Itang Hope Young and her four younger siblings were abandoned by their mother when she was nine years old. “It was a gradual thing. My mom dealt with a myriad of challenges at a certain point in her life and mine”—chemical dependency and off and on incarceration—“and it became too much for her to handle. We had no idea where she went.” Her father had already returned to Nigeria.

Itang and her siblings moved around to relatives in Houston, but none worked out. Itang’s oldest brother then left college to come back and take care of them. “I tell him to this day, ‘If it were not for the sacrifices you and your wife made for us, we would not be who we are today.’” School became her safe haven. She also found joy in going outside and looking at the stars, and she attended a high school with a magnet program in meteorology and space science. That’s where she met the second important person in her life—the school counselor, Linda Phipps. “She was responsible for my going to college.

I didn’t have any plans to go. I’d gotten into this process of living day to day.” Itang worked her way through high school, as a cashier at a Subway and other jobs after school and on weekends, juggling work, school work and extracurricular activities. Phipps told her about the Beat the Odds scholarship. Itang said it sounded like a great opportunity but not for her. “I would basically have to share my story. Everyone knew me as this smart girl, quiet, introverted. People did not have any idea what I faced in my personal life. I didn’t feel normal because my family dynamics were different. The thought of putting myself in a position where my story would come out in the newspaper was disconcerting. I wasn’t sure how people would perceive me or what my family would think.”

The counselor said she should think about it. “You never know who you are going to help by sharing your story.” Itang decided to apply, and it turned out a lot better than she feared. When she received the award in 2002, her family responded well, she was voted Most Courageous at the prom, and NASA’s Johnson Space Center offered her an internship.

Itang graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in Industrial Distribution Engineering and took a job at the Goodyear  Tire and Rubber Company. After several years, Itang decided to go into the ministry, seeking a more tangible connection between work and community transformation. She had participated in CDF’s Young Advocate Leadership Training (YALT), which reinforced her conviction to be a social advocate and gave her an opportunity to sharpen her leadership skills. She received a Masters in Divinity from the Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, majoring in pastoral care and theology, and went to work at a non-profit that provides social services to at-risk youth and families.

“Looking back, I realize that CDF gave me the courage to share my story. Through sharing, we find a communal strength to press forward and stay inspired to make a difference in the lives of people around us.”