Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to help execute the annual I Have a Dream Foundation gala, an event designed to raise money to fund college educations for kids from low-income backgrounds. The event was, in many ways, awkward and ironic because it attempted to mix the very lowest on the social ladder with those who were on top. Many times throughout the night, I found it fascinating to observe kids from the slums and projects, who spoke in slang, attempt to converse with their well-spoken and highly educated donors, who were wealthy, powerful executives who had made their fortunes in the corporate world.
The corporate world is lush with characterizations of greed and corruption, which lead poor people to often blame their economic situations on the affluent individuals listed in Forbes magazine. It doesn’t seem fair to the single mother trying to raise three kids while working multiple jobs when she sees celebrities blow thousands of dollars on luxury items while she struggles to have enough money for groceries. It is not fair to the college student who is burdened with financing her own education when her friends complain about not being able to visit Iceland on the way back from a Europe trip for Spring Break. It is simply not fair.
Prior to my experience at I Have a Dream, I shared this sentiment of indignation leveled at the billionaires of the world – I wondered why some figures were blessed with a ridiculous sum of money while there were others in third world countries dying of starvation and poverty. By virtue of this opinion, I was on guard during the beginning of the gala, misguided by the belief that the affluent were eager to donate to nonprofit organizations like this one out of insincere motives and PR stunts.
But when I started talking to the wealthy patrons at the event, my perspective began to shift. The people I had expected to be full of greed and self-interest expressed compassion and love towards the children they were funding. While money was a motivating factor for some, I discovered that success, both theirs and of others, was a priority that outweighed any monetary considerations. And as I immersed myself in discourse with people with whom I had nothing in common, I found comfort in the solidarity we shared in helping education accessibility for the poor, unprivileged, and weak.
At the conclusion of the evening, I had the chance to watch five elementary students from low-income homes read out loud stories they had written during school. These five, along with thousands of others across the country, will obtain a college education thanks to the contributions of generous donors and the amazing professionals at the I Have a Dream Foundation. Not every student who is a part of the system is guaranteed to succeed in it, but my hope, along with the hope of many of the patrons present at the gala that night, is to see them flourish, because to succeed in education means to succeed in life.