The Opportunity Makers
The central theme of the American Dream is the prospect of a better life, not only for oneself, but especially for one’s children. Many young people have used higher education to make that dream a reality, but for many youth from underrepresented and underserved communities, that pathway has been blocked and their dreams have been deferred.
In The Opportunity Makers, Charles Rutheiser tells the story of an organization that is very effective in making those dreams come true. Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) was founded by Michael Osheowitz in 1963 as a small, all-volunteer mentoring program to assist students of color from low-income families in the South Bronx and Harlem to do well in high school, excel in college and succeed in careers. Since then, SEO has maintained its founding values while growing into a large, professional and highly effective organization that trains and supports high school students, college students and young professionals from underrepresented backgrounds. Over the course of its first five decades, more than 11,000 young people have participated in SEO programs in the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Vietnam and Ghana, with a large number going on to establish careers of distinction.
During its first half-century, SEO focused more on doing its work than drawing attention to itself. This quiet strength may well have been an important ingredient in the organization’s success. However, SEO’s accomplishments merit much wider recognition at a time when inequality of opportunity is a matter of increasing concern. SEO has closed the academic achievement gap between students of color growing up in poverty and their more privileged national peers. SEO effectively trains young people from underrepresented backgrounds for positions in major financial institutions, corporate law firms, Fortune 500 companies, government service and the nonprofit sector.
Drawing on archival research and hundreds of interviews, this book provides the first comprehensive account of how SEO evolved, what it has achieved and what many of its alumni have accomplished. The importance of SEO extends far beyond its ability to create highly effective programs or adapt to changing circumstances; the broader significance is the way SEO has transformed many thousands of lives beyond the direct reach of its programs. One of SEO’s most important accomplishments has been to empower participants in its programs to lead, give back and create opportunity for others—in short, to be Opportunity Makers.
For more information about SEO, please visit seo-usa.org. 100% of proceeds from the sale of The Opportunity Makers will go to support SEO Scholars.
In the age of decentralization, instant communications, and the subordination of locality to the demands of a globalizing market, contemporary cities have taken on place-less or a-geographic characters. They have become phantasmagorical landscapes. Atlanta, argues Charles Rutheiser, is in many ways paradigmatic of this generic urbanism. As such, it provides a fertile ground for investigating the play of culture, power and place within a “non-place urban realm.” Rutheiser uses the mobilization for the 1996 Olympics to talk about the uneven development of Atlanta‘s landscape. Like other cities lacking any natural advantages, Atlanta‘s reputation and built form have been regularly reconfigured by generations of entrepreneurs, politicians, journalists and assorted visionaries to create a service-oriented information city of global reach.
Borrowing a term from Walt Disney, Rutheiser refers to these successive waves of organized and systematic promotion as linked, but not always well-co-ordinated acts of urban “imagineering.” Focusing on the historic core of the metropolitan area, Rutheiser shows how Atlanta has long been both a test bed for federal urban renewal and a playground for private capital. The city provides an object lesson in internal colonization and urban underdevelopment. Yet, however illustrative of general trends, Atlanta also represents a unique conjunction of universals and particulars; it exemplifies a reality quite unlike either New York or Los Angeles—two cities to which it has often been compared.
This book thus adds an important case study to the emerging discourse on contemporary urbanism. It goes beyond providing another account of uneven development and the “theme-parking” of a North American city: Rutheiser reflects on how contemporary American society thinks about cities, and argues that, ultimately, despite the ever-increasing virtualization of day-to-day life, the obliteration of locality is never complete. There always remains some “here,” if only deep beneath the “urbane disguises,” in the interstices of social activity, in the contradictions of experience and in the residues of individual and collective memory.