Honoree Marian Wright Edelman, Beat The Odds Honorees: Tawana McNair, Joseph Valerie, Gabriela Campoverde, Berline Lapomarede and Daniel Juarez, and Honoree Geoffrey Canada

*The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) grew out of the Civil Rights Movement under the leadership of Marian Wright Edelman.  In 1990, CDF founded the Beat the Odds program to celebrate the positive potential of young people.  The prestigious program recognizes that too often one hears about teenagers getting into trouble, dropping out of school, becoming involved with drugs, crime or gangs, or becoming parents too soon.

Rarely recognized are the many young people who do well despite facing overwhelming obstacles such as poverty, violence, homelessness, family breakup, or substance abuse that can stand in the way of even the smallest achievements.

Buoyed by the success of the Beat the Odds program, the Children’s Defense Fund-New York (CDF-NY) chose to honor five outstanding students who have demonstrated excellence and have exhibited the strength and determination to “beat the odds” during its extraordinary 20th anniversary celebration on Monday, December 6, 2010 at Guastavino’s and attended by luminaries from all walks of life.

The five exemplary scholarship winners who have “overcome tremendous adversity, demonstrated academic excellence and given back to their communities,” included Tawana McNair, Joseph Valerio, Gabriela Campoverde, Berline Lapomarede, and Daniel Juarez. From the deafening applause by the celebrity-studded audience you would have thought that the students were rock stars; and as far as this crowd was concerned, they were.

“So many of today’s critical issues are woven like a scarlet thread through the lives of this year’s Beat the Odds honorees,” remarked CDF-NY executive director, the Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson.  “Their struggles with poverty, hunger, under-resourced public schools, limited access to guidance counselors, personal challenges, troubled homes and family relationships and violent communities have not stopped them from teaching us all important lessons about hard work, endurance, character, scholarship and service.  They not only make us proud, they humble us all by their achievements in the face of hardship.”

In addition to the student honorees, CDF-NY paid tribute to Marian Wright Edelman, president, Children’s Defense Fund; Geoffrey Canada, president & CEO, Harlem Children’s Zone; and former Beat the Odds recipients.

Spike Lee, Tonya Lewis Lee, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Samuel L. Jackson

Good Morning America’s anchor George Stephanopoulos and his family, wife Ali Wentworth and their children Elliot and Harper, were also honored for their years of continued support of the Children’s Defense Fund.

The star-studded presenters included Tonya Lewis Lee & Spike Lee, Stephanie March & Bobby Flay, Elisabeth Shue & Davis Guggenheim, LaTanya Richardson Jackson & Samuel L. Jackson, and Paulina Porizkova.

This A-l event was co-chaired by Malaak Compton-Rock & Chris Rock, Jessica & Jerry Seinfeld, Stephanie March & Bobby Flay, Mariska Hargitay & Hermann, Katie McGrath & J.J. Abrams, and LaTanya Richardson Jackson & Samuel L. Jackson.  The stellar evening was hosted by CBS News’ Byron Pitts. WCBS-TV’s Maurice DuBois served as Master of Ceremonies.

In 1992, CDF established an office in New York City, a city where 30% of children live in poverty and children account for 43% of the homeless population.  CDF-NY serves as a resource and partner for children, families and organizations throughout the tri-state area and is recognized as an authority in the endeavor to protect children and strengthen families.  CDF-NY pursues its mandate to level the playing field for New York’s children through sound research, public education, policy analysis and development, community organizing and advocacy activities.

As invitees departed into the frigid night they were presented with roasted chestnuts, hot chocolate and small cupcakes to add to their cherished memories of a wonderful evening that made them glow all over.  Once again, thanks to Dwight Johnson of Dwight Johnson Design for a well orchestrated evening.  (Photos by Michael Loccisano/Gerry Images) Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.