Sometimes, we find a way. We persist, we make a way for ourselves — despite great distances, despite great odds, despite tough childhoods and harsh economic realities — we carry on.
Sometimes, we must bend so that we don’t break. We give in – to laws, to bureaucracy, to mainstream mores. Sometimes, in order to survive, we have to surrender.
The American Dream – a premise that has shaped a country – is hard to define. It can be both tangible to some and a phantom ideal for others. It embodies hope, progress and change. It is boundless optimism, a steadfast belief that there is no ceiling on what a person can accomplish—anyone who tries hard enough can be successful. Americans place great stock in the capacity of the individual to make his or her own destiny. But if success belongs entirely to the individual, then so does failure. When we talk about shortcomings, we do not often focus on institutional or systemic failings. This is the dark side of our individualist, meritocratic ethos. The Dream and its disciples can be unforgiving to those who falter. And though there are few who ever climb to the same dizzying heights as the most successful Americans, most of us persist in our pursuit of the Dream.
In 2011, as the country reawakens from the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, University of North Carolina photojournalism students searched their communities for signs of dreams deferred. They tried to define a concept ingrained in every American but unobtainable for most. They came back with photographic essays exploring everything from re-imagined gender roles to resegregation of public schools, videos investigating crack addiction, immigration and the impacts of Obama-Care, and a non-traditional documentary project exploring the newest American Dream – immortality.