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Earlier this week, a few thousand youth in Chicago received a surprise and the gift of a lifetime. Hope Chicago – a newly formed organization led by former Chicago Public Schools CEO, Dr. Janice Jacksongifted students at Morgan Park, Al Raby, Benito Juarez and Johnson College Prep high schools with full scholarships to select colleges. Some parents received scholarships, too.

More of this! When we’re talking about equity, specifically as it relates to philanthropy, this is exactly what’s needed. 

Hope Chicago is setting the example. But, while I hate to ruin this special moment with a rant, I’m gonna do it anyway. Because in hearing this great news, it dawned on me that the United States capitalizes on making opportunity conditional, especially education.

Here’s what I mean. 

Hope Chicago breaks down obstacles to opportunity

It’s drilled into our heads that there are certain, basic steps you have to take in order to realize the American dream. Education plays a major part in that blueprint.

Graduate from college then you’ll get a good job, be able to buy a house, build your family and retire. Then, success and easy living are yours.

But what’s often in fine print at the bottom of this seemingly beautiful advertisement is all of the obstacles impeding the path to the dream life–specifically for people in marginalized communities. It’s similar to those commercials that tell you certain medications will save your life, but at the end a dark voice comes in quickly rattling off the side effects that might actually kill you. Unlike Hope Chicago, not all efforts to expand opportunity are made equitable.

Folks don’t really talk about the significant role your k-12 education plays in that scenario, such as how your zip code, skin color and socioeconomic status can determine what schools you have access to. They also ignore how the investment–or lack thereof–in quality resources affects academic success and college readiness.

There’s not much mention of the standardized tests required to gain entry into college and how those are racially and economically biased.

Finally, there’s little to no education around the financial responsibility or burdens that accompany student loans. Don’t even get me started on why I think higher education is the new poverty pimp.

Expand hope and opportunity

So if you’re lucky enough to go to a decent high school, if you can satisfactorily pass certain tests and if you can secure loans, you can potentially make it to college–-but not necessarily through college. 

This great wall of inequity with the word “If” spray painted all over it is the barrier that obstructs visibility and accessibility to opportunities for students in marginalized communities. They try to scale it, go around it, even hop over it.  Infortunately, a lot don’t “make it”.

What Hope Chicago did was give families a ladder to begin to climb that wall. They eliminated some of the conditions by giving students from largely low-income communities the opportunity to further their education, debt-free. 

If, as a country, we truly value the American dream with equity and freedom, then we have to stop making opportunity conditional–-especially for those who feel their chances to succeed are out of reach. Expand hope beyond Chicago.

Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work--"If not me then who?" As a strategist and injustice interrupter, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for radical...