CHILDREN’S DEFENSE FUND

The right to education, health, safety and equity.  They’re all things that all children should be entitled to. But for at risk youth getting them is not a guarantee. We caught up with the Executive Director of Children’s Defense Fund-New York, Samantha Levine, and one of the scholars who has beaten the odds, Elphram Chowdhury.

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Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.

Aired on June 30, 2017 & January 1, 2018. 

TRANSCRIPT

> FOR SOME HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS COLLECTING THEIR DIPLOMA ON GRADUATION DAY MEANS OVERCOMING HOMEWORK AND FINAL EXAMS.

POVERTY AND INSTABILITY AT HOME CAN DERAIL STUDENTS FROM REACHING ACADEMIC SUCCESS.

THE NONPROFIT CHILDREN'S DEFENSE FUND FOR NEW YORK ADVOCATES CHILDREN'S RIGHTS TO EDUCATION, SAFETY AND EQUITY.

EACH YEAR THE SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM RECOGNIZES A HANDFUL OF STUDENTS WHO HAVE OVERCOME TREMENDOUS OBSTACLES.

ANDREA CAUGHT UP WITH THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF CHILDREN'S DEFENSE OF NEW YORK AND ONE OF THE SCHOLARS WHO HAS BEATEN THE ODDS.

FIRST SHE HAD A CHANCE TO ATTEND THE ORGANIZE'S GALA AND SPEAK WITH ORGANIZERS ABOUT ADVOCATING FOR THOSE WHO CAN'T ADVOCATE FOR THEMSELVES.

HOW DID THIS BECOME SUCH AN ISSUE FOR YOU?

I GREW UP IN A SEGREGATED SMALL SOUTHERN TOWN THAT TOLD BLACK CHILDREN WE COULDN'T DO ANYTHING OR BE ANYTHING AND I HATE ANY CHILD NOT HAVING A FAIR SHOT IN LIFE.

I COULD HAVE FALLEN THROUGH THE CRACKS BUT THANK GOODNESS I HAD A GOOD FAMILY AND THERE WERE ORGANIZATIONS AND INSTITUTIONS AROUND TO ASSIST MY GROWTH AND THAT'S WHAT THIS ORGANIZATION DOES.

IT SORT OF MAKES SURE CHILDREN KNOW THEY ARE NOT ALONE AND THAT THERE SHEEP FOR THEM.

I GREW UP IN THE INNER-CITY IN THE BRONX.

I KNOW WHAT IT IS TO BE LIKE TO BE RAISED IN A SINGLE FAMILY HOME AND ACHIEVE YOUR DREAMS AND BEING ABLE TO PAY IT FORWARD.

THERE'S A GROUCH INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE SUCCESSFUL AND THEY ARE RECOGNIZING THOSE WHO ARE.

THESE CHILDREN ARE SO AMAZING.

THEY ARE MIND BLOWING.

THEY HAVE SUCH -- SOME OF THEM HAVE SUCH HARD LIVES AND SO MANY THINGS TO OVERCOME AND THEY STILL MANAGE TO DO THAT AND DO WELL IN SCHOOL AND I THINK THOSE ARE THE KIND OF PEOPLE THAT SHOULD BE CELEBRATED.

JOINING ME NOW IS THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF CHILDREN'S DEFENSE FUND NEW YORK, SAMANTHA LEVINE AND ONE OF THE SCHOLARS WHO HAD BEATEN THE ODDS.

THANK YOU BOTH FOR BEING HERE.

SO CHILDREN'S DEFENSE FUND AND BEAT THE ODDS PROVIDES A HOLISTIC APPROACH.

THERE'S THE SCHOLARSHIP MONEY BUT ALSO ONGOING MENTORSHIP AND SUPPORT.

WHY IS THAT SUCH AN IMPORTANT PART OF THE EQUATION?

THE PROGRAM SPECIFICALLY HAS TWO DIFFERENT COMPONENTS.

ONE WE PROVIDE ACADEMIC AND SOCIAL READINESS PROGRAMMING FOR STUDENTS TO HELP THEM THINK ABOUT APPLYING TO COLLEGE, TO HELP THEM THINK ABOUT THE BEST WAYS TO GET FINANCIAL AID PACKAGE, WHY THEY MIGHT WANT TO GO AWAY TO SCHOOL AND HELP THEM PREPARE FOR SCHOOL.

AT THE SAME TIME WE HAVE A SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM WHICH GIVES $10,000 SCHOLARSHIPS TO FIVE STUDENTS EACH YEAR TO STUDENTS WHO HAVE AS YOU SORT OF JUST SAID OVERCOME INCREDIBLE ODDS TO EXCEL ACADEMICALLY, GIVE BACK TO THEIR CHUNTS AND SHINE AS A POSITIVE SUPPORT FOR THEIR PEERS.

AND YOU'RE ONE OF THE STUDENTS.

GROWING UP YOUR FATHER TOLD YOU THAT YOU DIDN'T HAVE VALUE, THAT YOU WEREN'T GOING TO AMOUNT TO ANYTHING, BUT IN YOUR SPEECH WHEN YOU WERE HONORED AT THE GALA YOU SAID YOU WANTED TO BE THE KID FROM THE BRONX THAT CHANGED THE WORLD.

RIGHT.

WHERE DID YOU GET THAT DRIVE?

HONESTLY MY DRIVE ORIGINATED FROM MY MOM.

SHE WAS THE MOST POSITIVE PERSON IN MY LIFE.

WHEN SHE PASSED AWAY AND I WAS ABOUT 12 AT THAT TIME, YOU KNOW, MY WHOLE LIFE JUST TOOK A DIFFERENT TURN.

I DIDN'T HAVE THAT PERSON WHO CONSTANTLY PUSHED NOTICE GO TO THE RIGHT PATH.

SHE WAS THE ONE WHO KEPT ME ON THE RIGHT TRACK AND AFTER LOSING HER I LOST MY SENSE OF DIRECTION.

AND, YOU KNOW, AS TIME PROGRESSED I REALIZED I'M HER SON.

YOU KNOW.

THIS WAS A VERY SPECIAL WOMAN WHO LEFT US.

AND IF I WASN'T GOING TO CONTINUE HER LEGACY AND IF MY SISTERS WEREN'T GOING TO CONTINUE HER LE GA CIRCUMSTANCE WHO WAS?

SO THAT'S WHAT KEPT ME GOING, KNOWING THAT I AM MY MOM'S SON AND THAT'S WHAT I ESSENTIALLY GOT FROM HER, HER POSITIVITY, HER DRIVE, HER ABILITY TO FLIP OVER EVERYTHING AND JUST SAY, YOU KNOW WHAT I CAN ACTUALLY COME OUT AND EXCEL.

WHAT HAS SOME OF THE OTHER BEAT THE ODDS SCHOLARS GONE ON TO EXCEL IN?

THEY WENT ON TO LAW SCHOOL.

SOME WENT ON TO JOURNALISM.

SOME ARE IN DIRECT SERVICE CAPACITY.

THEY'VE GONE ON TO EXCEL AND PROVIDE INSPIRATION AND OPPORTUNITY FOR OTHER YOUNG PEOPLE WHICH IS SUCH AN FLY BALL REWARD TO SEE FROM THESE YOUNG PEOPLE.

SO WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER YOUNG PEOPLE GOING THROUGH SIMILAR HARDSHIP.

I WOULD SAY PERCEPTION.

IF YOU'RE PERCEIVING YOUR REALITY IN A NEGATIVE WAY, THEN YOU WON'T BE ABLE TO GO FAR IN LIFE BECAUSE, YES, I KNOW IT'S NOT THAT SIMPLE.

AT THE SAME TIME WE CAN'T DISMISS OUR PROBLEMS AND THEY WILL ALWAYS THEREABOUT NO MATTER WHAT WE DO SOMETIMES.

IT'S IMPORTANT TO ACKNOWLEDGE THEM.

AT THE SAME TIME YOU HAVE TO QUESTION WHY IT'S GOING ON PUP HAVE TO TAKE ACTION.

HOW CAN I HELP MY SITUATION GET BETTER.

AND, YOU KNOW, IF YOU DON'T THINK POSITIVE YOU'LL NEVER REALIZE HOW FAR YOU CAN EVENTUALLY COME.

YOU'LL NEVER BE ABLE TO FULLY MAXIMIZE YOUR POTENTIAL.

THAT'S WHY EXTREMELY IMPORTANT TO THINK POSITIVE AND BE PERSISTENT AT IT AS WELL.

I ALSO SAY TO THE STUDENTS WHO HAVE SUFFERED FROM THE SAME OBSTACLES AS ME, FIND PASSION.

THAT'S ONE WAY TO STAY POSITIVE.

MY PASSION WAS BASKETBALL.

I KNOW FOR A FACT THAT WHENEVER I WAS IN A BAD MOOD I WOULD PERFORM HORRIBLY AND I HATED PERFORMING HORRIBLY IN A BASKETBALL GAME.

THAT'S WHAT KEPT ME GOING.

EVEN IF IT'S THE SMALLEST PASSION LIKE READING A BOOK, WHATEVER SIRKTS FINDING A PASSION WILL KEEP YOU ON THE RIGHT TRACK AND KEEP YOU POSITIVE.

SO, YEAH.

THANKS BOTH FOR BEING HERE AND I CAN'T WAIT TO SEE HOW YOU TO CHANGE THE WORLD.

THANK YOU.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, The Peter G. Peterson and Joan Ganz Cooney Fund, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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