By: Jennifer Rogers
Wikipedia writes, “The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, the set of ideals (Democracy, Rights, Liberty, Opportunity, and Equality) in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers. In the definition of the American Dream by James Truslow Adams in 1931, “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.”
American Dream, the Ideal
Sadly, I think the term “American Dream” has faded and has become a mockery for politicians using the term to fight political wars on immigration. But, I choose to believe it is an ideal, not a political platform, and this ideal of hard work and the freedom to have opportunities and succeed no matter where you come from is one I saw first-hand the day I met 4-year-old Israel.
Opportunity for ALL
I first saw Israel’s enchanting smile on Facebook in a video showing off his new custom wheelchair donated by Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities Foundation “AID.org”. If you know his story, you would know that Israel had never been mobile. He spent his life caged in a crib in Bulgaria, outcast because he was considered cursed by God because he had a disability.
Israel’s new family, the Gagnon’s, raised $34,000 to bring him home to Camp Verde, Arizona. Israel was in the states for three months learning his new family, practicing English and army crawling to get to where he needed to be.
Achieved through hard work
Israel is fighting every minute to shed the abusive life style he was raised in for the last 4 years. His mother told us he gets overwhelmed and has to wear headphones to take a break. He was never taught to speak, but just 3 months being in the states, he will repeat every word you say and push to learn more.
He received his gifted special wheelchair and instantly learned to go forward, backward, and even knows a couple tricks. When he wakes up in the morning, his first word is “chair.”
The custom orange specialized wheelchair AID.org provided Israel is a symbol of his new found freedom. He is no longer in a cage, but surround by a loving family. He is no longer confined indoors as a prisoner. Now, he can get into his chair, he can move forward, backward or even in circles.
His new chair gave him the mobility to make his first trip to the Phoenix Zoo. That’s where I met Israel.
He had never been to a zoo, and had never seen any animals other than the family cats. The first animal Israel got to see was the buzzard. I choked up looking at Israel who didn’t blink. What an amazing image to witness someone’s first experience. I will never forget that look of wonder in his eyes.
With few barriers
After our trip to the zoo, I kept thinking about Israel, and what a flirt he was, and how he mesmerized everyone around him with his presence. I thought about being an American, and how lucky we are that our country has families like the Gagnons, and organizations like AID.org. Mostly, I thought about Israel and being in his shoes. I kept thinking, he has been in our country for three months and has experienced unconditional love from his family. He has experienced the value of having a family and having someone to take care of you. And at 4 years old, he experienced an American dream. He got the gift of freedom; he is free to be mobile in his new chair, he is free to be loved, and most of all, he is free of the abusive life he left behind.
I am so grateful to be an American, but when I think about true freedom, I have to ask, are we doing enough for our children (and adults) that live with disabilities? Will Israel truly be welcome in the businesses he wants to visit? Will he be treated fairly in a job interview? And will he get the same opportunities and experiences here in America as all of the other children. Statistics tell us our answer – No.
Israel gives me strength to help bring awareness that while we are Americans, we are not all treated equal. I want to read this story in 5 years and know Israel was the start of something big, something widespread, that WE all made a difference because our children will have the opportunity to be whatever they can be under the ideal of the American Dream.