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By Alisha L. Gordon

$89,263.66.

That’s how much it cost for me to achieve the “American dream.”

You know that dream, right? The one that says “if you work hard, go to school, and get a degree, you’ll find a good job that you can work for 30 years, retire and live comfortably with fond memories of your ‘hay day’, telling exaggerated stories of your younger years to your grandchildren.” That dream.

I was one of the first people in my family to go to college. My parents wanted me to acquire more of that American dream than they could. My dad was a factory worker and my mom was a banker by trade but spent most of her career as a clerk at the U.S. Post Office. Going to college was the ideal step towards achieving more than they could.

My parents couldn’t afford to send me to my dream school, Spelman College, so Sallie Mae sold me a dream that would make college affordable and provide the resources to cover the expenses that my mom couldn’t cover. They sold me “the dream.” They took this slang-talking, gum poppin’, girl from Decatur and made entering into college easy.

Fast forward 11 years and $89,263.66: I am unemployed and scrapping every month to provide Mustang Sallie her monthly feeding of greenbacks. Between the time I acquired my student loans and today (over the course of 9 years), I’ve been unemployed for nearly three of those years. During the periods I worked, I made from about $24K-$42K a year as a rental car associate to a high school English teacher. I’ve cleaned out my 401K and my exhaustive search for employment has kept me and millions of others hungry for more than just a good meal.

Occupy Wall Street, which marked its one-month anniversary October 17, has spawned #OccupyAnyStreet movements all over the U.S. from Atlanta, to Boston, to D.C. People all over the U.S. have grown tired of the hypocrisy, the blatant disregard for American citizens, and the broken dreams, shattered hopes, and trampled promises for a better life.

Today, a Sallie Mae representative told me it would take the next 24 years to pay off my student loans. It will be the year 2035. I will be 53 years old. My daughter will be celebrating her 30th birthday.

Sallie Mae, who accrues interest daily on their loans, has absorbed $25,227.50 in interest from me. That number will increase tomorrow.

According to Sallie Mae, I’m supposed to make a monthly payment of $733.82. When I was working as an educator, and at the height of my earning potential, that was a fourth of my take-home monthly salary.

For the last 20 months or so, I’ve been making interest only payments of $243.58. It’s all I could afford.

For Sallie Mae customers who have taken out private loans with them, they have NO repayment options for beyond the basic 48-month in-school deferment, (enough time to get your graduate degree, which I did) and they only offer a 24-month forbearance for unemployment, hardship, etc.

I’ve had my loans with them for 9 years. I will have them for another 24 years. I currently have them during one of the greatest economic crisis of my generation’s lifetime and Sallie Mae has provided no options, no programs, no assistance for the thousands, maybe millions of customers who need help paying their student loans.

Who is here to help us? Who will aid the American people who chased the American Dream, went to college, started a business or pursued a passion only to get to the end of the road of “promise and prosperity” and have no job or capital to help fund their way from dream to reality? Occupy Any Street is exactly that. It is an occupation, a takeover for the American Dream. Reclaiming the promise made through the blood, sweat, and tears of the people before us. It is not subject to race, nationality, or religion. It is, in fact, a universal promise made to those who call themselves American citizens.

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