We hear them everyday, the array of ever-inspiring phrases that tell us, in a nutshell, that we can achieve anything that we dare to dream.
Blasting from our television speakers and staring us in the face from the billboards we can’t quite look past on the way to work in the morning, sayings like “Just do it,” “Never stop chasing your dreams,” and “Impossible is nothing” attempt to make us believe that we possess the power to reach any heights that we have the willingness to scale.
As stirring and stimulating as they are, sometimes I wonder if the meaning of those words runs any deeper than the ink on the paper on which they rest. Too often, those inspirational phrases seem to be nothing more than a string of words dreamed up by a team of highly trained marketing specialists to make us buy their product, words that spark a flame in our hearts for one passing moment before flickering out again. When the excitement of that temporary belief in the power of a dream dies out, we are left the way we were before, content to keep our feet on the ground and sometimes even jaded by the words that tempted us to believe foolishly in impossible things.
But then, once in a great while, a very special dreamer comes along to show us that those common words really do hold an uncommon truth. To them, impossible truly is nothing, and, through their gritty action, steadfast determination and unwavering faith, they inspire us to give heed to our own dreams once more. They are exceptionally rare, but these extraordinary souls are the very people that keep dreams alive.
Such is the case with young Kenneth Chancey. Chancey, 18, is a senior at Los Angeles’ Helen Bernstein High School, where he is president of the student body, an honors student, and a star player on the football team. At the end of last school year, he was named the best overall academic student. His long list of accomplishments would look stellar on any student’s resume, but the impressiveness of Chancey’s successes becomes much more significant when you know where he comes from.
Kenneth Chancey lives with his father and younger sister on L.A.’s infamously crime-infested Skid Row, where the family makes their residence at the Union Rescue Mission. Homeless since early childhood, Kenneth could have gone the way of so many before him, delving headfirst into the world of drugs, violence and idleness that surrounds him. That would have been the easy way out, and very few who know his situation would have blamed him for taking it. But, that’s not Kenneth Chancey.
No, Chancey is a true dreamer, the kind that not only envisions the great things that can be done but also possesses the courage, strength and fortitude to make them happen. “I know that I’m better than Skid Row,” he told a CNN reporter for a recent story about his life. “I know that I can accomplish something.”
To the outside world, it’s clear that Chancey has already accomplished much, overcoming the type of stumbling blocks that surely would have caused most of us to fall. Next up on his ever-ambitious to do list, though, is an even tougher feat. When he graduates high school this year, Chancey hopes to attend Harvard University. An aspiring doctor, he is fiercely striving to follow in the footsteps of the now famous Liz Murray, whose determined and successful path toward an Ivy League degree inspired the term “homeless to Harvard.”
Chancey has applied to the nation’s most prestigious university, and, although he knows he can’t afford the school’s $50,000 per year tuition fee, he is confident that scholarships, financial aid and student loans will allow him to attend. Despite the terrible surroundings that have taught him otherwise, Chancey has found the courage to believe in himself and in his dreams.
“I have to dream, because, obviously, my reality is horrible,” he said in the interview with CNN.
I don’t know if he knows it or not, but Chancey isn’t only dreaming for himself. When visionaries like him walk through this world, their stories become the magic of which all of our dreams are made, and the promise that those dreams really can come true. In fact, I think that people like Kenneth Chancey are put into this world for that very purpose, to show us all how limitless our possibilities truly are.
Very few of us will ever see as harsh of realities as Chancey faces everyday, but each of us has personal obstacles that stand in the way of our own dreams. In Kenneth’s story and in the stories of other dreamers like him, I hope that we will all find the strength to knock those obstacles out of the way.
CharLy Markwart is a Princeton Times reporter. Contact her at email@example.com.