The Children’s Defense Fund-New York Beat the Odds® scholarship program provides social and academic college readiness programming to high school students that are working hard to overcome tremendous obstacles in their personal lives, who demonstrate academic achievement and give back to their community. In addition, the Beat the Odds program offers scholarship opportunities and support services to aid scholars throughout their college career—including ongoing mentoring, internship placements and career guidance.
Each Beat the Odds scholar receives a scholarship to put toward their college expenses and is honored at the annual CDF-NY Beat the Odds awards gala.
Since 1990, the Children’s Defense Fund Beat the Odds scholarship program has been awarded to almost 1,000 students nationwide. Alumni of the program have graduated from some of the nation’s premier universities and serve in a diverse range of occupations.
2020 CDF-NY Beat the Odds® Gala
Our annual celebration on February 24, 2020 at the Pierre in NYC honored Brittany Merrill Underwood, Founder of Akola Jewelry and Crystal McCrary, award-winning film and television producer, director and author, our five Beat the Odds® Ambassadors. It was an exciting night of food, friends and inspiration. To help provide resources for the BTO scholars and all our policy work, please feel free to donate here.
Congratulations to the 2020 CDF-NY Beat the Odds® Scholars!
Their stories will remind you how one caring adult can help change the outcome for a child in need. Please read the stories of these five extraordinary youths who beat the odds stacked against them and learn how you can help make their dreams come true.
Two years ago, Naomi’s life was turned upside down. She had left her home in Jamaica and migrated to the United States with her mother. Because of her strong accent, she had difficulty communicating with her classmates and quickly began to feel ostracized and alone. Naomi and her mother faced homelessness – moving from shelter to shelter every few months. That lack of stability led to her attending several different schools in the last few years. Naomi struggled to adjust to her new life in the United States, not only did she sound different, the cultural shift was especially difficult to navigate. Through it all, Naomi remained determined to maintain her good grades and overcome any obstacle she faced. With a new perspective on life, she grew to appreciate everything that she did have – including teachers and counselors who have made her feel welcomed and her mother who in spite of facing tremendous adversities herself, prevailed. Naomi is involved in many different groups and after school activities, even creating a Debate Club at her school to facilitate listening and debating skills. Although she remains committed to empowering her community, her greatest passion is singing. She loses herself in her music and finds strength and hope in between the sweet melodies of R&B. Despite having to depend on shelters for her home, Naomi remains committed to her education and maintains a 3.7 GPA. Naomi hopes to attend Berklee College of Music where she will major in music performance. She dreams of traveling around the world and sharing her craft in hopes of inspiring others who may be faced with unbearable odds and struggle to see their brilliance. Naomi hopes her musical talents will inspire others who are overcoming adversities, the same way music has strengthened her spirit through her journey.
Born with a cleft lip and palate, Mariday started life with several strikes against her. She had surgery to close the palate and opening on the left side of her mouth at a few months old and by the time she was a year old, her parents had separated. When she was seven, her mother left her and her brother with a friend for what should have been only a week but ended up being much longer, eventually leading to a child welfare case and then a tough custody battle between her parents. After a tumultuous childhood, including the loss of the emotional support from her mother after her father was granted full custody, and experiencing bullying at school, Mariday fell into a deep depression. She struggled to make friends and find happiness around her. With time, she learned that numbing the pain would not change her circumstances and she devoted herself to seeking support to help her mental and emotional health. Despite everything she has confronted in her short life, Mariday has demonstrated amazing strength and resilience. Her experiences have fueled her commitment to herself, her family and community. Mariday has mobilized to advocate for divestment of police presence in schools and better social services for students, and better health services for immigrant communities. Her past has inspired her to invest in her community through advocacy and resource sharing. Mariday’s past does not define her, but she uses it to give her the strength to maintain a 3.0 GPA. Mariday is resolute in one day serving as a surgeon in the military and giving back to her community and inspiring others who are beating their odds.
Valerie has been dealing with her mental health her entire life. It has been a constant struggle to balance school and her personal life while working through the challenges of her mental well-being. Anxiety and depression have been a part of her life for as long as she can remember, Through it all, her mom remained by her side and worked with Valerie to seek the adequate mental health support needed. No matter how difficult things got, Valerie’s mom and family never stopped believing in her strength. With their help, she resolved to prioritize her emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Valerie now gets help with therapy inside and outside of school and is coping by occupying herself with sports, exercise, and theatre therapy classes. Working through these challenging times have been difficult, but Valerie is embracing her emotional support while also sustaining a 4.0 GPA. She is motivated by her mother, and her greatest joy comes from helping others as she did this past spring when she got to work with children and adults in an art class at the Brooklyn Museum. Valerie has advocated for more counselors at school to assist other students with mental health issues, and she aspires to become a performer and help her family and others. She believes that there should be more awareness of mental health and the resources needed to support those navigating trauma, especially for immigrants whose family have been torn apart by unjust immigration laws and policies.
A fire that left her family homeless, although for a short period, transformed Yaires’ perspective on life. With no other option, Yaires and her family were forced to live in a shelter filled with vermin. Despite the poor living conditions, Yaires and her family did not complain and were grateful to be alive and above all, together. Eight months later, the family moved to public housing in the Bronx, but without her father, who had not really been a part of her life, her mother had to make hard decisions about spending money on transportation to work or food. Although Yaires’ mother struggled to provide for her family and they slept on air mattresses before affording furniture, these moments only showcased how resilient Yaires could be with her community by her side, especially with her family. Aside from experiencing homelessness, she also was confronted with body insecurities. However, despite initially not feeling like she fit in because of her weight and skin color, Yaires started enjoying school, making new friends and learning. She has learned that you shouldn’t be afraid to advocate for yourself or others and that you can make a difference by coming together. Yaires holds a 3.0 GPA while also finding time to work part-time and sing in her school choir. While she hopes to eventually perform on Broadway, she also aspires to become a real estate developer to increase housing opportunities and comprehensive supports for those who find themselves without a home. She will accomplish her goals by attending SUNY Purchase, where she will major in business and minor in vocal music. Yaires knows that creating a more just world means creating better environments for our communities by investing in our most vulnerable populations, like those experiencing homelessness, and thus restoring our society as a whole.
Growing up with a poor family in Burkina Faso was difficult for Rachidatou. Her family had struggled back home, living with five family members crammed in one bedroom, illiterate parents and little-to-no educational opportunities. In 2008, her parents left Rachidatou and her siblings alone with their grandparents for many years when her parents sought a better life in America. When she came to the United States to be reunited with her parents, Rachidatou felt as though she was restarting her life, needing to learn a new language, culture and navigate the U.S. school system. Being the eldest of four, she would often times feel an immense pressure to step up and figure out ways to be less of a burden to her family. She assists her family financially by taking on odd jobs, caring for her younger siblings and helping around the house. Despite its challenges, she appreciates her ability to go to school and learn and is maintaining a 3.7 GPA. Committed to her education she spends her Saturdays strengthening her skills through the Upward Bound Math and Science program at Bronx Community College. She believes in racial and gender equity and through her work with the Sadie Nash Leadership Project, Rachidatou has gained vital leadership and activism skill, which she uses to inform her hopes and aspirations as a young Muslim woman of color. She has advocated for more just policies for people of color and is committed to empowering her community as a whole. However, her biggest commitment is to her family. She is constantly thinking of her four young siblings and the example she hopes to be. She knows that what you experienced in the past allows you to become a better version of yourself. She plans to become an OB/GYN and help others, especially babies, on having a healthy, happy and good start, unlike her experience.