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Drawing a Dream

August 13, 2012

This is a story about two little girls.

One is named Gabrielle. The world knows her by Gabby.  When Gabby was seven, she began to dream about what she would be.  Lots of little girls have such dreams.  Dreams to be a doctor, a mom, or a famous singer; to teach; to own a business; or even to build a rocket ship that can land on Mars.

Little girls’ dreams can come true.

Gabby’s dream came true. Gabby wanted to be a gymnast.  Not just any gymnast, mind you, but a world class gymnast. Today, Gabby wears a gold medal that says she is the very best a gymnast can be. A billion people in countries all over the planet shared in Gabby’s joy of accomplishment last week as they watched her soar above the earth, executing staggeringly difficult routines in perfect precision. Gabby nailed her dream.

Gabby’s story is one of hard work, concentration, and personal sacrifice. She worked harder than most of us can imagine, day after day,  year after year, never stopping, never losing focus. When she was just 14 years old, Gabby even left her home and family behind to live and train 3000 miles away. Because her dream was a very big dream. And big dreams require big efforts.

Gabby Douglas’ Mother on Raising an Olympian

My niece Analisa grew up here in Memphis.   When Analisa was eight years old, she dreamed of growing up to be a judge in a courtroom. She remained focused on that dream throughout  her childhood, through college at Christian Brothers University, law school at Temple University, and years as an attorney and prosecutor in Philadelphia. Today, Analisa is a judge in Chester County, Pennsylvania. She wears a black robe and people address her as Your Honor. She uses her knowledge and wisdom to help people and to make Chester County, Pennsylvania a better place to live. Analisa, like Gabby, made her dream come true.

But Analisa is not the second little girl in this story.  The second little girl I will call Rosa.  That is not her real name, and this is not her picture, but she is a real person just like Gabby and Analisa.

Rosa lives in Memphis. She is 12 years old.  Her school had a career day recently.  Many  parents and guests came to the school to tell the students about their interesting jobs and professions, and how they had prepared for those jobs. The students listened intently and chattered enthusiastically when the presentations were over. Rosa was silent. A parent, seeking  her out, asked Rosa, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”

A few seconds passed while Rosa formulated an answer. Then she responded, “I want to draw.”

“Oh, you like to draw?” said the parent brightly.  “You want to be an artist?”

“No. ” Rosa shook her head. “I want to draw a check like my Mama.”

Americans are proud of our freedom, our accomplishments, our opportunities. For over two centuries, our citizens have been a beacon of hope to other countries.  Our great history has been shaped by individuals from every walk of life, of every hue, and from families both privileged and poor.

What separates the Gabbys from the Rosas?  Whole books could be – and have been – written on that subject.  But for today, let us look at some simple truths.

Dreams come from our imaginations, but our imaginations are limited by our individual experiences of the world and what we see is possible.  When Gabby, an eight year old  from a middle class family, dreamed she could be one of the best athletes in the whole world, she let nothing stand in her way. When she achieved her dream, she also made history as the first African-American Olympic gymnast. Her story of perseverance, courage and tenacity will now inspire millions of young girls and boys to dare to dream big, work hard, and believe in themselves.

Rosa’s world is much smaller. No one in her family, or within the cramped circle of her life experience, has pursued big dreams or achieved high goals.  They feel trapped, constrained by their circumstances. They struggle daily against what appear to be unbeatable odds, dependent on government bureaucracy and the occasional generosity of others for their very subsistence.

Greater Memphis is made up of too many children like Rosa.  Some live in a slough of despond. Others merely accept the only reality they know as the only reality they ever can know.

For the past seven months, Eddie and I have been bringing you information and insights on the changing nature of public education in Memphis and Shelby County.  Local voters (you know who you are  – and congratulations for being involved!) just elected the first seven members of a permanent unified school board. This committed group of  new commissioners is ready to lead. We must now be ready to  follow, support, and hold them accountable.

In the weeks and months ahead, Eddie and I will continue to engage you in conversation about the all-important issue of public education. We will also turn our attention to other seminal issues affecting the quality of life in Greater Memphis. The issues Memphis faces are many and  complex.

Rosa needs and deserves a great school. But along with that great school she needs a stable and supportive family life, a safe neighborhood, and a city that works. She needs real opportunities to broaden the circle of her constricted life. She needs her own big dream.  She deserves to know the inexpressible joy of accomplishment, not just the resignation of dependency.

What does it feel like to finally achieve a dream after years of hard work? It feels like this:


And this:

And this:

 

Pray for Rosa and the thousands of Rosas who live all around us. Pray for them to dream about hard things. Big things. Pray for Memphis to give all children a good start in life.  And join us here, in conversation and collaboration, to help make your dreams for Memphis come true.

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