Through my time at Year Up they have preached the power of self-betterment and the ability for determination, fortitude, discipline and ambition to affect life outcomes. Essentially, Year Up preaches the American Dream to their students. Coming in with my bias against the American dream, I was skeptical. What I realized though is, for the students at Year Up, the American Dream isn’t a delusion--it actually exists. And although the students at Year Up have surely been given a phenomenal opportunity, the success of the program in terms of job placement and often almost a 100% increase in wages makes my pessimism seem petty. I continue to wonder how, if all it takes to make a low income at risk individual successful is discipline, skills training, and a support network, we are witnessing such a failure in upward mobility. Year Up doesn’t fix racism or broader social issues. It takes individuals who have had it rough and gives them skills, discipline and respect. The approach focuses on the individual to fix the broader system as a whole. This is so different from what we are taught at Duke. We are so often taught of systemic failure and overarching social issues. The failures are large and systemic so the solutions must also be large and fix the system itself, or so we are often urged to think. Yet, a system however large, is made of individuals. So during my time at Year Up, I have decided to explore this philosophy of change on the individual level and see where it takes me.
By Sam Furlong