I recently attended a gathering that included a discussion about economic mobility in North Carolina. The discussion was grounded in research centered around the likelihood that a child raised in the lowest fifth of the income distribution will rise to the top fifth as an adult.
During the presentation, we were confronted by the idea that the American Dream is broken. We explored that dream in small groups, sharing who created mobility in each of our own family's history. Who were the changemakers? Who transformed our families’ futures?
There were brave and inspiring stories of family members who created mobility by escaping slavery or by joining the military or by immigrating to this country in pursuit of that once-thriving American Dream. The common thread in these stories was that once those first bold and pioneering steps were taken, the next steps were a path to education.
I immediately thought of Tim. When I first started working at NCCF, Tim applied for one of our scholarships – the Mary Ferebee Howard Scholarship Endowment. As I reviewed the stacks of applications, the first line of his essay caught my eye - probably my heart and stomach, too. It read, “Not every child is born with a dream. Some of us have to learn to dream.”
You see, Tim is a first-generation scholar. He received that scholarship, which supported him through four years of college education. Once a first-generation college student, Tim is now a first-generation college graduate.
Tim learned to have the dream to pursue a college education. He took the brave, bold, pioneering steps to do so, and now, he has become the one who created mobility in his family. He is his own family’s inspiring story.
This time of year, NCCF offers approximately 150 scholarship opportunities for NC students. We know that many of them will be the first members of their families to attend college, maybe the first to even dream it is possible. In fact, each year, 30%-40% of NCCF scholars are first-generation college students – a group we are thrilled to support.
Sometimes I wonder - what if there were no more of them? What if for every family that doesn’t have a history of college but has a family member dreaming of going, that person had the encouragement, the path, and the resources?
That’s one dream I hope we all can learn to have.