Would you believe that a young man sentenced to life in the state penitentiary for murder could have a transformative experience in prison and re-emerge into society 22 years later, helping prisoners unlock their “human potential through entrepreneurial passion, mentoring, and education”? What about a psychologist who quit her job to follow her dream of owning a hair-braiding salon, spending years locked in a lawsuit against her state government in order to break down the regulatory walls barring entrepreneurial women in Mississippi’s African-American community from making an honest living? Lastly, how often do we get to hear firsthand from a man who was a successful Senior Vice President of Marketing for a large bank holding company and the father of seven children, whose nearly fatal car accident left him paralyzed from the neck down — who thought that his life was over, but went on to found a company that helps people with disabilities find gainful employment?
We don’t often get to see the human face of how policy impacts individuals struggling against barriers to opportunity. AEI’s May 16th Vision Talks event, “Overcoming Barriers to Opportunity,” offered a welcome and moving glimpse into the life stories of three such inspiring individuals.
The “American experiment is gorgeous and beautiful,” Senator Ben Sasse said in the keynote address that kicked off the talks, “because the First Amendment is the beating heart of the American experiment…The American idea is that we want all our people to be thriving, vibrant, independent, and free.” And with all of our policies, Sasse reminded the audience, we have to ask ourselves, “are we trying to re-empower families, local enterprises and communities…or trying to displace them?”
The firsthand experiences that Bryan Kelley, Melony Armstrong, and Mike Zelley shared were a powerful testament to this free-market ideal that prizes the empowerment of individuals, families, and local enterprise.