By Mark Ferenchik
Tuesday March 13, 2018
Millennials of color are going to be a major force in shaping Columbus and other American cities over the next few decades.
Although their percentage of the population is lower in Columbus than in many cities in the South and West, the rate of growth of minorities within millennial growth in the city is similar to that in the Seattle-Tacoma and Austin metro areas.
The numbers are highlighted in a recent Brookings Institution report: “The Millennial Generation: A Demographic Bridge to America’s Diverse Future.”
The report says that minorities’ 44 percent share of the millennial generation makes it the most diverse adult generation in the nation’s history. In the Columbus area, minorities make up 28 percent of the millennial population, defined as ages 18 to 34.
That places this area 78th among the 100 biggest metro areas. But between 2010 and 2015, when this area’s millennial population grew by 6.2 percent, almost two-thirds of that was because of the growth in the number of minority millennials.
“I wanted to focus in on the diversity of millennials, the diversity explosion,” said William Frey, the study’s author.
“The more I thought about it, the millennial generation could be the bridge” between the older, white community and younger, minority community, Frey said. “They’re all adults now, pushing toward middle age.
“I think they have a fair (shot) of solving these divisions.”
The study showed that although many people cite white-millennial gentrification as a source of changing neighborhoods in cities, minorities are driving population growth among young adults in urban and suburban areas.
“Millennials, they think, ‘hipster,’” said Edward “Ned” Hill, an economic-development and public-policy professor at Ohio State University. “The largest growth in the millennial population is not the hipster community.”
And they are becoming leaders in the larger community.
Those leaders include millennials such as Aslyne Rodriguez, a member of the Columbus Young Professionals Club who co-founded EmpowerBus, which provides shuttle-bus service for low-income workers who have trouble finding reliable transportation.
Rodriguez, 34, grew up in Youngstown, where her grandparents had arrived as immigrants from Puerto Rico. Both grandfathers worked in steel mills; both grandmothers worked in pillow factories. “You understand what hard work looks like. You develop that mentality,” she said.
Two generations later, millennials such as Rodriguez are their grandparents’ dream, she said.
“While we’re focusing on continuing our success, we’re focusing on how to bring others along with us,” said Rodriguez, a Clintonville resident.
Sara Brown, 22, was born in Panama and grew up in the Bucyrus area, where she still lives. “I was the only Latina in my area,” she said.
When she attended Ohio State, where she studied psychology and Spanish, she honed her leadership skills as head of communications for the Latino Student Association and president of the Residence Halls Advisory Council.
“Ever since high school, I was told, “You’re such a leader.′ I never really believed that until then,” Brown said.
Today, she is the program coordinator for the Ohio Hispanic Coalition’s team that assists victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. “After college, I definitely saw that passion in myself, to give back to the Latino community,” she said.
Jibril Mohamed, 35, a lecturer at Ohio State and executive director of the Somali Community Action Network, said millennials make up a significant proportion of Columbus’ Somali community.
“I think the Somali community is producing an important number of professionals who are highly engaged and educated and have an impact on the social and political landscape of Columbus,” said Mohamed.
Columbus City Councilwoman Jaiza Page grew up in the city and noticed how much more diverse Columbus was becoming when she moved back in 2007 from Washington, D.C., where she attended Georgetown University.
Page, 34, said that she and Council President Shannon G. Hardin, 30, who like her is African-American, have been encouraging younger people of color to get more involved in city government and the growth of the city.
“I really think it speaks more to where the city is, and how we see ourselves,” Hardin said. “Right now, this council is majority millennials.”
“This creative, more culturally diverse generation is more engaged,” he said.