To mark my recent 25th birthday, I sat down to have an adult talk with my parents. According to them, when you've lived a quarter of a century, it's time to "begin to seriously think about your future" and "reflect on the mistakes of the past and learn from them."

That seems to be a frequent message sent by parents to their children. For myself and many other Afro-American youths, those words have a greater impact and carry greater responsibility, particularly as we celebrate Black History Month. In 1988, just 24 years after the signing of the 1964 civil rights legislation, this generation is confronted with a new slavery -- a slavery of our own minds.

Let's face it: Many young black people take things for granted. We can drink from any water fountain, dine at any restaurant, travel throughout the world, attend college and establish a career. We have reaped the benefits of our ancestors' struggles.

It is almost inconceivable that just 25 years ago those basic human rights did not exist for most black people in America. Patience, perseverance, strategic planning, and faith are some of the factors that have allowed a generation of black people brought to this country as slaves to prosper and progress amid cultural deprivation and annihilation for more that 200 years. Only now am I coming to appreciate the struggles of the past and the problems that this current generation faces.

As America embarks on a new political era, I think it is important for black youths to examine where we've been, where we are, and where we need to go. Some might rightfully celebrate "we've come a long way baby," but I would contend that we've got a long way to go.

What is the plan and who will set the agenda? I asked the offspring of some noted black civil rights advocates for their perspectives on the past, present and future:

Dexter King, 26, son of Martin Luther King Jr.:

The challenges facing black America today are unemployment and values that are not in line with our foreparents. That creates a serious problem in that right now our values are placed on things that are not substantive -- for example, worrying about what others are doing rather than developing our own inner selves.

Be true to thine {inner} self. We must praise God. We cannot do it by ourselves. Whatever our mission is as individuals, we fulfill that mission by living a committed life. You don't have to be in the front of the parade. You can have an impact on a day-to-day basis.

I have had the opportunity to speak to young people around the country ... and one thing I found is that they have a lack of self-confidence and self-esteem. I was surprised that many of them did not know who Martin King was. They don't see how they can be a part of keeping the dream alive. History can repeat itself. And if a group of people don't know their history, they are bound to make the same mistakes.

History helps black people have a sense of pride. The circumstances under which we came to this country were dehumanizing and we don't necessarily take pride in it, but its something we have to know.

Unfortunately, black people still are not free.

The discrimination we see in the '80 and the years to come is more tricky than it was in the '60s. You may not be discriminated against in your face, but it's happening. That's where unity comes into play. We must build a sense of unity. We live in the "me generation" where everyone wants to be a chief and nobody an Indian.

We need to spend more time networking and dealing with each other. If we don't embrace one another, we will not make it into the 21st century ... It is going to take a universal appeal in the spirit. And those of us who are a part of the so-called "upwardly mobile" genre cannot forget to reach back to help those of us who are less fortunate.

Andrea Young, 32, daughter of Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young:

It is critical that black people get involved in the current political campaign ... involved in the campaign of any candidate who represents something you think is important.

One of the reasons people had to go into the streets in the '60s to address grievances was because there were very few black representatives on certain political levels. But now we have representatives, and we have to stay involved. Reagan has demonstrated that nobody, not even Republicans, can ignore the black constituency.

Politics is still the way to build a sound economy. Politics is involved in everything. A political decision is made when it comes to who has access to higher education. There are political decisions about corporate responsibility. It's a political decision to allow the U.S. to desert one country, to assist another country. Abandoning urban centers to invest in other countries is not always a wise decision. But it all stems from politics.

In terms of achieving measurable quality in comparison to white America, we've been chasing a moving target, but we have made progress.

There are opportunities for people who are equipped for them. Unfortunately there are young people who have a high-school education and are not equipped for the job market. That's where the political process comes in. How are we going to improve public education? Young people have to be prepared.

I think that preparation is society's responsibility, but it's also the responsibility of the black community in particular. In the 1960s there was a sense of purpose. In the environment, the community, there was a mobilizing energy. A family, church would help to foster that unified environment. We don't seem to have that anymore.

We have made progress in the last 25 years, but that can't be an excuse for not continuing to deal with more complex problems. We still have a lot to face in the future.

Marvin Fauntroy, 23, son of Del. Walter Fauntroy (D-D.C.)

The greatest challenge facing black Americans is the problem of drugs and AIDS. Those are the things that are most threatening in our communities. In society, we need young people who are both willing and ready to carry on in the movement. That requires a healthy mind and body.

The '60s movement was ony a start ... but there is a lot to be done. You have to be careful not to become complacent, which is probably the second biggest problem of black Americans. For example, I admire the Redskins. When they won the Super Bowl, they were happy, but immediately began to comment on what they planned to do next year. They did not sit back and relax and take a vacation -- they realized that there is still more to do. That is an example.

On the question of leadership, a leader must firstly be sincere in one's pursuits. You have people out here who are calling themselves leaders but are out there to be seen and to get on the 6 o'clock news.

I would hope that the leaders would come from the young people. In order to advance this race, we can not go on depending on the same old people ... the old guards, as I call them. There is going to have to be new leadership and a new plan.

Many people comment on the good and bad of the '60s civil rights movement. It was good in the sense that change did take place to better humanity, but the bad thing could be that it happened so quickly. Because of the movement, black people felt equal to whites. We said "a white person can buy a BMW, so I'm going to buy a BMW. A white person has a $75,000 job, a house and a dog, so I'm going to have a $75,000 job, a house and a dog."

Now there is nothing wrong with wanting the best, but the problem comes when we get those material things and exclude everything else in life. I tell young people all the time that there is more to life than making money.

As a black family, we have to polarize. There cannot be a division between the haves and the have-nots. We cannot forget from whence we've come. As we enter the 21st century, I see it like this: The drug epidemic affects the mind of the young. Young people are the key to tomorrow and drugs are detroying our young people ... so that means our future is being destroyed.

In order for there to be a future, we have to attack those problems that are in the black community. Unity is important. Second, a lot of people are not politically aware. We have to realize that politics in this country and in the world, affect us. We have to become more politically aware and conscious about what is going on around us.

I think the goal for black America is to have the best for all involved. If we can get to the point where the whole is doing well and the few that aren't benefit from those who do have, things would be better. As a black family we have to share what we have.

The Asians have shown the result of that. They have stuck together. They do not go out and spend their money on a $600 leather coat that will be stolen at gunpoint the next week by someone who wants it. They put their resources together until all can benefit. We have to do the same ... stick together.