About our recipients

Inspiring Stories of MBTO Youth


Tiffany Fields defying the potentially devastating effects of cerebral palsy, made the Honor Roll and is in the top 25 percent of her class.

Recipients in the News


Abandoned by his mother at age 13, Tariq Hurst turned his story of abandonment into one of success.

Past Award Recipients


Many of our past recipients have attended or are enrolled in college. Several have gone on to rewarding careers. 

Recipient Stories

Corey Austin Eldredge, 18

 A Soulsville student, Corey left gang membership and life on the streets, turning to academics and the viola. He now mentors young boys, helping them overcome peer pressure, drugs and gangs.

Princess Joy Johnson, 18

Joy described in her application a life where she was “mentally and physically abused.” She takes care of her younger brother and mentors and tutors younger students.

Javonta Porter, 17

Javonta Porter, 17, a Melrose High School student, grew up with no father, surrounded by crime, gang activity and drugs. He is, however, president of the honor society and his senior class and is active in his church and community.

Tiffany Renee Fields, Sheffield High School

Sometimes beating the odds means overcoming a physical adversity. Tiffany Fields was stricken with cerebral palsy and was unable to attend school for several years. Despite this setback, she is ranked in the top 25 percent of her class at Sheffield High School and has made the honor roll on numerous occasions.


Although she is confined to a wheelchair and has difficulty writing and holding her head erect, Tiffany is setting her sights on the future, and she’s making plans to attend college, possible at the University of Tennessee at Martin.

“Tiffany has not let her handicap deter her from achieving her goals,” says Counselor Jane Keough. “She is liked and respected by her peers and by adults. She is an inspiration to all.”

James C. Wilkins, Shelby Training Center

James Wilkins was incarcerated when he was only 16 years old, facing four years of federal time. Many teenagers would have given up on their education, but Jason did not. He worked for his GED, and also earned six credit hours from the University of Tennessee. As a result of his good work, Jason serves as a mentor for new Shelby Training Center residents and tutors other inmates. He also completed an honors Culinary Arts program.

“Jason has defeated some very amazing odds,” says Principal James A. Clark. “He has displayed passion and courage unsurpassed by any other person I have ever met.”

As a result of this passion, Jason was named Student of the Month several times and has been accepted into Spaulding University and DePaul University. He also received a Leadership Scholarship from Boy Scouts of America.


Check out this great video chronicling Memphis "Beat the Odds" awardees past and present.  

recipients in the NEWS

Memphis teens, one adult, to be honored for beating the odds to succeed in life

 The Commercial Appeal - Left by his mother at age 13, Tariq Hurst has turned his story of abandonment into one of success. The Soulsville Charter School senior, standing in front of a display of college acceptance letters from fellow grads, was accepted to eight colleges. Tariq has worked very hard over the years, despite so many obstacles and barriers. He continues to be focused in really setting himself to complete his goals.” Photo: Jim Weber 

Five years ago, Tariq Hurst received shocking news that changed his world. His mother, unable to find work in Memphis, was moving to California, leaving Tariq, then 13, and his younger brother here. The boys went to live with The Soulsville Charter School’s middle school principal, LaMonn Daniels. “She explained that she was trying to give me and my brother a better chance at being successful,” Tariq said of his mother. “Staying with the principal was the better option.”

Now 18, Tariq pushed past the emotions of that day and will graduate from high school (where all of the senior class has been accepted to a four-year college). Tariq will attend the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, on full scholarship. He helps teach children’s Bible study at church, helps keep the church clean and works part time at the Center for Southern Folklore.

At first, Tariq resented living with Daniels, but he eventually became the father figure Tariq never had. “He helped me really to become a young man, something that my mother probably couldn’t do,” Tariq said. “So I tried to look at the positives from the situation.” And Tariq has never lost contact with his mother. He called her on Mother’s Day.

“I’m so excited for Tariq,” Daniels said. “Tariq has worked very hard over the years, despite so many obstacles and barriers. He continues to be focused in really setting himself to complete his goals.” 


recipients in the NEWS

These young Memphians are beating the odds

By David Waters


USA Today - May 18, 2017- Five other young people and one adult were honored Thursday evening at the 24th annual Memphis "Beat the Odds" Foundation awards. Young people of all backgrounds and circumstances beat the odds against them every day in Memphis.

"Adversity can challenge anyone, anywhere, at any time," said Theresa Okwumabua, the foundation's co-founder and executive director. "These young people do more than survive; they thrive and make life better for themselves and others by the courage they exemplify."

John Cooper is blind in his left eye. He's endured more than a dozen surgeries on the eye to keep from having it removed. It likely will at some point.

"It took him forever to speak up and say he was having problems," said his mother, Rochelle Cooper. "He's kind of shy and he just wanted to be a normal kid."

Cooper said he didn't feel normal. "I was ashamed of having a disability and did not tell anyone that I was having trouble seeing," he said.

His teachers and administrators helped him by giving him extra lighting and time to read tests and turn in assignments.

His parents encouraged and helped him get involved. He's on the usher board at Polk Chapel CME Church. He participates in Bridge Builders. He joined the school band.

Cooper quietly learned to manage and adapt.He played baseball and golf left-handed so he could favor his good right eye.

He learned to play the drums "because it's an activity I can continue doing no matter how much my vision deteriorates," he said. "I consider that as my own personal attack on Coats' Disease."

Dukes has been waging his own personal attack on sickle cell for as long as he can remember.

He was born prematurely at 24 weeks. He weighed two pounds. Doctors did not expect him to live for 24 hours.

"He's always been a fighter," said his mother, Katherine Williams. "Nothing stops Christen, even when he's in horrible pain."

Like Cooper, Christen Dukes hid his condition from classmates as best he could.

"I did not want my classmates to know that I had sickle cell," he said, "because they would not understand what it was and would think it might be contagious."

His spirit is.


Past “Beat the Odds” Award Recipients (1995 – 2019)

previous recipients - Kathryn Rivers Johnson Award