As an African American and female attorney, Maria Barlow understands just how challenging it is to achieve the American dream.
A principal at The Barlow Law Firm in Chicago, the lawyer and mother of a young son, has faced many challenges inside and out of the courtroom.
“In my profession, there is inequality for women, especially minority women,” Barlow expressed.
“We have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good. Black women are not given the same respect as our counterparts. I have been stopped and questioned about why I am in court if I am the clerk, the court reporter, or the defendant.
“This does not happen to our counterparts, and when appearing before certain judges and hearing their comments, many clients feel they may need a male attorney, or even a white one.”
Despite the challenges, Barlow still believes in achieving the American dream.
As a millennial, she isn’t alone.
Millennials and Generation Z are optimistic about their future, and two-thirds believe the American dream is achievable, according to an Echelon Insights study commissioned by the Walton Family Foundation.
Nearly half of young Americans expect to have a life better than their parents – with Black, Latino and Asian respondents reporting greater optimism.
The Walton Family survey compiled responses from more than 4,000 people, ranging in age from 13-23 (Generation Z) and 24-39 (millennials).
Roughly 60 percent of Black millennials and Generation Zers reported facing or expecting to meet racial inequality as a roadblock to opportunity.
“Despite the stereotypes, findings show these generations are engaged and passionate about building a better future,” Kristen Soltis Anderson, Republican pollster and co-founder of Echelon Insights, reported in a news release accompanying the survey.
“This means ensuring no paths are blocked, no doors are closed to someone because of where they were born or what they look like – everyone has a chance to build the life they want. That is the new American dream.”
According to survey results, young Americans view the American dream as having the freedom and opportunity to build the life they dream of on their terms.
Making this new American dream a reality starts with education – eight in ten respondents believe having a high-quality education is very important to have a better life, but 43 percent say higher education is too expensive or hard to access.
Barlow, the youngest of 11 children, counts as the first in her family to complete college and go on to law school.
“My family couldn’t afford my education, so I am shackled with six-figure debt,” Barlow asserted. “Growing up, my mother stayed home with the kids while my father worked laying floors.
“Although my siblings didn’t go to college, many started businesses, and they own homes and cars. I think my parents did better than my grandparents and we have done better than our parents which is the goal. I’ve positioned my son and me to work twice as hard in order to compete while I’m hoping that a new spotlight on the disparities we face will make it easier for my son.”
Rohan Arora, a 19-year old activist, specializing in environmental health and minority experience and founder of the environmental health organization, The Community Check-Up, posited that young people are in a phase where they are working hard to secure many opportunities.
Yet, minority youth and their communities still face environmental health instability that prevents them from focusing efforts toward attaining the American dream, Arora stated.
“Ever since I was a young boy, I have seen my immigrant family seek the American dream. Whether that be securing an education or being able to speak one’s mind,” said Arora, who also serves as a climate activist advisor to the American Lung Association.
“Yet, they suffered a lot of explicit racism in their journey seeking the American dream. Although I am in a better position than minorities before me, I think there are still several challenges my generation faces,” Arora continued.
“One of the biggest issues I see today is environmental health injustice, which is a part of the larger race issue in our country today.”
While the hurdles are innumerable, Generation Z and millennials have a winning spirit, opined Evy Valencia, chief of staff at 50CAN.
“We’re determined and strong as two groups separated by a sliver of time” Valencia declared.
“Our generations want to achieve change in the world, and we believe that change can and should happen in our lifetimes. The moment is polarized politically, but the resilience and dedication of these generations are something we should all celebrate.”
To view the entire survey, go to waltonfamilyfoundation.org.