Who MOVED My American Dream?

by Jermaine

 “The American Dream used to mean getting a good job at General Motors with lifetime job security, stable wage growth, pensions, health benefits and life insurance. Those opportunities no longer are there.” Robert Perrucci, professor of sociology at Purdue University.

I am a native Detroiter. As a child growing up I loved Detroit with every fiber of my being. Detroit made me strong. Cold winters with lake effect snow, scuffles with other inter-city youth, playing sports against some of the best athletes in the word, and making due against all odds when money was tight. Trust me, if you live through these types of obstacles (and learn the lessons locked inside of them) you’ll get strong. Quite frankly, change and challenge became a normal part of life.

For as long as I can remember, my dad worked for Chrysler. Early on I had no clue what he actually did but I knew he made cars… lots and lots of cars. I vividly remember him working deep nights and coming home at six or seven in the morning from the plant. Though exhausted, he still would catch us as my brother and I dove off of the stairs into his arms. Of course, that was immediately followed by us patting him down for snacks or other goodies. Most mornings he was good for a sandwich or two.

I Fell in LOVE with CARS as a Kid

Unbeknownst to me, this romanticized view birthed an indirect love for the automotive industry. I even told my teachers when I was in sixth grade that someday I wanted to be an engineer and work at Chrysler with my dad. I boldly added the caveat that I would design the cars (ambition is in my genes). By the time I got ready to go to college the winds of change were already blowing. I interned at one of the Chrysler plants and it just didn’t live up to my lofty expectations. Yet, the example of my father’s success continued to play in the recesses of my heart. It took me two years to finally change my major to something else. Why? Because in my mind the automotive industry was “a sure thing.”

Thirteen years after my internship my father is retired and Chrysler and General Motors are both recovering from bankruptcy filings. I never would have thought that autoworkers my age across the country would be forced to redefine themselves because their source of income no longer exist. Many Detroiters are just like me. I have uncles, aunties, cousins, siblings, even one grandmother who had a good-paying unionized plant career.

Fortunately many generations of people escaped from the plants and into retirement with their pensions in tact. For the rest it is back to the drawing board. Even if this crop of young plant workers are invited back there is no guarantee for thirty-five years of uninterrupted work. The harsh reality is these jobs don’t carry the security that existed fifty years ago.

So how is one to chart a NEW PATH that leads to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? (The American Dream)

Until a few weeks ago I didn’t have a clue. I could easily see myself as one of the thousands of people who are desperately looking for a new job that doesn’t involve a huge pay cut or a degree. Left to my intellect, I would have marched down that exact path expecting the same results. THE GOOD NEWS: Trust me, if you live through these types of obstacles (and learn the lessons locked inside of them) you’ll get strong! The lesson:

We are Responsible for Our Own Resourcefulness

The only constant is change. When failure is no longer an option great things can happen. If you are reading this and trying to figure out if the president, the governor or the mayor will fix your fate then you’re looking to the wrong source. It’s bigger than local government officials and closer than Washington D.C. The American Dream is still alive and strong… it’s just in a different place. Who moved your American Dream? I don’t know. But I know it is still out there! Will you fight to find it? What are you willing to do to get it? What are you willing to give up? The choice is still, and always has been, yours. Chrysler, GM, Ford can’t kill a Dream this big by outsourcing labor contracts or losing market share to Toyota.

Detroit will recover. So will Kokomo Indiana, Cleveland Ohio and all of the other Midwest cities that have struggled for the last three years. How do I know? Because I know the same experiences, heart, and heritage that fuels me drives my peers. While we may not be responsible for the changes that have happened, we are responsible for our own resourcefulness.

I’m already reading reports of entrepreneur businesses sprouting up, companies moving across the country to the area, and thousands enrolling in career training to get new skills. The question is not “if” Detroit will recover it is “when.” DETROIT WILL GET ITS SPARK BACK!

Spencer Johnson famously wrote a book entitled Who Moved my Cheese? The point of his book is the point of this article. If you’re still confused about your next step then I adjure you to read the book.