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December 11, 2017
Five youth who have overcome tremendous adversity walked through a star-studded room with their heads held high as an audience of more than 300 celebrated their accomplishments at the 27th annual Beat the Odds awards gala held on Dec. 7 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills.
The honorees – Ja’Nay Carter, Jerry Goss, Jacqueline Martinez, Mey Sok and Ana-Mariana Sotomayor – have overcome challenges like poverty, homelessness, foster care and the death of loved ones; but despite their circumstances are still able to achieve and maintain academic success as well as establish themselves as leaders in their schools and communities.
Conan O’Brien, who hosted the event for his eighth year, said it best: They are an inspiration to us all.
On this evening, the youth were given the red carpet treatment and connected with both long-established and up-and-coming actors in Hollywood. Alfre Woodard introduced her friend and founder of Children’s Defense Fund, Marian Edelman Wright; and Kate Hudson, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Jussie Smollett, Chike Okonkwo, and Gabourey Sidibe each introduced one of the five BTO recipients. J.J. Abrams, Katie McGrath, Deborah Ayorinde, Kevin Nealon, Timothy Olyphant, Andy Richter and others were also in attendance.
It was a memorable night for all the honorees who will each receive a $10,000 scholarship from CDF-CA.
“If you told me, at 7 or 8 years old, that I’d stand in the same location where Pretty Woman was filmed I wouldn’t believe you,” Ana said in her acceptance speech.
The audience watched a documentary of each of the honorees prior to them taking the stage.
Ja’Nay danced her way to the stage and thanked actress Jurnee Smollett who directed her film, as well as her husband, Josiah, “who welcomed me in their home and treated me like family.”
Both Mey and Jerry expressed thanks for the honor of being a BTO scholar and all that comes with it, including the documentary process that allowed them to share their life experiences and the growth that came with it.
“I want to acknowledge that although I have come across adversity in my life … Because as a character of my own story, I am sure that I will make the most out of it,” Mey told the crowd.
Jerry said it was only after the documentary process that he realized that the challenges he has overcome were no small feat.
“I’ve come to realize … that having endured what I have is significant,” he said. “I really do hope I’m able to grow even more in my future, and the way I see that happening is by continuing to break through even more obstacles.”
Jacqueline dedicated her honor to others like her, including the four other recipients who are defying expectations. “For those of us who dare to challenge the status quo and seek to accomplish the unbelievable no matter what it takes … to my fellow honorees tonight and to so many others, we must not forget that the world is in dire need of us!”