Who Has the Right to the American Dream?

President Obama was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to strengthen cooperation between peoples. It has been pointed out as a rather controversial decision since it comes so early in his presidency and before any concrete achievements can be attributed to him. However, I would like to mention that he has created a very real sense of hope and instilled a sense of empowerment and responsibility in our nation and the world. He symbolizes our ability to change the world into a better place and charges us, as world citizens, to do something about the ills and inequities we see every day.

I'd like to take this opportunity to point out what I see as one of the greatest issues facing us today -- the lack of educational equality and opportunity. We as a nation have always considered America the land of opportunity, where anyone who possesses the necessary drive can rise to success in any field. Unfortunately, this isn't true for everyone. There are some basic skills and character traits which are necessary for success in our complex world today. More and better education than what is offered in too many schools. Reasoning and logic skills. Self-confidence and an ability to advocate for yourself are also essential. Most of us grow up knowing this and accept it as our birthright -- but not the roughly 40 million living below the poverty line.

A few years ago, instead of just griping about the lack of education and opportunities I saw, I decided to do something about it. I was fortunate enough to know a teacher who had an idea to actually go into areas of need, focus on driven students who wanted a good education, and give them the tools to succeed. We gave them opportunity and encouragement and watched them become achievers and leaders. Our nonprofit organization is called Determined to Succeed and I'm proud to say we help low socio-economic students fulfill their dreams. It's a partnership between us and our students. They agree to bring the drive and we hold them accountable to that by meeting with them, their teachers, and their parents regularly. In exchange we give them tutoring, mentoring, summer enrichment programs, and a commitment to stay with them until they graduate from high school fully prepared to enter college. Since they enter our program in sixth grade that means a seven year commitment for us, but it's also a seven year opportunity for us to make sure our students get the skills they'll need in life.

I've seen firsthand how much of a difference we can make by reaching out to those less fortunate. For me it's education because I strongly believe every child deserves a chance at success. President Obama said his Nobel Prize was a call to action for him. I hope you embrace that and find a way to do something for your community -- whether it means donating money or time to a nonprofit like Determined to Succeed or another cause you find on iParticipate.