record holder Zaila Avant-garde—are perfectly situated to change the world. And if we give them the tools to lead, they'll show us the way.
"They have the language we didn't have—they're actually more of troublemakers. We asked for permission. They do not," she says. "They're so bold. I want to make sure it doesn't get insulted or abused out of them."
To that end, she announced her Rising Troublemaker Scholarship, awarding a $5,000 scholarship to two 2022 high school seniors, that closes May 20, 2022. Rising Troublemaker: A Fear-Fighter Manual For Teens is available now for preorder and releases on May 17, 2022.