My Role in Restoring the American Dream•
The brief instances of nostalgic frivolity in the halls of the DC Capitol slowly dissipated once the conference room filled with nonprofit leaders, Senate aides, generous donors and young strivers. It was time for business: the first in a series of discussions about the timely topic of revitalizing the American Dream.
Surrounded by spiritually-beautiful people who navigate busy schedules, influence large networks of influencers, advocate with action and enact their values daily, I began to wonder… What role do I have in this campaign to improve living standards for underserved Americans? Will I pursue my passions in prison de-privatization, or job training programs, or practical curriculum for public schools?
I felt challenged by the occasion. I stood up, walked along the side of the room, and initiated conversations with three different women. I greeted and advocated, delivering my special handmade business cards. Each interaction was a direct result of opportunity and an opportunity in itself.
The event theme, a fair and universal chance to travel life’s promising paths, continued as keynote speakers informed and enthusiastically retold their stories. Seeing women who faced adversity as youth yet thrived stand before me as business savvy and politically active leaders was energizing.
If they can embrace their stories, I can embrace and master my own. Though my challenges stem from many of the same systemic deficiencies, I feel fortunate that I was not raised “in the ‘hood” and was not surrounded by extreme poverty in my developmental years – a disadvantage which debilitates millions of my brothers and sisters. Many parts of my life were privileged, but it wasn’t completely so, and it didn’t last. Unmarried biological parents, adoption by my grandparents, household income inequality, grief from a close relative’s death, a single-parent household, lack of mental and emotional health counseling and a disappointing public school education contributed to what I looked back on as a hindrance to achieving my greatest potential. Yet here, as a colleague of people who choose to be the change they want to see, I look back and see motivators to change the systems, the systems that lend too many cracks through which opportunity youth may fall.
This work is about framing the lives of individuals to demonstrate the importance of supporting policy initiatives. Opportunity Nation’s goals are aimed to improve the country for everyone – including business leaders, including Senators on either side of the aisle, including the hopeful youth and the ones who may lose hope. The entire two-hour session felt like a privilege. I bathed in rays of hope: I can build rapport and credibility to influence the education issues that make me passionate. I can tackle one issue at a time and do work with or without a paycheck or a title. I can be a leader – an influencer – and create the “should be” and the “what is.”
Despite some initial feelings of inadequacy among the intimate audience of greats, I know my full potential, so I dipped my elbows into multiple wells of knowledge. This experience as an Opportunity Leader provided fundamental connections to like-minded doers, a challenging platform to personally contribute value, and finally the re-affirmed inspiration that #WeGotThis and that I have an important role in #TheNationWeMake.