11/09/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Thirteen Years After Hillary Told Us "It Takes A Village," Melinda Gates Reminds Us That She Was Right

To quote the songstress Alanis Morissette, "Isn't it ironic" that the same politicians who denounce welfare recipients tend to be the same ones who support cuts to education and after school programs -- the very programs that make a student less likely to dropout of school and therefore less likely to end up on welfare? "Isn't it ironic" that there are wealthy people who would rather give their extra cash to a political candidate who promises to make sure their tax dollars are not "wasted" on those they do not consider productive citizens, instead of simply giving the money to programs that help turn those people into productive citizens?

This is one of the reasons I find Bill and Melinda Gates so refreshing. As two of the wealthiest people in the world, who happen to be entirely self-made, they could sit back and preach to the rest of us that they are living proof that the American Dream is attainable for anyone who is willing to work hard enough. Instead, they are shining a spotlight on one of America's dirtiest secrets: that the American Dream is not equally within reach for every American. But Bill and Melinda Gates believe that it should be.

On Tuesday, in conjunction with media giant Viacom (and a host of dignitaries, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Arianna Huffington) the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation officially launched "Get Schooled," a pro-social initiative aimed at raising awareness about the burgeoning dropout epidemic plaguing American schools, particularly in communities of color where more than half of all black male students nationally are likely to dropout. Among young, black men, there is a strong correlation between dropping out and eventual incarceration. I had a chance to speak with Melinda Gates about why this issue is so dear to her heart. According to her, any American who cares about democracy, should care about educational equality and any parent who loves their own children should be willing to champion every child.

"I think education is the great equalizer in the United States," Gates said. "It provides opportunity to so many students and so I see this [the Get Schooled initiative] as really important because people need to understand that our schools are not treating all kids equally today." Her message to middle and upper class parents who don't feel this is an issue that affects them is a powerful one: "Don't we have a democracy that's supposed to represent all kids and all adults? If we have a school system that's only serving the top third, well, then we're not serving our democracy well, and I don't think that's the kind of country they want to live in." Her hope as a parent, philanthropist and advocate is a simple one: "I hope in five years people really understand that the status quo isn't okay and that we're really making progress to change the U.S. School system so that it supports all students and that we have great goals for those students and they're getting effective teachers in their classrooms and they're learning what they need to get them into college."

As far as American Dreams go, that seems like a pretty reasonable one. Let's hope that the Gates, Viacom and Get Schooled can motivate America one village at a time, to work together to save one child at a time.

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