Pillars of the Dream, Vol 1

In Pursuit of

Our American Dream​

“The American Dream is being able to follow your own personal calling.
To be able to do
what you want to do is incredible freedom.”
~ Maya Lin

By definition, “The American Dream” is the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved. For hundreds of years—even before the colonies became the nation—people journeyed to the United States of America to build a better life, not only for themselves but for their families. There is a certain work ethic implied in the dream—A sentiment that if you just work hard enough you can achieve it. But is that true? Do we all have equitable access to this dream? Does this notion have limitations?

Those questions might be moot. National media attention suggests that the dream just might be dead, or at least mortally wounded. However, the accomplishments of this month’s dreamers suggest differently. While there is a huge spotlight on the inequitable and unequal American condition, amazing things are still being accomplished here every day by dreamers who defy boundaries.

Brittany Cooper

Take, for instance, Dr. Brittney Cooper, an unapologetic black feminist activist, author, and professor. For anyone feeling the spikey energy of rage in this moment of cultural upheaval, in her 2018 book Eloquent Rage she offers language to articulate and discuss the feeling and what to do with it. She has courageously cracked the doors to open difficult “radical” cultural conversations at the intersection of race, gender, and culture.

  • Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at Rutgers University’s Center for Race and Ethnicity from 2011–2012
  • Featured in Essence‘s list of Young, Black, and Amazing women under age 35 in August 2012
  • Named on The Root 100, an annual list of top Black influencers, in both 2013 and 2014

Her insightful perspective on racial identity in gender politics has been recognized and awarded. As an associate professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, she provides new frameworks for intellectual thought, asking who do we want to be as a society today?

“The clarity that comes from rage should also tell us what kind of world we want to see, not just what kind of things we want to get rid of,” Dr. Cooper writes in Eloquent Rage.

Her work is helping others who have not traditionally fit the mold find new words to speak their own American Dream. And she continues to speak life into hers: Facebook | Twitter | Books

Yvonne Darlene Cagle

Two words, Space Doctor! Dr. Yvonne Darlene Cagle is not only a NASA astronaut, but also a medical doctor at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center with a certificate in Aerospace Medicine. Who knew that was a thing? Dr. Cagle is both the embodiment of and inspiration for award-winning sci-fi. Naturally, she has received many awards for her groundbreaking work.

  • National Defense Service Medal
  • Air Force Achievement Medal
  • the National Technical Association Distinguished Scientist Award

With all of her own accolades, she was excited to be asked to escort her own idol Katherine Johnson (the woman the Hidden Figure movie was based on) to the 89th Academy Awards.

“For me, it really validated my journeys, my struggles, my aspirations,” Cagle said. “And I know that if it could affect me in that way, that all the young girls of all ages watching that movie and that story were moved in a way that made us feel one collective mind, one collective heart. One collective voice of empowerment.”

After 3 space missions and 42 days on the International Space Station over 4 years, she retired from the Air Force. As a black female, her accomplishments have not been lost on her; she continues to speak to young women and people of color and mentor them toward STEM careers, inspiring the next generation of dreamers.

Ilhan Omar

The American Dream has been a beacon of hope to many around the world born in poverty and difficulty—the ideal of a peaceful path to personal progress is the fuel that lights Lady Liberty’s torch. Ilhan Omar, one of the youngest members of Congress, has taken up that torch, becoming a beacon of hope for others.

  • passed 16 bills and amendments through the U.S. House of Representatives in 2 years
  • almost 95% voting average on more than 800 votes
  • 8% of her contributions are less than $200, she takes no $ from corporate PACs

Refugees from Somalia, her family settled in Minneapolis upon migrating to the US. It was there that “Rep. Omar’s interest in politics began at the age of 14 when she was as an interpreter for her grandfather at local DFL caucuses. Watching neighbors come together to advocate for change at the grassroots level made Ilhan fall in love with the democratic process.”

Rep. Omar exemplifies The American Dream, becoming the first woman of color to serve as a U.S. Representative from Minnesota, the first lawmaker to wear a hijab in Congress. Pushing boundaries and buttons, she is a self-professed “Mom, Refugee, Intersectional Feminist, 2017 Top Angler of the Governor’s Fishing Opener and Congresswoman.” She has been an outspoken leader in ensuring that all dreamers have access and the opportunity to see their American Dreams come to life.

“We are not going to rest until we get the kind of transformative change we need in our country with regards to public safety, in regards to ending police brutality, in regards to the recognition that black lives do matter in this country,” Rep. Ilhan Omar told KARE.

Living The Dream

The equal pay act of 1963 requires men and women to be paid equally for the same job done. Laws enacted to ensure equal treatment of all people regardless of race have been lambasted as unnecessary in our supposedly “post-racial” society. You don’t have to look far to realize that the lived experience of many Americans does not reflect the promised progress of these legislations—unequal pay, inequitable encouragement, inconsistent cultural messaging. Even with these facts, dreamers have found a way to do the impossible. Open doors, create stepping stones, and claim seats at the table.

Their successes prove that while dreamers live so too will the dream. While inequality and inequitable treatment are a fact, so too is ingenuity and indomitability of spirit. So often the public voices and faces of success are edited down to a few, but dreamers are legion. Some popular theories would have you believe that in order for some to attain their dreams others must be locked out of theirs. We defy this narrow mindset. The American Dream is not a competition. There is enough dreaming to go around. What do you see in yours?

By DeVoray Wigfall and Kate E. Stephenson

Pillars of The Dream is a monthly message of motivation, featuring amazing dreamers from around the nation and around the world, who are using their gifts and skills to play bigger. Highlighting the creativity and talent of diverse people whose brilliance might fly under the radar, Pillars of The Dream hopes to kindle the sparks of your dreams. The world is waiting for you.

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