The Nation We Make: Highlights From The Opportunity Nation Summit

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This year’s Opportunity Nation Summit, The Nation We Make, convened 330 cross-sector organizations from the Opportunity Nation coalition in New York.  Reform-minded organizations, lawmakers, advocates, policy makers, and youth were in attendance for a full day of speeches and conversations about what we could all do to close the Opportunity Divide in this country.  Here are some of the highlights:

The Importance of Mentors

Many of the panelists and speakers shared not only their own stories but the importance of mentors in their lives.  South Carolina Senator Tim Scott spoke about growing up in a single parent household and flunking out of high school before meeting a mentor who saw something in him that he could not see himself.  After failing civics class, Senator Scott credited a mentor for helping him get on the right path. “My story,” the US Senator said “is [only] possible because one man saw something that he was willing to cultivate.”

Bipartisan Solutions

Many of those in attendance also spoke about the art of compromise and the need for lawmakers to come together to pass bipartisan legislation that would improve the lives of every young person and decrease inequality in this country.  One panel highlighted a report written by the conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and the liberal think tank, the Brookings Institute, that offered bipartisan reforms to family, work, and education structures in this country.  These reforms, one of the panelists from AEI hoped, could provide a template of an opportunity agenda for the next president and Congress.

Youth Voice

A popular highlight for many attendees was hearing directly from young people.  Darius Case, a high school senior in New York and graduate from Gap Inc.’s This Way Ahead program, spoke with Bobbi Silten, Executive Vice President, Global Talent & Sustainability at Gap Inc. about how corporations like Gap are creating opportunity for young adults across the country.  During another conversation, Opportunity Nation’s own Jacob Miller, a Grassroots and Coalition Coordinator, moderated a conversation with former Governor of Massachusetts and Year Up national board member Deval Patrick, about how young people in particular can effectively advocate for local changes.

Reforming the Criminal Justice System

There were six concurrent sessions offered to participants ranging from topics about how to empower veterans to strengthen communities to diversifying the talent pool.  One of the more powerful sessions was “What Would It Take to Change Our Incarceration Nation.”  Representatives from the Vera Institute, SailFuture, Drive Change, and the Tow Foundation spoke about policy and practice solutions that help justice-involved youth overcome barriers to education, employment, and civic participation.

Panel Discussions

Year Up founder and CEO Gerald Cheratvian moderated a panel with Anne M. Kress, President of Monroe Community College, and Abigail Carlton, Managing Director of the Rockefeller Foundation, about innovative ways educators, community based organizations, and philanthropic leaders are collaborating to expand economic opportunity in local communities and across the nation.

Elyse Rosenblum, Principal of Grads of Life, moderated a discussion with David Fischer, Executive Director of the NYC Office of Youth Employment, and Timothy Jones, Director of healthy Connections of Martha’s Table, on how cities, community based organizations, and employers are collaborating to address the youth employment crisis, and to develop soft skills for life in a conversation.

Raising Bertie

Community organizer, Vivian Saunders, spoke towards the end of the conference about a new documentary that will be coming out in PBS this fall called Raising Bertie, an intimate portrait of three African boys coming of age in rural North Carolina. Saunders is the Director of the Hive House, a nonprofit community center and after-school program in rural Bertie County, North Carolina and gave a rousing and inspiring speech about the need to invest in rural communities.

In sum, it was an inspiring event that convened some of the country’s most forward-thinking leaders on solutions to make opportunity available to more Americans. For more information about the event and the organization’s policy agenda to address youth unemployment and expand economic mobility, visit the Opportunity Nation website.


The GradsofLifeVoice Forbes team provides thought leadership, research and expert commentary on innovative talent pipelines and related issues such as the skills gap, income inequality, workforce diversity, and the business case for employment pathways. We seek to change employers’ perceptions of young adults with atypical resumes from social liabilities to economic assets. This post was originally featured here.


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