Rapper Common launches education initiative to help young people become ‘Free to Dream’

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Common is perhaps best known for his career as an actor and rapper. But he would never have found success without first having a dream.

And he hopes he can help others achieve their dreams, too – through his nonprofit, Free to dream.

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“Free To Dream aims to create that access for young people to find their dreams and pave the way for them to access education, jobs, wellbeing and justice,” Just say. “The goal of Free To Dream is to create conditions in which our young people can thrive.”

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With help through a $500,000 grant from the nonprofit Student Career Support Organization, American Student Assistance (ASA), the ‘I Am Free to Dream’ campaign was born and will soon provide career exploration and skill-building experiences to at-risk and underrated youth across the country.

“We’re all focused on making (education) better for young people in this country,” Jean Eddy, ASA’s president and CEO, told Fortune at the ASU+GSV Summitwhere the new initiative was formally introduced.

The campaign aims to host regional engagement events to connect young people with potential career paths and provide free content and resources to students, schools, parents and beyond. Individuals will also have access to ASA’s free digital platforms for career exploration and skills building, including coding courses, resume writing and virtual internships.

Meet the students where their dreams lie

Nationwide, there are more than five million opportunity youth – that is, individuals between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither in school nor participating in the labor market, according to the Aspen Institute.

“We know there are millions of youth at opportunity, including nearly a million involved in the justice system. How did this happen? There were a number of systemic barriers and traumas that led to this. We need to find ways to identify the root causes for this disconnect and change the way we interact with our young people,” says Eddy.

Free to Dream and ASA hope that they can connect with these population groups and help young people activate their own strengths and interests and translate dreams into the future.

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“For so many children in the U.S. today, including those considered at-risk youth and those involved in the justice system, there are so many systemic barriers that alienate them from their dreams and make them seem unrealistic or unattainable. They often don’t feel like they even have permission to dream,” says Common.

Common adds that it is important that the initiative connects with local leaders – who really understand the daily problems of young people.

“Together we highlight the possibilities for our young people with opportunities,” Eddy notes.

For Common, it’s personal

Common spent his early years on the South Side of Chicago, where he had an educator mother who really allowed him to follow his passions. But he realizes that wasn’t the reality for many people who grew up around him.

“When I looked back on my life, I thought, ‘well, what was the difference between me and my friend who chose that path?’ I’m no more special than that person. It was a dream,” Common explains.

“But I have dreamed during some of the most difficult situations and it has helped me get out of difficult situations. I have seen people who have been in prison and have gone through the most difficult moments, but their dreams have actually helped them overcome their circumstances.”

The overall hope is that he too can show children that they are free to dream and that there are paths to success that are valuable to them. He describes the feeling as a duty to give back to communities like Chicago and a need to be part of creating meaningful change.

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“I’m super excited about this, I feel like we’re going to go further than we imagined,” he adds.

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