Despite the chaos caused by this week’s uproar of Los Angeles fires, Hollywood and the California board of the Children’s Defense Fund still came together at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel to honor five high school students who have overcome adversity in their personal lives, and excelled both inside and outside the classroom.
The 27th annual Beat the Odds Award ceremony was hosted by Conan O’Brien, who was joined by Alfre Woodard, Kate Hudson, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, and others to honor the outstanding students. $10,000 worth of scholarships were awarded to the scholars for their excellence.
“The fact that some of you literally dodged fire to get here is testament goes to this great cause, and the five young people we honor tonight,” O’Brien said in his opening remarks.
Early in the evening, Children’s Fund president Marian Wright Edelman took the stage to discuss the necessity of maintaining progress that has been made regarding impoverished children in the United States, specifically citing work that Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. did to help end poverty.
“This is not a good time, this is an absolutely evil time,” Edelman solemnly shared about the administration’s lack of progress on poverty and child hunger. “But we’re going to cover up that evil with good… we’re not going to go backwards.”
Each student’s story was narrated through a short documentary-style film, depicting a variety of traumatic situations including health issues, abuse, and poverty.
Hudson introduced honoree Ana-Mariana Sotomayor Palomino, who developed a speech impediment as a young child after she and her family spent years with an abusive father. Now living solely with her mother and sister — whose combined annual income is less than $15,000 — Palomino is determined to be the first person in her family to go to college.
Smollett-Bell spoke about Ja’Nay Carter, who took on the role of a parent to her siblings after her mother died and her father was in prison.
Contributions from the event went toward college prep events, SAT and ACT course prep, scholarships, and more. Kevin Nealon, Gabourey Sidibe, Chiké Okonkwo, and Jussie Smollett were also in attendance.