Reading Superintendent Defies Perceptions of Gen Xers

August 16, 2015 | By Adam Richter

One persistent conception of Generation X is that they don't get involved in schools or volunteering unless they have a personal stake. For example, they won't volunteer to coach a youth team unless their child is playing.

"The only thing Xers want to do with their schools is chaperone their own kids," historian Neil Howe said.

Many Gen Xers have a mistrust of institutions and besides, in many cases they're willing to lurk off the radar screen. But Dr. Khalid Mumin, superintendent of the Reading School District, defies that perception.

At 42, Mumin is right about in the middle of the Generation X demographic. When he talks about his experience growing up, much of it revolves around social activism and efforts to change the world, something that doesn't often come to mind when people think of Gen X.

"I thought we were all going to change the world," he said. "We were going to dare to be different and change the world."

Mumin grew up in the Logan neighborhood of Philadelphia, a rough neighborhood that in some sections was literally sinking. He wasn't a great student - he failed ninth grade - but he had a wide support system of adults who made sure he got back on the right track.

Today, Mumin considers himself one of the lucky ones. Of his core group of eight friends when he was a child, only one other one became a professional. The others died, went to prison, never made it out of Logan or "disappeared off the face of the Earth," Mumin said.

"Honestly, I thought all of us were going to make it, because we were risk-takers, we had a voice," he said.

He recalls the early 1990s as a time when young people were mobilizing and speaking out for their own causes, similar to the civil rights or women's rights movements from 30 years earlier, but for a new generation. Music was a huge part of it, Mumin said.

He was a huge fan of Public Enemy growing up. He found the lyrics revolutionary and considers frontman Chuck D much more than a rapper.

"He's an orator," Mumin said.

And it helped galvanize his own social activism.

"It gave me a sense of belonging," he said. "It gave me a sense of, I can make a difference. This is our civil rights movement.

"Adults used to get so fired up about (us) listening to, at that time it was rap music, grunge was out, metal was hitting hard. This music was like, 'take over the machine.' And the adults didn't like it."

He didn't think the messages in the music were any different from what they were in the 1970s. The only difference was that kids in the '90s were sending those messages instead of artists from a generation before.

But Mumin recognizes that the struggles of earlier generations made life easier for Gen X and those who follow. His parents' generation fought to open doors. His generation was able to walk through those doors to fight for their causes. Mumin marched to make Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a national holiday. In the 1960s, activists marched for the right to vote.

Today, he said, young people have the resources to organize much more readily than he did. Social media make it easier to mobilize; look at the Occupy Wall Street movement or, closer to home, the recent peace marches in Reading.

They're also looked upon more favorably than Gen X kids were, Mumin said.

"We were part of a generation that was just unruly, fat-mouth kids," he said. "We were speaking out against the machine. We were pushing back against tradition. Whereas now, there are adults who learn from kids."