A Success Story to Inspire Us All!

Have you ever had the chance to make a small difference in helping change someone’s life for the better? Nothing brings greater joy. Since 1990 the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF)’s Beat the Odds® program has honored over 600 outstanding high school students who have overcome huge hardships in their lives, demonstrated academic excellence, and given back to their communities. Their grit and resilience are overwhelming and remind me that none of us have a right to give up on any child or youth. CDF holds awards events for these amazing students where they receive college scholarships and leadership development opportunities, sending a clear signal that someone cares and understands what it takes to stay in school and do well while coping with a lot of adversity. I recently received this beautiful letter from one of our extraordinary Beat the Odds alumna that lifted my spirits in these difficult national times:

Dear Mrs. Edelman,

I just wanted to thank you for all that you do through CDF and for the Beat the Odds scholarship that undoubtedly changed the course of my life. Battling through my difficult childhood, poverty, sexual abuse and the self-esteem issues and eating disorder that resulted from it was so difficult. I questioned whether I was meant to do anything but what I saw in my immediate family that was riddled with drug addiction and brokenness. Then I received the BTO scholarship in 2003 and was awarded a full scholarship to the University of Houston because of it. It was my new boat for this wide sea…I for once felt I could make it.

Then the brutal murder of my sister happened in 2007, leaving me with 2 children to care for, a broken and depressed heart and holes in my new boat. It was thoughts of you and that chance you gave me through BTO that made me not give up. I am so eternally grateful to CDF and BTO and I couldn’t quit and let you all down. You believed I was worth it, I was strong enough and I could do it…So I did! I now have a B.S. in Chemistry, a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS), a M.S. in health professions education and now a PhD in oral biology. I have finally completed my educational journey that started back in 2003 after receiving the BTO award, a journey that would not have happened without CDF. I practice dentistry at Community Dental Clinics of DFW and have devoted my life’s work to providing care to underserved communities and populations. I am an assistant professor and I conduct research investigating the gender differences in orofacial pain disorders at Texas A&M University College of Dentistry. I also mentor under-represented minority students and at risk students.

This past year, I received the Robert Wood Johnson Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development program grant that will funnel me into a tenure-track at the dental school so that I can continue a career of service and mentorship. So while I may not have the lucrative earnings of a private practice career in dentistry, my day to day work is spiritually and emotionally rewarding. I really wanted you to know that I am paying it forward and closer to one day sponsoring my own BTO scholar and will forever be involved with CDF and BTO in whatever capacity I am needed. I cannot express my thanks and appreciation in words for the work that you do! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for believing in me.


Crystal Johnson Stinson

BTO Alum 2003

I am so proud of Dr. Crystal Johnson Stinson and her grace and strength in continuing to overcome all of life’s tragedies and challenges with a determination to succeed and give back to others along the way. I am also so grateful to her for letting me share her letter and her example of the profound difference that simply telling a young person you believe in her can make.


Dr. Stinson said when she won a Beat the Odds award she felt as if she’d been given a new boat to help her across the wide sea. She was describing CDF’s trademarked logo, which was drawn by a young child many years ago and shows a tiny boat on a vast sea next to a handwritten version of the old fisherman’s prayer: “Dear Lord, be good to me. The sea is so wide and my boat is so small.” So many of our children today are being tossed all about in the rough and uncertain sea of life without any help. For all of the young people we’ve celebrated for beating the odds who’ve gone on to graduate from college and become professors, dentists, teachers, doctors, or lawyers, how many others never receive the message that someone sees and believes in them? How many Dr. Stinsons have we lost along the way? Sometimes it just takes one caring adult to be that lifeline a child needs.

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to

Mrs. Edelman’s Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.