Lisa Sullivan knows how to listen. The founder and president of LISTEN Inc., an organization devoted to developing youth leadership, Sullivan learned at an early age to understand the world she is in and what was expected of her. She beams with pride and admiration as she recalls how her folks instilled a deep-seated work ethic within her.
"On my 15th birthday my mother took me down to [a local store] and told the manager, ‘This is my daughter and she needs a job!'" She fondly remembers the positive reinforcement she received from members of her Washington, D.C. community, including strangers. "I was waiting at a bus stop and an older lady asked me about myself, and as we were parting company she said, ‘Now you remember to go to church, you hear?' and I said, ‘Yes, ma'am!'"
Sullivan, a soft-featured black woman with a short salt-and-pepper afro, flashing eyes, and an easy smile, gets visibly excited when she speaks of her passion: lifting up the young. "This generation is bombarded with information without the capability of analyzing it. In such a confusing society, you must have a knowledge base; otherwise it is like being a computer with no anti-virus software running-any virus can come along and take hold."
LISTEN (an acronym for Local Initiative Support, Training, and Education Network) is Sullivan's vision to bridge the knowledge gap for urban youth and to help them build the capabilities to successfully navigate society's turbulent waters. According to Sullivan, "Urban youth must be organized to formulate their own questions, to define their own problems, to find their own solutions, and create their own institutions."