LOS ANGELES, CA – The Children’s Defense Fund–California hosted its 25th Annual Beat the Odds Awards ceremony on December 3, 2015, at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. The celebration honored five Los Angeles high school “stars” – Jaegeun David Cho, Ni’Tasha Denson, Stephanie Gamino, David Sanchez, Vincent Zamarripa – in recognition of their excellence in academic achievement, despite overwhelming obstacles.
“Everything that has happened to me up until now is a part of who I am, and these struggles are the catalysts which have changed me forever,” said Vincent Zamarripa, a senior at Huntington Park High School, during his acceptance speech.
All five honorees were extremely grateful for the support of Children’s Defense Fund – California. CDF-CA has worked closely with the scholars since their sophomore year in high school, providing private tutoring, one-on-one college counseling, ongoing mentoring, life skills development, SAT prep, and other needed skills at no cost.
CDF-California is committed to making sure these scholars have the resources and support needed to not only graduate successfully from high school and college, but to become our next generation of youth advocates and community leaders,” said Executive Director Alex Johnson.
Honoree Stephanie Gamino, a senior at USC Hybrid High School, told the audience that growing up in an environment where college was rarely mentioned and in a family where no one had ever attended, she didn’t think college was an option for her. With the help of organizations like CDF-CA, Stephanie now believes her future looks bright and she wants to inspire others.
“I would like to help students stay out of the streets and give them a reason to go to school, because education is crucial in the development of who we are, and that knowledge that will take us further,” she said. “I believe that fewer students behind bars and more on the graduation stage can make this world a better place.”
Conan O’Brien, who had been to the event several times in the past, brought his children this year so they could “see what is possible when you work hard and believe in yourself.”
“This is my favorite night of the year,” O’Brien said. “In a town that loves to celebrate itself, tonight we celebrate young men and women who have overcome incredible odds and really deserve to be honored.”
The momentous occasion was hosted by the Children’s Defense Fund President, Marian Wright Edelman, along with support from co-chairs, Katie McGrath & J.J. Abrams, Jurnee Smollett-Bell & Josiah Bell, Carol & Frank Biondi, Ruth-Ann Huvane, Kevin Huvane, Katie Sharer & Mark Mullen, Liza & Conan O’Brien, and Reese Witherspoon & Jim Toth. Co-chairs Abrams, Kevin Huvane, and Jurnee Smollett-Bell pulled double duty as presenters and speakers throughout the program. They were joined by additional special guests including Gwendoline Christie, Mary McCormack, Margaret Qualley, Andy Richter, and Jussie Smollett.
Each honoree’s story was told through a special video presentation, directed by a prominent member of the entertainment community. John Cho, best known for his role in the Star Trek films, directed the reel of Jaegeun David Cho, a senior at Los Angeles High School of the Arts.
In Cho’s video, his mother Lee Mikyung explains why she made the hard decision to send David away from his homeland of Seoul, South Korea to China with people he did not know, then finally reunite with him in the United States. She is grateful for the opportunities that David has now, including the support of the Children’s Defense Fund-California.
“Now my son has hope for the future,” she said in the video. “There is confidence now.”
Thanks to generous support of the CDF board and donors, each student honoree will receive a $10,000 college scholarship. Honoree Ni’Tasha Denson, a senior at Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences, said the scholarship will help her reach her goal.
“Being in the foster care system and dealing with my glaucoma, the odds of me going to college were not in my favor,” she said. “However, in the eighth grade I made the decision to be a part of the 10% of foster youth who attend college, and more importantly, be among the 3% that actually graduate.”
Honoree David Sanchez, a senior at John F. Kennedy Senior High, is also optimistic about his future.
“I stand hopeful for the future and intend to not let up on the hard work and determination,” he said. “It is this and the continued support of my family, and from the Children’s Defense Fund, that will lead and guide me to achieve my dreams of one day becoming a doctor.”
Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, the Children’s Defense Fund-California Beat the Odds program serves to identify and uplift remarkable high school students who have achieved excellence in their overall academic performance, community participation and personal goals. These impressive scholars embody the qualities necessary to become future leaders.
ABOUT CHILDREN’S DEFENSE FUND-CALIFORNIA
The Children’s Defense Fund-California (CDF-CA) is the state office of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), a national child advocacy organization founded by Marian Wright Edelman that has worked relentlessly for over 40 years to ensure a level playing field for all children. CDF-CA was established in 1998 to meet the needs of underserved children in the state of California. CDF-CA has offices in Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento and Long Beach. CDF-CA champions policies and programs that lift children out of poverty, ensure all children have access to health coverage and care and a quality education, and invest in our justice-involved youth. www.cdfca.org