Ayibatari Owei
Paint Branch High School
Burtonsville, Maryland
11th Grade
Third Place Winner, Maryland

When Life is Painted in Shades of Dreams

You get a dream! And you get a dream! Everybody gets a dream! (Disclaimer: Not all dreams are liable to come true. There must be a sense of realism to the fantasy; otherwise it will just break apart.) Everybody has dreams, including myself; it is what makes us human. We would be a hollow shell without these delusions, like the aliens we see on TV. There is nothing wrong with dreaming, but there is something misleading about the American Dream. The American Dream should be seen as a thing to be laughed at. It is worthless in meaning. Anything can be the American Dream, it differs between people, but when I hear the word uttered it lacks sentimental value, a meaningful definition. It is false; a lie to be more exact- the most important part of the American Dream is the word: Dream. Eventually you will wake up from the rose-colored reverie and see how life really is- in black and white. The American Dream should be used sarcastically or in terms of history and the Manifest Destiny. Many people in this nation, including immigrants, have these set of ideals, but with all ideals we have to realize they will not come to pass.

I. Fragmented Dreams-
“The land of freedom and opportunity.” It is America’s billboard slogan, catchy and appealing. Opportunity, it is what everybody’s looking for; it is the blessing America bestows on its citizens. With opportunity, we, the people, are allowed to live as we choose. We are given the opportunity of education and equal rights and with these arms and armor we are thrust into the world to fulfill that dream the country, our parents, and our own expectations have built up for us- but sometimes the battle may not be as rewarding as imagined. Back in May, in Washington D.C., 11,623 people were counted as not having a permanent place of shelter during the winter- to put it in layman's terms, they were homeless. This report shows that the number of homeless folks in D.C. is down 2.7 percent from last year. That is delightful news, but considering that homelessness is up in Frederick and Montgomery County, it does not make the Greater Washington area appear as a peachy keen place of progress to live. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the association that released the statistics, says that the “single greatest barrier to ending homelessness” in the D.C. region was the “diminishing number of affordable and available permanent housing opportunities for the lowest-income households.”1 The council also reported that there is a shortage of livable wage jobs, meaning the 39 percent of homeless persons, in the area, who work cannot provide a roof over their family’s head during the cold. Some claim that homeless people are merely lazy or simply have mental diseases. But that could not be further from the truth. 44% of the homeless population in the country work, that is a large percentage for a group of people considered “lazy freeloaders”, and only 22% of the homeless have mental illnesses and most, if not all, are not getting the help needed2. These people were given the opportunities everyone shares and some work extremely hard to live in better circumstances, but opportunities are not a guarantee to achieving the American Dream, only hinder it and warp perspectives.

The economy is supposed to be a blessed thing, right? Maybe that is not particularly true anymore. In a 2014 poll conducted by CNN, 63% of the pollers believe “kids won’t be better off than parents”3. Surely that is an optimistic view, especially with the fact that America’s ranked 27th out of 27 of the highest-income countries on the median wealth per adult4. I do not want to be the bearer of bad news, but this nation’s economy is not doing well. The country’s child poverty rates are more miserable than any developed nation, including Greece. For a highly industrialized country, America’s statuses are mediocre in the very factors the American Dream supposedly applies: wealth, health (33rd), and education (16th). Nothing says “Welcome to America” like a poor rating (17th) in life satisfaction.

The American Dream is a lofty ideal; however, it is not attainable by everyone. Imagine driving into Southeast D.C. What do you see? Can you imagine it? Do you know what it looks like? Maybe. It is the rough, predominantly black neighborhood you hear about every day on the news. Though it is apparently going through major gentrification, Southeast is again and again the low-income neighborhood riddled with violence that people are warned to stay clear of. Have you ever wondered about the people living there? Do they want to live in that neighborhood? It is unlikely, but there is no possible way for them to escape. Many people living in impoverished areas do not have the funds to move to a better location, so they are stuck. They will either live and die in those rundown homes or live long enough to be evicted by gentrification in favor of building new, improved homes and businesses. And it is unlikely that the original inhabitants will be able to afford the swankier quarters being built. What is their dream? What is the life they dreamt for themselves? What were their feelings after finding their lives and their family’s lives in this situation? What is the feeling of being forcibly removed from the place you are so familiar with to an unknown future? These people have dreams, possibly, had dreams. But the situation they found themselves in killed every possibility of fulfilling the American Dream. So to answer the question presented before me: No, the American Dream is not thriving in the Greater Washington Area.

II. Rêve à la réalité
Though I regard the American Dream as a fancy, I cannot deny the fact that, in some cases, the concept of the American Dream exists. Education is the very foundation the American Dream is built on. I am proud to say that Maryland ranks first in the best high schools in the country, as reported by US News. The ranking relates Maryland’s capabilities to successfully prepare students for college. Washington D.C. ranked fifth on the list5. In Maryland, Montgomery County is the second best school district; following is Frederick County at third6. Education is an important aspect to me; where I will be in the future depends on the education I get now, in the present. Just the fact that Greater Washington youth have the chance to obtain the best preparation for the future, allows me some hope that, within the scope of our country, we will be able to face any challenge life willingly throws at us. With this element under our belts, our dreams, if categorized as American or not, can be easily achieved with a little effort. And for children of immigrants or parents of high expectations, their dreams for their child are fully realized.

III. Unstoppable Dreams
I would like to reaffirm that I do hold dreams that I firmly believe in, but I would be mistaken to categorize them as the “American Dream”. My dream, so far, is one of pieces, meaning I only have fragments of beliefs of what is to come in my life. Never will it be “The American Dream” because it extends globally. My mother asks “What is the American Dream?” After I explain, she says she has none; she was living the American Dream in Nigeria before moving to America in the 1997 to live with her husband. She says that in any country you would find the American Dream, the dream of having a home, financial security and a proper education, the dream of having children, and my addition, the white picket fence. She says that it should not exclusively belong to America that the American Dream is a Global Dream, and that is one school of thought I am willing to accept. My dreams extend further than America, it is international. I would like to end with a quote from my stepfather, a man from the small village of Ada in Ghana who worked to attend the University of Maryland- holding jobs like being a taxi driver and a janitor, but through hard work and determination he earned his Master’s, CPA, and a job at the World Bank, where he worked for 25 years before retiring comfortably, and whom my mom claims is the real American Dream. I asked him, “What does the American Dream mean to you?” His response: “It’s a simple question, but it’s really difficult to answer it.” And I agree; the American Dream should not be easily answered.

Works Cited
1. Davis, Aaron C. "The D.C. Region Has 11,623 Homeless People, but That's Not the Whole
Story." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 13 May 2015. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.
2. "Homelessness / Poverty Statistics." Statistic Brain. N.p., 20 Apr. 2015. Web. 01 Dec.
2015. <http://www.statisticbrain.com/homelessness-stats/>.
3. Cillizza, Chris. "Is the American Dream Dead?" Washington Post. The Washington Post,
5 June 2014. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.
4. Coplan, Jill Hamburg. "12 Signs America Is on the Decline." Fortune 12 Signs America
Is on the Decline Comments. Fortune, 20 July 2015. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.
5. Morse, Robert. "How States Compare in the 2015 Best High Schools Rankings." US News.
U.S.News & World Report, 11 May 2015. Web. 02 Dec. 2015.
6. "2016 Best School Districts in Maryland." K-12 Niche. Niche, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2015.