Over the past five decades, I’ve known and worked with many outstanding people who exemplified the American Dream. When we began planning the Milken Center for Advancing the American Dream several years ago, we wanted to celebrate their stories and those of thousands of others who provide inspiration and hope for the future. People like:
- Reginald Lewis, who came from a tough East Baltimore neighborhood and through sheer grit became a star athlete, a Harvard-trained lawyer and a remarkably successful entrepreneur. It was my privilege to help finance the growth of the business that made Reg one of the first African-Americans to lead a billion-dollar enterprise.
- Yvonne Chan, a self-described “very poor peasant kid” who emigrated from China, followed her dream in Los Angeles and inspired thousands of inner-city students to excel beyond all expectations. As a young woman, she learned Spanish picking oranges and grapes to put herself through school. Today, 90% of the predominantly Latino students in the low-income neighborhood school she founded go on to college.
- Kevork Hovnanian, an Armenian Christian living in Iraq, who fled to America after the 1959 revolution with no money but with fierce determination. He went on to build one of the nation’s largest home-building companies. So strong was his feeling about keeping new houses within the reach of average Americans that he personally set the prices.
- Padmanee Sharma, M.D., Ph.D., whose ancestors were indentured laborers in India. Sold into slavery, they landed in Guyana on South America’s North Atlantic coast. Today, in partnership with her husband, Nobel laureate James Allison, she advances the science of immunology at an M.D. Anderson Cancer Center laboratory.
Whether you visit the Milken Center for Advancing the American Dream in person or online, you will find stories like these that call out to all who yearn for the opportunity to go as far as their imaginations can take them.
I look forward to seeing you there.
Chairman, The Milken Institute