From Fragility to Opportunity: Why We Come Together

The gathering of a people committed to improving society is one example of our service to humanity. It is in this spirit that the Center for Advancing Opportunity (CAO) hosts its first invitation-only State of Opportunity in America Summit on February 5–6, 2018. CAO is a Washington, D.C.-based research and education initiative created by a partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the Charles Koch Foundation, and Koch Industries. Our mission is to develop evidence-based solutions to the most pressing education, criminal justice, and economic mobility issues in fragile communities throughout the United States by working with faculty and students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other postsecondary institutions.

To kick-start this national conversation, the Summit will be a space for in-depth discussions with more than 200 professors, reformers, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, employers, and others committed to advancing opportunity for people living in fragile communities. What are fragile communities? They are places where residents — no matter their race or ethnicity — face significant barriers to advancement due to the lack of quality educational options, high crime rates, and severely limited access to economic and social mobility. As the wealthiest nation on earth, we have within our reach the resources to turn the tide in favor of millions looking for hope.

Our Summit provides two platforms to make this happen. The first is a release of our State of Opportunity in America report in collaboration with Gallup, Inc. This first-of-a-kind document contains data from 6,230 residents living in fragile communities in 49 states and the District of Columbia to understand the perceived barriers to opportunity and empower organizations that serve these communities to create evidence-based solutions. By linking people’s beliefs about barriers to education, economic opportunity, and equal justice to university-based scholars’ work in these areas, CAO helps to create new templates of possibility for closing the opportunity gap for this generation and the ones to come.

The second is several panel discussions that unpack big questions we wrestle with weekly. Here are examples:

· Why is prosperity declining and inequality increasing in America and what is the impact of this trend on the most fragile communities?

· How can listening to individuals in fragile communities shape our understanding of the barriers to opportunity and lead to innovative solutions that drive dynamic change and strengthen those in greatest need?

· How can quality education and equal justice through effective community policing and unbiased judicial laws and practices reduce incarceration rates, deter crime, and ensure more individuals at risk to offend have a path to opportunity?

· What are the visible and invisible impediments to pursuing economic aspirations through work and entrepreneurship for members of fragile communities?

The 2018 Summit is the beginning of what will become an annual event.

In closing, I look forward to coming together with a diverse set of stakeholders to begin a conversation about getting people out of fragile situations through education, criminal justice reform, and economic mobility. At CAO, opportunity is more than a sound bite — it is a march toward human dignity.