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High school seniors honored at Children’s Defense Fund gala

JANAE HUNTER | 4/2/2015, 10:33 a.m.

Five high schools seniors who were each able to overcome hardships and achieve academic success were honored at the Children’s Defense Fund-New York Beat the Odds gala last month. The five students, who come from Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx, were awarded $10,000 college scholarships. They will also receive academic support and leadership training.

“We are proud to celebrate these exceptional youths we have come to know through our CDF-New York Beat the Odds scholarship and leadership development program,” said the president of the Children’s Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman. “They are proof that with the help of one caring adult, hard work and determination, it is possible to overcome great adversity and succeed.”

The gala was held March 4 at the Pierre hotel, located at Fifth Avenue and East 61st Street. Victor Cruz, Cicely Tyson and Kenneth Cole were some of those in attendance to honor the students. The event was hosted by WCBS-TV news anchor Maurice Dubois and Malaak Compton-Rock, founder of styleWorks. The gala also saluted Cruz as well as Ron Blaylock, Stephen Sadove and Chris Nee, who are all child advocates.

“This year’s remarkable recipients of the Beat the Odds scholarship remind us all of the vital work the Children’s Defense Fund does in New York,” said Cruz.

This year’s recipients for the $10,000 scholarship were Michael Borrello from the High School of Economics and Finance in Manhattan, Joshua Hazelwood from the Leadership and Public Service High School in Manhattan, Tiffany Rivera from Aquinas High School in the Bronx, Sarye Huggins from Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn and Shainek Edmundson from EBC Bushwick High School in Brooklyn. The students were able to overcome their own struggles and hardships, and now excel in academics and have bright futures ahead of them.

“I’m really excited, it’s going to really help me financially and help with college,” said 17-year-old Edmundson. After experiencing years of abuse, Edmundson has been able to push ahead and excel in her studies. She is a part of her school’s theater production, a member of the School Leadership Team and class president. She plans on studying social work in college and has already been accepted to the College of Staten Island.

“They’ve been good with helping me through the college process,” said Edmundson of the Children’s Defense Fund. “They’re so welcoming and great, anything you need help with they will be there for you, and they really are like a second family.”

Huggins has a similar story. She was bullied throughout middle school and got infrequent visits from her father, which led to her grades dropping and her self-harming behavior. After she and her grandmother were in a car accident but fortunately were unharmed, Huggins decided to turn her schoolwork into a priority.

“I feel like I can do anything,” said Huggins, who is now a member of the National Honor Society and captain of her school’s cheerleading squad. “I didn’t think I would get it [the scholarship], but to know they saw something in me made me feel like I could conquer the world.”

Huggins wants to go to either Lincoln University or Howard University and study English and communications. She one day wants a career in radio or television. She said that a combination of support from her family, teachers and church “made me feel nothing is impossible in this world.”

The Children’s Defense Fund’s Beat the Odds program is now in its 25th year. Over the years, the program has helped hundreds of youths throughout the country and has been able to award them for excelling in their studies and persevering through adversity.