Education has long been the door to opportunity and the pathway to prosperity in America. But achieving the American Dream has become a remote possibility for too many, especially for younger generations.
A long-time friend to Winston-Salem, Dr. Robert Putnam, captivated Winston-Salem leaders several years ago with his groundbreaking study on the importance of social capital or “community connectedness,” which generated a local movement to strengthen neighborhoods through resource-sharing and community collaboration.
In 2016, Putnam was asked to be the keynote speaker at the inaugural Raising Every Child Benefit Luncheon, where he presented his startling examination of the growing “opportunity gap” that is preventing communities like Winston-Salem/Forsyth County from flourishing.
In his book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Putnam found that over the last 30-40 years, the gap has grown between the opportunities and resources for those kids coming from affluent and well-educated homes, and opportunities and resources for those kids coming from poor, less-educated homes. The point of his work is to say, “Here’s the reality.” Now, how do we go about changing our current reality to move us back toward the reality of the American Dream?
The opportunity gap is widest in Forsyth County.
A 2017 study by two Harvard economists found Forsyth County to be among the worst counties in the U.S. for helping poor children move up the income ladder. We rank fifth worst out of 2,873 counties nationwide. Only four American Indian reservations are below us.
During his address at the inaugural Raising Every Child Benefit Luncheon, Putnam challenged community leaders to collaborate, innovate and work together in order to ensure that every child in Forsyth County has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential.
That was four years ago.
Since that time, Family Services has convened a team of champions to focus on proven ways to close that opportunity gap, most notably during the earliest years of life. Brain science has confirmed what most parents already know, namely, that the first five years of life are a time of tremendous physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development. These are the years when brain architecture is being built, with more than one million new neural connections formed every second.
But just as seeds must be planted in good soil in order to grow, a child’s environment and life experiences shape and change the architecture of the developing brain, laying the foundation for all the development and behavior that follows, including how healthy and successful the child will become as an adult.
This year, Dr. Putnam returns as the fourth Raising Every Child keynote speaker to underscore the belief that communities do, in fact, flourish when all children have access to opportunities that enable them to reach their full potential and contribute back to community life.
During his address at the Benton Convention Center on April 23, Putnam will focus on the current state of America—deep and accelerating inequality; unprecedented political polarization; vitriolic public discourse; a fraying of social fabric; public and private narcissism.
While it may seem as if the only thing that Americans agree on is that this is the worst of times, Putnam says we’ve been here before, and we can turn the corner once more to become more cooperative, more generous; a society more focused on our responsibilities to one another and less focused on our narrower self-interest.
We hope you will come help us elevate the well-being of all children as we continue to make Pre-K a Priority in Forsyth County. Tickets and sponsorship opportunities are available at RaisingEveryChild.org.