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COLUMN: The American dream is alive and well

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By David Meredith

He’s the embodiment of the American Dream. Poor, handicapped, immigrant, yet through established principles has risen to the top in his field. His name is Dennis Ogbe.

Dennis was the featured speaker at a Rotary meeting I attended not long ago. Whereas history is full of examples like his, it was great to hear and see one up close.

I loved listening because the principles he has incorporated into his life are ones which provide a firm foundation for the soul of this nation.

Born and raised in Nigeria, Dennis’ family had very little but somehow eked out a living for his 11 brothers and sisters.

He made his way to the United States, bringing with him principles instilled by his father.

His presentation was a great reminder of the foundations which produce strong character and integrity, traits which produce a vibrant culture.

One of the first things that struck me is Dennis’ gratefulness for the freedoms and opportunity this nation afforded him and his young family.

Coming from a nation not founded on the principles of the worth and value of each person, Dennis knows firsthand the poverty and oppression which results from that kind of political philosophy.

Growing up in the land of liberty and abundance, it’s easy to forget what life is like for much of the world. I have a tendency to take things for granted. Dennis does not.

Also apparent in Dennis’ character is the value of hard work. Coming from a foreign country with a foreign language, Dennis struggled to learn the language and the culture.
Yet he worked at it. And worked at it. And worked at it.

The result? Graduation from Bellarmine with not only a bachelor’s degree, but an MBA as well. It wasn’t easy, but he worked at it. And succeeded.

His story made me think about the value of work in our culture today. I wonder if in our desire to provide the best for our children, we sometimes make it too easy for them. Reaping the benefits of the principles of prosperity sown by our forefathers, maybe the next generation has it too good for their own good. There is something to be gained by earning and saving for a new iPod.

Work produces a sense of self-worth which comes from accomplishing something of value, and helps one see himself as a contributing member of the larger community.
Something else I appreciated was what Dennis refused to pull out during his talk.

First, Dennis refused to pull out the “disadvantaged” card. He believes in our founders’ idea that “all men are created equal”, not in status or life situation, but in rights, worth, responsibilities and possibilities. Therefore everyone who so desires can make of themselves whatever they want. Hard work, determination and dedication create stronger character than expecting someone else to provide for one’s life. Even the disadvantaged can succeed, maybe becoming the top in their field.

Secondly, Dennis refused to pull out the “victim” card.

“Poor me” might be a prevalent attitude in our culture today, but not for Dennis – even if he is the victim of polio. With one leg hardly the size of my forearm, Dennis has worked, trained and become a world-class athlete.

Dennis has been selected as a member of the U.S. Paralympic Team. He is in the process of training for the 2011 Parapan American Games in Mexico, Nov. 12-20. With a barrel chest, huge arms, and one crippled leg, he will attempt to add to his list of accomplishments by winning the gold medal in throwing the shot put and discus, events in which he already holds the American record.

A final character trait which drew my attention was the deep humility which pervaded Dennis’ talk. With tears in his eyes, more than once he acknowledged his dependence upon God and other people. He tells how God is the one who has enabled him to do what he is doing, and become what he is becoming. He tells how his family and friends have given the vital encouragement.

On his website, Dennis writes: “While my finish line is yet thousands of miles on the horizon, when I one day cross it I won’t be alone. I will be holding hands with all those who have helped me over the years: God; father; family; and dear friends.”

A pretty good mix upon which to build a successful life and community.

David Meredith lives in Crestwood. The views expressed in this column are those of the writer.