In America, the Left and Right are ever-engaged in a fierce debate over whether we truly are a land of opportunity for all. What, exactly, does equal opportunity mean? What does it look like? Conventionally, liberals will argue that equality of so-called “opportunity” is a canard, since our opportunities in life are based so much on socio-economic factors like income level, family composition, race, class, etc. A young black man growing up in a single-parent home in an inner-city slum has less access to opportunities for success than a white kid raised by a traditional nuclear family in an upper-middle class suburban environment. The opportunities might technically be there for the inner-city youth, but the obstacles standing in the way of those opportunities are so numerous to practically be insurmountable.
Most conservatives will concede that “equal opportunity” doesn’t directly translate to “level playing field.” Life, after all, isn’t fair, and there’s no way that government or anyone else can eliminate the inevitable trials and tribulations that befall us in this life. History shows us that mankind’s attempts to engineer utopia via government have given rise to the worst of totalitarian horrors. The real question, then, isn’t whether life is fair for everyone, but how each individual responds to the cards they are dealt. Do they consign themselves to a world defined by limitations and dependency, or do they commit themselves heart and soul to overcoming their circumstances and the odds?
Consider the story of Dawn Loggins, a youngster for whom any form of success was against the odds. After years of instability and chaos at home she was abandoned without warning by her parents. With no one to take care of her and nowhere to live, her life had become a recipe for failure. She seemed doomed to become another social welfare statistic. But she didn’t. She worked hard, refused to be a victim, took the initiative, charted her own course, and created her own reality. Teachers, counselors and other adults took notice of this determination to succeed and were inspired to support her efforts to overcome her situation, and now she’s going to Harvard!
In a recent article on FoxNews.com, Dawn described the philosophy that guided her from homeless teen to Ivy League contender:
“All the help in the world isn’t going to do you any good if you’re not willing to work hard,” she said. “I think people were so willing to help me because they saw that I was reaching for my goals, and I wasn’t going to let anything stop me. ... I felt like it would be so easy and even acceptable if I were to just say – you know what, I give up, I can’t do this in this situation, but I didn’t. I knew that if I wanted to make something of myself and I didn’t want to live like this when I got older, I had to get it done.”
In an age where folks love to play the victim, where the predominating cultural message pushes an attitude of apathy and indignation and the nanny state incentivizes dependency instead of encouraging self-reliance, this young woman pulled herself by the boot straps and defied all expectations. All of us would do well to emulate her initiative, drive and can-do spirit.
It hasn’t been an easy decade for the United States of America. The horrors of 9/11 followed by two grueling wars followed by the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression isn’t exactly a recipe for prosperity and optimism. Stories like Dawn’s remind us, however, that anything is possible with the right attitude and a willingness to work hard. She has the kind of pluck that made our country great. May her tribe increase!
Ken Connor is an attorney and co-author of Sinful Silence: When Christians Neglect Their Civic Duty. He is also chairman of the Center for a Just Society.
Publication date: June 14, 2012