MLK Day Post – The American Dream and Youth Entrepreneurship Education

Posted: January 21, 2009 in Youth Education in Entrepreneurship
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The  American Dream and Youth Entrepreneurship Education

We must create full employment or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other. Once they are placed in this position we need to be concerned that the potential of the individual is not wasted. New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available.

— Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., August 16, 1967

I believe in the free market, competition and entrepreneurship … .

— President-Elect Barack Obama , “Audacity of Hope”

As I reflect on the life of Martin Luther King and his “I Have a Dream” speech, I think of Michelle Araujo and her dream. Michelle, who lived in a low-income neighborhood in New Bedford, Massachusetts, was a teen mother of three who I met in 1991; she had started a small business, A La Mode Fashions, to provide for her family.  She once said to me: My dream is not to die in poverty, but to have poverty die in me. She was able to do this through the business skills she learned in an entrepreneurship education course given by the organization I work for, The National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). As of this year, 220,000 other young people around the world have “dared to dream” and have chosen entrepreneurship as a pathway to financial independence and a fulfilling life.

As we all know, stories of people overcoming disadvantaged beginnings to succeed are a hallmark of American life, and I come from that kind of background. My grandfather escaped from a Nazi labor camp in his native Hungary during World War II, and then the Russian Communist regime confiscated his household supply business after they took over the country. My father at the age of 18 fled Hungary after the revolution of 1956 and came to America. He bagged groceries among other jobs, learned English, and got a scholarship to Harvard.

My family’s story has shaped my life and motivated my involvement these last 16 years in bringing entrepreneurship education to America’s youth through NFTE (which was founded in 1987 by my dear friend and great social entrepreneur, Steve Mariotti). It was disheartening to find out that so many of the children from low-income communities did not see opportunity here.  On a NFTE pre-test, I asked one of my classes whether America operated in a Socialist, Communist, or Free Enterprise System. Eighty-five percent thought we lived in a Socialist or Communist economy.  When I asked why, they answered:  “Because we get everything from the government.”

This kind of revelation has strengthened my vision and given me inspiration to help bring the American Dream to young people who need to know that they have a place in our market economy, whether they work for themselves or someone else.

SERVICE IDEA If you are a business leader — consider sharing your entrepreneurial stories with our students in a school near you for MLK Day and ongoing. You know what they need to know. Discuss how you handle financials and business decisions. These kids need to know that the American Dream is not a pipe dream. They need to know that it is within reach!

Julie Silard Kantor, Vice President,

The National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship

Office of  Government Affairs

  1. Wanting to announce my newest book, available on … “Cardinal Rules: Financial Resources for Young Adults” … a book that teaches our young adults how to make an income through entrepreneurship, manage it and also includes life and career coaching tips.

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