The (African) American Dream By embee kanu unc chapel hill

The Gritty Reality

A promise that wasn't kept

In its most ideal form, the proposition of America is ‘liberty and justice for all.’ In practice, the ugly truth of the American Dream goes something like this: 1. You will work. Ceaselessly. Tirelessly. You will give all the effort you can physically give and then you will be asked to give more. 2. You will fail. At the end of a day of exhaustive work, your efforts will be condemned, your product will be disparaged, and you will wake up the next day and try again. 3. You will want to give up. Day in and day out, you will be compelled by the voice that tells you to stop just as you will be compelled by the voice that tells you to keep going. Ultimately, one voice will leave a more lasting impact. This will be the voice that will ring more clearly, and drown out the faltering moans of the other voice. And that will make all the difference.

For Micheline Amisi, that difference manifested itself in the form of an instinctive determination to overcome adversity that was fostered by dire financial circumstances.

Micheline has lived in the United States for most of her life. But she has clear memories of the part of her early childhood that she spent in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “I came from a family that was a little bit more stable financially. I went to private school, I had nannies for literally everything - someone to cook, someone to take me to school, someone to pick me up...” She comes from a family of doctors and nurses, many of whom reside within the uppermost social class of the DRC. In short, Micheline never had to look too far to find the necessities (and, in many cases, the luxuries) of life.

When Micheline’s father decided to move his family from the Democratic Republic of Congo to the U.S., he was college-educated, enterprising, and ready to explore new opportunities. Like many people who immigrate to America, he was hoping to find a land of opportunity wherein he and his children would be given a fair shot at success. But the reality that confronted him was much different from what he had imagined. According to Micheline, “...he would never get call-backs, never get interviews, and for about two years he didn’t have a job.” Unemployed and unestablished in a new country, Micheline’s father found himself struggling to make ends meet. Eventually, he was able to find minimum-wage work that allowed him to put food on the table. He spent several years working from paycheck to paycheck, just barely coming by the means to support his family. As Micheline recalls, “My dad worked at Walmart & two other jobs and he still was just barely meeting those minimum standards.” The unfortunate situation that this created for Micheline was a childhood that would be characterized by strife.

When asked about the cause of the difficulty that her father experienced in trying to climb the American social ladder, Micheline cites a few different sources. She discusses his health. Employers tend to favor applicants that are young and in good health. As a sufferer of a heart attack, Micheline’s father is placed at a disadvantage in the application process. She cites his lack of experience. A rather odd phenomenon, many places of employment require several months or even years of experience for applicants to even be considered in the selection pool. For this reason, many college graduates (such as Micheline’s father) find it difficult to begin careers in their fields of study because despite their qualifications, their inexperience makes them unhireable. She also mentions his race. Perhaps the most significant of all factors, blackness poses a central issue of the American experience. As a black man, Micheline’s father faces the burden of several centuries of condemnation from a nation that is structured around the societal subjugation of an entire race. His experience of discrimination is not unique; it is the story of every African-American of this time. The hard truth is that whites have been consistently ranked and promoted above their black counterparts in the job market.

But in spite of all of this, Micheline has no gripes. She is not bitter and she does not blame anybody. “...when you’re the less-privileged of the less-privileged, you’re too occupied with what is going on to blame... wasting time and energy on that takes away from the purpose and the struggle that we’re going through,” she says. Rather than pity herself, she has used her situation to her advantage, becoming a hard worker that refuses to be intimidated by adversity in its various forms. At a point in her high school career, her family was in a financial condition that necessitated that Micheline work 30 hours a week at a part-time job. During this time period, Micheline was the main provider of income for her family. She juggled this responsibility alongside the responsibilities of the maintenance of her grades and her extra-curricular activities, which (for many students) prove to be full-time jobs in and of themselves. When asked how she managed the incredible load, Micheline simply says, “It’s kind of something that I had to do - even to meet my own needs.” It is this type of elegant nonchalance about achieving astonishing feats that has defined Micheline’s worldview. The caustic indifference with which she approaches the challenges of a particular goal allows her to dismantle problems in a mechanical, almost robotic way. She has been hardened by hard situations, and will therefore be unbreakable in the face of many challenges to come.

Two birds of a feather

When different backgrounds result in similar personalities: the story of Micheline and Jonathan

Jonathan and Micheline have been dating for about 2 years. At the sound of his name, her face lights up. Their relationship is a dynamic collaboration -- they rely on each other for support and companionship. They spend most of their days together: if not studying together then exercising; if not exercising together then eating; if not eating together then sleeping. The synergetic interaction between the two creates a beautiful relationship that allows one to be a pillar of support when the other is weak.

Though Micheline and Jonathan mesh together seamlessly, they come from two different worlds. In stark contrast to the hardship that defined Micheline’s childhood in the U.S., Jonathan has never known much beyond the occasional financial inconvenience. Born into a middle-class family of comfortable social standing, he cannot immediately identify with the struggle that Micheline experienced. He has been fortunate enough to never see days where he comes home to eviction notices on the door and wonders how the bills will get paid.

However, Jonathan and Micheline are united by a common trait: the innate desire to succeed. Micheline, of course, gets her motivation to succeed from the obligation that she feels to herself to avoid the quality of life that she was raised into. Where, then, does Jonathan - who has not had the same experience of financial strain that she has - get his drive from? “It’s a parenting thing,” says Micheline. “He’s born into money but he has the same drive and, I would say, the same resilience and the same persistence that I do. But I also have other friends that were born into money just like he was (very rich) - can’t handle a single thing.” Though Micheline’s drive is directly related to her family’s socioeconomic condition, it is not dependent on it. Jonathan exemplifies this. He shows that the reaches of motivation and ambition have the capacity to extend into backgrounds of all kinds. If they are not placed there naturally by the harsh conditions of the world, they simply must be instilled by attentive parenting.

It is for this reason that Micheline does not worry about the character of her future children. While she expects that they will never have to endure the difficult times that she was subjected to, she still expects that they will be motivated as she is motivated. “I want my kids to understand that they may have been born into it but I wasn’t born into it,” she says. “They would feel entitled if they just have things handed to them. And I don’t plan on doing that because I didn’t have anything handed to me. And I want them to also have the same motivation and same drive. And a lot of that comes from experience and having to get things that you need and things that you want for yourself by yourself.”

Micheline’s personality is defined by the survival of a situation that might have killed the spirits of most. She thrives because of it. Having experienced all that she has experienced, she can now withstand more than most people can. Through good parenting, she expects to pass this same boldness on to her children. “As long as they have that mentality and they’re not given everything that they ever wanted....I feel like they can establish that resilience and hunger and drive.”

When asked where she sees herself in 10 years, Micheline laughs and spends a moment in thought. “If I am in accounting, I am looking at being 4 years away from partner. That may be accounting or consulting… I see myself making a good bit of money - I didn’t go to school for nothing. I kind of plan on just fighting my way on up.” She is determined to graduate from college with a business degree and enter the job market as soon as possible. She knows that the road ahead of her is long and will be riddled with obstacles. In fact, she anticipates these obstacles as she reflects on what the future will bring her: “I feel that I am double-disadvantaged here being an African-American (African more than American) woman of color.” This is her story. The story of a woman that will never be freed of the shackles placed on her by society. She will constantly be plagued by the biases that affect both women and people of color. But rather than allowing these circumstances to impede her progress and interfere with her trajectory, she uses them to her advantage where she can. “I feel like I’ve been disadvantaged many times but even in that, I’ve found ways to use my race and my gender to my advantage.” She allows her social stautus to empower her, building networks and relationships that bond like-minded individuals and abet social uplift.

Upon first glance at Micheline Amisi, you see an upbeat, intelligent woman who is remarkably comfortable in her own skin. She floats from one corner of a room to the next with the casual glide that can only be upheld by self-confidence. As you peel back the layers, you find that Micheline is a world of contradictions that merge to form a wholistic composite. Charming though painfully sincere; ambitious yet courteous; outgoing yet collected. This is a woman that has seen many sides of a spectrum. Born into conditions of wealth and comfort, Micheline recalls the best of times. Raised into conditions of poverty and strife, Micheline simultaneously recalls the worst of times. But through it all, she has remained true to herself. She prides herself on her resilience. It is this quality of her personality (that is, the refusal to be conquered by any hardship) that carried her through her growth and development. It is this trait that has shaped her into the person that she is today. And it is this attribute that will propel her throughout her life and lead her to great success.

Created By
Mmerobasi Kanu


Created with images by talpeanu - "the statue of liberty new york liberty" • The Wandering Angel - "Masks" • JeepersMedia - "Walmart" • Sadie Hernandez - "Job Market."

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