Tanisha Jones attributes her journey from homeless child to school principal to her teachers, her own determination, and the Children’s Defense Fund.

In her early years, her crack-addicted mother kept moving Tanisha and her brother around to various apartments in Washington, D.C. Their most frequent “home” became homeless shelters that often ran out of food. “The line was long and if they ran out, you didn’t get to eat.”

Her mother made an effort to see that they didn’t have to change schools often, and school became Tanisha’s true home—and sometimes the only place she had a meal. When Tanisha was seven, her grandmother came to the school and took her and her brother home, providing stability and predictable meals for the first time in her life.

She missed her mother, though, and couldn’t understand why she never came to see them, “I would sit and wait for her. I just couldn’t believe she would abandon us.” Her father kept contact with her brother but not with her, for reasons she still doesn’t get. “For a while, I was thinking I wasn’t a good kid.” She later learned her grandmother had forbidden her mother to come by the house until she had gotten off drugs, which her mother eventually was able to do.

Tanisha put all her efforts into school. “I wasn’t the smartest kid around but I worked hard and teachers encouraged me. I went to school at 7:30 in the morning. I joined whatever clubs I could join and put myself into situations where I would be exposed to positive things. I’d stay at school until 6 or 7 at night. I couldn’t outsmart anyone but I progressed through sheer will.” She was there so much that some of her teachers became surrogate parents.

“When I got into high school, they started helping me find a way to go to college.” That’s how she came to know about CDF and the Beat the Odds Award. “That was a big day for me. Maya Angelou introduced me. I couldn’t believe she was telling my story.”

The following summer, CDF asked Tanisha to share her story in front of thousands of people at the “Stand For Children” rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial. “People came up to me afterwards and asked if they could share my story with others. It was mind-blowing to realize that I was making an impact on others.” Ever since then, “when I get a call from CDF, I jump on the opportunity.”

Tanisha graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in communications and began working in human resources in corporate America. “I started feeling, well, not very fulfilled.” She went back to school to get a master’s degree in education from American University. She became a founding teacher at the E.L. Haynes public charter school in Washington. She taught third grade, became a lead teacher and this fall, is the assistant principal. Tanisha is married and has a son and daughter.

“I know life can deal harsh blows sometimes but you should hold all children to high expectations because they can achieve.”