I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am, also, much more than that. So are we all.
- James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son (1955)
In the midst of the Great Depression in 1931, historian James Truslow Adams defined the American dream as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone.” For decades it appeared that many in the United States had access to that dream through federal economic development programs like the G.I. Bill (1944), which offered thousands of returning veterans grants for school and college, low-interest mortgage and small-business loans, job training opportunities and unemployment payments. In fact, studies have shown that from 1940 onwards, “a child born into the average American household had a 92 percent chance of making more money than his or her parents.”
Yet this upward economic growth did not touch all communities nor benefit all racial groups. And while James Baldwin’s declaration of individual complexity rings true, many communities continue to face deep inequities, particularly African-American youth coming of age in rural areas.