DODD: Keeping the American Dream alive

** FILE ** In this June 16, 1983 photo, President Ronald Reagan greets Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C. at a dinner honoring Helms in Washington. Helms has died at age 86, the Jesse Helms research center says. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke, file)

I recently saw a very troubling poll by the left-leaning Brookings Institution.   

In its 2022 American Family Survey, Brookings found the idea of the “American Dream” is dying. The survey of 3,000 Americans found only one-third of respondents believed their children would be better off than they are.   

This goes counter to what we’ve thought and been taught for generations — that our children will have the opportunity to be better off financially and non-financially than ourselves.  

We can speculate on the many reasons why Americans are more pessimistic. Inflation is at its highest level in a generation, crime and violence is on the rise. A crisis at the southern border. 

Schools are failing children. A “cancel culture” that erodes our freedom of speech. A distrust of government institutions and the media. The list goes on and on.  

So, where did this idea of the “American Dream” come from? Ironically, the phrase originated during the Great Depression. James Truslow Adams coined the phrase in his 1931 best-selling book, The Epic of America. Adams described it as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” It’s the idea that America is truly the land of opportunity. That in America anyone regardless of his or her background, sex,race or socio-economic standing can achieve greatness if they are willing to work hard.  

A young lad, the son of the local fire chief, grew up believing in the “American Dream.” His name was Jesse Helms and his life embodied it. From hard scrabble, depression-era Monroe, N.C., Helms went on to serve in the halls of Congress for 30 years. To this day, Jesse Helms remains North Carolina’s longest-serving U.S. Senator, having been elected to office a record five times.  

To Helms, the “American Dream” is only possible thanks to America’s free enterprise system, what Helms called the “Miracle of America ― the opportunity to strive and work and earn the things we really want.”  

The freedom for individuals to choose businesses, the right to private property, profits as an incentive and competition is vital if we are to maintain the long-term strength of our economy and our nation as a whole. Unfortunately, these ideas are not being taught to many of our young people today. Could this be one of the reasons the idea of the “American Dream” is dying?  

Thankfully, Helms’ principles haven’t died. They’re being taught today to thousands of young people across the United States thanks to the work of non-profit Jesse Helms Center Foundation in Wingate, N.C., which is now in its 34th year of existence. The Helms Center’s flagship education and training program is the Free Enterprise Leadership Challenge, known by the acronym FELC.   

A program for students ages 13 to 18, FELC teaches young people the power of the free enterprise system and the “American Dream,” how to run and grow a business, earn real money, lead with integrity, and the beauty of hard work.   

Through FELC, students don’t simply memorize terms out of a book, they develop profound and lasting connections to the principles that underlie the “American Dream.” FELC began in 1995 and to date has trained over 11,500 students.  

Now this year as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jesse Helms’ first election to the U.S. Senate on November 7, 1972, it’s worth remembering Helms’ commitment to the free enterprise system and his affinity for young people, which he demonstrated by personally meeting with over 100,000 young people during his time in the Senate.   

When Helms reluctantly agreed to put his name on The Jesse Helms Center, he insisted it not become a “dusty old museum.” He was adamant that the Center create programs based on traditional 

American values and principled leadership. He wanted opportunities for young people to learn why he believed the free enterprise system was truly the “Miracle of America.” Today the Center carries on Helms’ legacy, changing young hearts and minds, working to keep the “American Dream” alive.  

John Dodd is the President Emeritus of The Jesse Helms Center in Wingate and Chairman of the North Carolina Center Right Coalition Meeting