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Bradford Frost Headshot

An Equal Opportunity for the American Dream?

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This week, all across the land, most of us will take in our nation's Independence Day celebration with palpable American exuberance.

Scenes of Americana will unfold as parades pass by and friends and neighbors come together to snag a couple cold ones, snare down some lawn games, and snap up some back-yard barbecue. From sparklers to grand finales, at carnivals and lake-side vistas, we'll cap off the celebration with showers of red, white and blue flames all while Jack and Diane plays melodically into the night, reverberating deep inside our nation's soul.
This, perhaps despite ourselves, is who we are: Americans.

Home of the brave, the proud and the chosen; to be an American is synonymous with The Dream. Almost reflexively, we hold these truths: America -- our nation -- offers us lush pastures, limitless opportunities and the fundamental freedoms our forefathers risked their lives, and history, to secure.

Perhaps the singular achievement of the American experiment (and its greatest risk), is the ways in which the vast majority of us take for granted our freedom from want. Our general security blinds us to the harsh reality that The Dream remains elusive to generations of children born on the wrong side of the tracks, where geography, more than individual will or choice, is destiny.

This fact of unequal opportunity and, moreover, what appears to be a fading faith in the promise of a better future for the next generation, demands that our nation consider anew what muster we still have in order to fulfill our fundamental promise.

But don't just take my word for it.

We're seeing a sea-change in how we discern opportunity in this country and what "The American Dream" actually means. Just last week, Time Magazine's cover story proclaimed, "The perennial conviction that those who work hard and play by the rules will be rewarded with a more comfortable present and a stronger future for their children faces assault from just about every direction."

And Gallup, the national standard for aggregating America's pulse found this June that:

Nearly six in 10 Americans are currently dissatisfied with the opportunity for the next generation of Americans to live better than their parents. ... The idea of America as a place where citizens can rise above their economic position at birth depends partly on an economic system that rewards people based on effort and merit -- not race, class, title, or other social barriers -- and partly on Americans' willingness to make a serious effort to succeed. Americans themselves currently have doubts about both aspects of that equation.

Before we wax nostalgic or turn a blind eye, bear in mind this week that the core tenets of the nation are wobbling. And, lest we forget, nowhere is this more true than in Detroit. Detroit, despite all its promise and passion remains a city where an astonishing 44 percent of our residents live below the poverty line, 18 percent are jobless, and countless more wrestle in inadequate schools and deplorable social conditions that make the prospect for a brighter future dimmed by existential threats engulfing our most disadvantaged youths all across the city. No doubt these kids have dreams, but who can blame them for thinking The Dream isn't for them?

Personally, in the context of a presidential election that promises to be a debate about the nature of opportunity and the state of The Dream across this land, I believe it's time we brought this debate to Detroit.

We deserve to ask these candidates to square their policy platforms and rhetoric against the hard facts of inequality and unequal opportunity across Detroit's diverse neighborhoods -- from blue collar cul-de-sacs to deep poverty zones filled with blight and despair. I even (of course) created a petition to implore our candidates to come to Detroit to debate "American Opportunity" at Detroit's most poetic (albeit less notorious) divide: Alter Road.

Yes, this week, we should celebrate our nation's independence. But, let's do so not because we're free from want ourselves, or merely because we love the pageantry of it all. No, let's celebrate our independence because we're free to act. This is democracy's great gift and highest demand -- the independence to think, believe, and, yes, even vote and mobilize on behalf of our convictions and community standards.

As democratic citizens, it's high time we reinvigorated our demands that equal opportunity be put back at the center of our national agenda. Consider it a pledge to our national interdependence. Much as the TIME article concluded, "We are the only ones who can create a climate for the American Dream to survive another generation, then another and another."
Indeed.

We should add that until all Americans truly have an equal shot at The Dream, from sea to shining sea, than our nation's Independence Day will remain an incomplete celebration.