2016 Beat the Odds® Winners

Troy Johnson
Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy, Parkside – Washington, D.C. GPA: 3.5

Troy, “the little poet who could,” was introduced to hardship at an early age. He was born to teenage parents in a poverty and violence-ridden neighborhood in Washington, D.C. Troy’s father had personal challenges that limited his ability to spend time with his son, and his mother worked long hours to make ends meet. Often alone, Troy drew pictures and wrote stories. He moved in with his grandmother in the seventh grade to pursue his passion for basketball and was nurtured in a loving environment, then tragedy hit home. One day in high school, Troy was notified about a murder at his house: Troy’s favorite uncle was stabbed to death by his son. This family tragedy deepened his creative writing and determination to excel on his school basketball team. He dreams of graduating from NYU, becoming a filmmaker and using his voice and art to make a difference in the world. Troy’s scholarship was generously funded through the Susan Shane “Little Engine That Could” endowment to the Children’s Defense Fund.


Janet Lagah-Bona
Duke Ellington School of the Arts – Washington, D.C. GPA: 3.99

Janet’s parents were born in Sierra Leone before moving to the United States. Her father abandoned her mother when Janet was four years old. He took most of their belongings, including their beds, tables and chairs. Janet’s mother worked multiple jobs to rebuild a simple home for her family. Janet still remembers the excitement of getting a bed and TV. She discovered her passion for music early, singing her way to beauty pageant titles. The piano major began playing at age nine. Her passion to perform now also includes acting, singing and dancing as she did as the lead character “Stony” in Set It Off, The Musical, a riveting summer youth theatre production based on the classic movie. She began making a difference at eight years old with the nonprofit she created called the Children Empowerment Foundation. Janet dreams of merging her musical talents with advocacy as a patent and entertainment lawyer who supports artists’ rights and enables them to succeed in their careers. Janet’s scholarship was generously funded through the Susan Shane “Little Engine That Could” endowment to the Children’s Defense Fund.


Carlos Lopez-Sanchez
Graduated from Bell Multicultural High School – Washington, D.C.  Attends George Washington University. 

Carlos was born into a poor native family in the mountains of Guatemala. As a young boy he began working to help support his family and never had the opportunity to go to school. Speaking an oral-only language, Carlos somehow learned Spanish, and how to read, write and do basic arithmetic. After his mother’s unfortunate death he spent two years trying to find work without success. When he was 17 years old, Carlos took the dangerous and desperate step to migrate to the U.S. hoping to find work. Carlos was caught crossing the border. With the help of his sponsor and guardian, Carlos entered high school in Washington, D.C. and is now doing what would have been unimaginable four years ago. His excellent grades and mastery of English allowed him to complete high school in three years. In June 2016, Carlos began his studies at George Washington University as a Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Scholarship recipient. Carlos now dreams of becoming an engineer.


Bethany Pruitt
Washington Mathematics Science Technology Public Charter High School – Washington, D.C. GPA: 5.0

At the vulnerable age of four, Bethany and her family became homeless after her father’s death. Her mom sold drugs, worked as a stripper, and went into rehab. Bethany was separated from her brothers, lived in nearly 20 foster homes, and endured multiple hospitalizations and residential treatment programs. In spite of her challenging and unstable childhood, Bethany is compassionate, dependable and an unstoppable force in her pursuit of excellence. Her improbable journey from special education to likely valedictorian of a public high school is a testament to her determination and persistence. She aspires to transform her trials into a life of helping others. Bethany has been a cheerleader, participated in the Project Leads the Way Engineering Program, held a leadership position with the JROTC Drill Team, and attends Upward Bound at Howard University. She dreams of becoming a doctor or a veterinarian.


Yuchabel Sanon
Montgomery Blair High School – Silver Spring, MD; GPA: 4.28

Yuchabel grew up witnessing her parents fighting. Her father was awarded custody of Yuchabel and her sister after the courts deemed her mother too ill after five strokes to care for her children. Yuchabel began working as a teenager to help financially at home. Her challenging relationships with both parents have only strengthened her determination to attend college and become an advocate for girls and women. She created a community group called Lol Girlz to provide a positive, safe space for girls to share their feelings and get support from their peers. Honing her communication talents, Yuchabel, who is also the senior class president, produces her high school cable network talk show, “Do You Know?” Her dream is to become a journalist or talk show host who delivers positive messages to educate society.