LIFTing with the National Opportunity Summit

By LIFT on April 9, 2015

Categories: Events, Real Stories


On February 26, roughly 1,000 leaders from across the country in the business, education, and nonprofit sectors convened in Washington, DC for Opportunity Nation’s National Opportunity Summit. Among the attendees were Jasmine Reid and Caterina Marzella, Member Service and Program Fellows at LIFT-DC, respectively, and Ryan Kenney, an Advocate at LIFT-Chicago.

LIFT is a proud partner in Opportunity Nation’s Opportunity Coalition, a dynamic alliance of over 300 businesses, nonprofits, and academic institutions committed to enhancing opportunities for youth and families by strengthening pathways to upward mobility and building strong communities. As Opportunity Nation explains on its website, coalition members support the notion that all Americans should have access to opportunity and that where you start off in life should not determine where you end up.


On Wednesday morning, energy, passion, and potential filled every regal corner of the Omni Shoreham Hotel.

As they shuffled into the ballroom, leaders from across the nation were already connecting, collaborating, and networking. A robust offering of empowering speakers, gripping personal testimonies, and action-oriented breakout sessions awaited this mixed community of leaders. Some hailed from the trenches of community organizing in small town Iowa and others from the boardrooms of San Francisco, but they were all here in our nation’s capital, united, motivated, and eager.

Who better to kick the conference into high gear than esteemed U.S. Senator Cory Booker? The hum of the crowd turned to a buzz as he took the lectern. Sen. Booker preached the core mission that drew everyone to the conference: a commitment to investing in our nation’s young people, what he called “the most valuable natural resource a nation has in this global knowledge economy.”

The New Jersey native wove gripping snippets of personal narrative into his call to increase the educational and employment opportunities that so many Americans are asking for. Sen. Booker made clear that in order to secure the American Dream for future generations, our country simply must increase opportunities for our nation’s youth to win the lives they want to live–and the audience resoundingly agreed. In Senator Booker’s words, the question facing the U.S. is not “can we do this?” but rather “do we have the collective will?”

The varied audience, representing a body of organizations that epitomizes the collective will Sen. Booker called for, was fired up, to say the least. In a chorus of applause, first-generation college students from the South Side of Chicago cheered alongside representatives from major philanthropic foundations. The hands of industry titans clapped along with those of budding social entrepreneurs. Professors and politicians, students and CEOs, non-profit executives and volunteers (and even a few LIFTers!) were standing in unison, prepared to launch into the day ahead.

 And some people hadn’t even had their coffee yet.

As the Summit went under way, the buzz translated into a tangible, productive force. From the constrictive and inspirational conference environment emerged action-based partnerships and inter-organizational collaborations, specific calls to action, and valuable networking opportunities. Attendees heard from a panel of mayors who are exemplifying in their cities the kinds of alternative pathways to education, job training pipelines, and community engagement activities that our country demands on the national level. Breakout sessions explored the power of entrepreneurship on youth employment, juvenile justice and youth unemployment, and the road to the American Dream via postsecondary education.

In the same vein as the Opportunity Summit and the Opportunity Coalition in which it is a key partner, LIFT’s work embodies the collective will for which Sen. Booker called, and that our country needs.

In uniting Advocates, Fellows, and Staff of varied backgrounds, experiences, and career goals to work alongside community members of all stripes, our organization serves as a microcosm for the collaboration and shared commitment that the Summit exists to capture, articulate, and develop.

Simply put, LIFT walks the walk, and is a key player in a community of individuals and organizations committed to increase opportunity for all Americans, no matter where or who they are, to achieve the financial stability and wellbeing they seek.

To conclude his talk that morning, Sen. Booker quoted what he called an old African-American mantra. It most eloquently conveys the shared commitment of the conference attendees, including LIFT, and the course that our collective movement is charting to secure our nation’s future:

“If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.”

This post was written by Ryan Kenney, an Advocate at LIFT-Chicago.