The Children's Defense Fund-California hosted the 26th annual Beat the Odds Awards ceremony at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Thursday night, where Hollywood supporters Tory Kittles, Jennifer Morrison, Timothy Olyphant, Jurnee Smollett-Bell and co-chair Milo Ventimiglia served as presenters. The awards honored five young Los Angeles high school students in recognition of their outstanding achievements, despite facing tremendous obstacles in their lives.
The Fund's long-time friend Conan O'Brien emceed the ceremony. "This is my 7th year participating. It's truly my favorite night of the year because tonight we celebrate five amazing young people who have overcome incredible odds. They are inspirations to all of us," said O'Brien in the opening remarks.
The late-night host praised the inspiring hard work that the honorees have accomplished and advised young teens to believe in the power of work ethic: "It's not a lesson that everyone wants to hear. But nothing beats hard work. Nothing at all."
See photos from the star studded Beat the Odds Awards red carpet:
"Literally anyone can become the president," O'Brien teased as he took jabs at President-elect Donald Trump, before pleading to those in attendance, "I beg you, one of the honorees tonight, someday, to run and become the president. A serious president. No tweeting at three o' clock in the morning. Please, you can do that. We are relying on you. There has never been a more important and meaningful time than to have this event right now in this country."
The 2016 honorees included Alexander Flores, Cierra Gunderson, Jose Aceves, Florencia Valenzuela and Destiny Novillo. Each of them will receive a scholarship that includes up to $10,000 in scholarship money, on-going mentoring, internship placements, leadership development, and career guidance.
"The Children Defense Fund gives hope to young Angelinos regardless of race, gender, religion, or the nationality of their parents. It empowers young people from the most neglected communities in Los Angeles by awarding scholarship, providing internships, leadership training, and a support system for life," said O'Brien. The life development of Beat the Odds alumni proved the importance and meaning of this scholarship.
"They are engineers, doctors, artists, lawyers, educators. And they are all giving back to their communities," he added, as the attendees gave the alumni a standing ovation.
To prove the urgency of providing help for children, Jurnee Smollett-Bell laid out heartbreaking statistics: "Every 35 seconds a child is abused or neglected. Every 36 seconds a child is born into poverty. Every 47 seconds a baby is born without health insurance. Every 3 hours a child or teen is killed by a firearm. Every night over 200,000 children are homeless."
Despite the multifaceted struggles that children face, Marian Wright Edelmen, the president and founder of Children's Defense Fund, never feared to fight for children. She claimed, "This will be a very difficult and complicated time, but we just have to determine that we are going to move forward. And we are going to do whatever we have to to protect our children, to protect the gains of the past, and move our nation forward. We all just have to stay awake and stay alert, and stay determined, and speak out, and speak back and say we are not going to let our children and grandchildren fight all these battles over again."
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