Since I began this job in September 2019, the most frequently asked question I hear is, “How do you define the American Dream?” So we began asking the question ourselves—interviewing more than 1,000 people from all backgrounds, professions, geographies, and ages about their American Dream stories.
The more people we asked, the clearer it became that there is no single definition of the American Dream. Each of us brings a deeply personal and unique story to the table: the obstacles we face, the mountains our family has had to climb, the goals we hope to achieve for ourselves and our loved ones.
We also learned that the power of having a dream for the future—and believing in your ability to make it happen—is undeniable. Our dreams drive us. They are literally our vision and our hope for the future. Our ideas and images about the lives we want to live, and the world we want to live in, give us purpose and strengthen our resilience and optimism, especially in difficult times like these. The people we interviewed were able to accomplish some extraordinary things in their lives, in part, because they had a dream to guide them.
While no two American Dream stories are the same, many have common themes: overcoming adversity, uprooting from your home, generational sacrifice, grit in the face of hardship, resilience, a lucky break, help at the moment it was needed, an inspirational teacher or mentor, access to education that opened up new perspectives and opportunities, and sometimes, an innovative idea destined to change the way we live. And these dreams rely on the ideals underpinning the founding of America: that all people are created equal, that we should govern ourselves through democracy, that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, and that the circumstances of our birth should not limit our aspirations in life. And while perhaps the term speaks to geography, the concept does not—the American Dream can be lived anywhere there is a level playing-field and the access to health, education, and a fair and strong economy.
The Milken Center for Advancing the American Dream’s mission is to help make access to the American Dream—however you define it and wherever you are—more available to everyone. We will work on both sides of the access equation: we will make resources available to visitors on-line and in person to help them acquire the skills needed to achieve their personal dreams; and at the same time, work with the private sector, government, non-profit and community leaders to help advance fairness in education, funding, finance and health resources and policies.
Even before COVID-19 attacked both our health and our economy, there was ample evidence that the American Dream was not equally accessible to all. Our work is organized around four pillars that are designed to support access: Education, Health, Finance, and an Entrepreneurial Mindset. On this website, we will be gathering the tools that help make opportunity real. You need knowledge and a path to the jobs of the future. You need good health. You need relevant job skills, and the ability to manage your finances. You need the can-do mindset and practical know-how of an entrepreneur. You’ll find all that here, through our programs, stories, and free educational materials.
The Milken Center for Advancing the American Dream is both a place and a set of ideals—and we’re also a work in progress. We’d love to hear your ideas for what we can do—together—to make the American Dream an attainable reality for people in America and beyond.
Dr. Kerry Murphy Healey
President, Milken Center for Advancing the American Dream