Eroding the Impact of Privilege

The Anderson Foundation was the place to be for the social elite of the community. The Foundation raised funds to support talented young people going to college. On the surface, the Foundation looked very successful. The support of the Foundation often made the difference in a student being able to attend an elite university over one with lesser status.

One of the major donors to the Foundation, Horace Lucas, passed away suddenly prior to the selection process for the next year’s scholars. His wife, Pilar, was selected to serve in his place. The Board felt that she was a safe selection to fill out Horace’s term. That turned out to be wrong.

Pilar was a forceful advocate for Alejandro Braga, a Hispanic-American student. Alejandro had few AP credits because his high school in the lower income section of the community did not offer these classes. He didn’t have the activities that others had, again because of a lack of opportunity and his need to work after school to support his family. What Alejandro had was not something reflected on a resume or application. What he had was a sense of purpose driven by his own values, not those scripted by others.

The Board was opposed to Alejandro but eventually gave in to Pilar by dipping into their endowment to fund an extra student. Essentially Alejandro was a footnote in the acceptance ceremony as a “special” selection. He was listed separately from the award recipients. When Pilar’s board seat expired, she was not selected to continue serving on the Board.

Over the next four years, Alejandro remained a footnote in the Foundation’s annual report. The other recipients were listed as scholars at their respective elite universities. Alejandro was listed under a category called other universities. He was the only student listed in this category.

Four years after his class of scholars was selected, there was a special graduation ceremony. Alejandro did not attend. He had a prior obligation to attend a ceremony at the White House honoring his selection as one of the 30 Rhodes Scholars from across America. He was a first student selected from his community and the Anderson Foundation.

Privilege is an element of every society. Its influence can be pervasive and destructive. How does a society erode the impact of privilege? The simplest answer is giving hope and enabling success. In Alejandro’s case, the scholarship which he was awarded grudgingly enabled his success. In other cases, privilege can be eroded in small ways which elevate the status of those who have limited prospects.

Hope is essential. How do you generate hope? There are many ways: role models, kind words of encouragement, opportunities to overcome challenges, empathetic but forceful guidance, faith, etc.

Hope is the doorway to eroding the privilege that others may have. But hope doesn’t guarantee success. Everyone needs mentors to keep them on track and to open doors. Mentors can also provide perspective when challenges seem insurmountable.

The final key to eroding privilege is a willingness to pay it forward. It’s not hard to imagine that Alejandro will support others as he was supported. Such support will not be one of privilege, but one of building hope and mentoring for success.

Just imagine what our society would be like if the influence of privilege were eroded not by governmental action but by the determination of individuals who want to improve their position in life? Just imagine networks of hope providers and mentors for those who most need support? Just imagine what it would take to level the playing field so those with privilege do not have an unfair advantage over others?

* * *

“Poverty can teach lessons that privilege cannot.” – Jack Klugman (actor)

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.