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CDF-NY 2020 BTO Gala: A Dazzling Night Celebrating the Empowered Youth at CDF-NY

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Maria Valencia, Health & Poverty Policy Spring Intern

March 5, 2020

My first day interning at CDF-NY was one to remember; I participated in Lobby Day for Youth Advocacy on January 27th. On this day, I met many of the CDF-NY Beat The Odds (BTO) students and viscerally felt their dedication to advocacy as they advocated for important health and youth justice policies.

The BTO Program provides college readiness workshops and resources to NYC high school juniors and seniors who actively work to beat significant obstacles in their lives. These students demonstrate academic excellence and a commitment to their community. Every year in February, five students from this program are honored at the CDF-NY BTO Gala, becoming BTO Ambassadors.

On the evening of CDF-NY’s 2020 BTO Gala on February 24th, I, along with my coworker, Melissa Genadri, was in charge of posting content illustrating different parts of the event on Instagram. I felt nervous, but ultimately excited to start the night.

The clock was moving fast and after documenting several aspects of the night, we realized it was dinner time. During dinner, on the big screen, we watched videos depicting the distinctive journeys of the five 2020 BTO Ambassadors- Naomi Ellis, Mariday Kenlock, Valerie Ramos, Yaires Reynoso, and Rachidatou Tiemtore. The videos vividly shined light on their voices in the midst of struggle, heartache, hope, and resilience.

During every single one of the five videos, I felt a pang of emotions unravel within my body. My mind took me on a trip to memory lane; I was at a senior awards ceremony at my high school three years ago. I had just gotten accepted to my dream college and I began to think of my parents and their never-ending immigrant experience from Mexico to the United States. I resonated strongly with the young ladies’ stories of finding light in the midst of darkness. It’s an unexplainable feeling when you feel like you can breathe and exist with ease, even if it’s only for a fleeting moment. That’s what I felt during the awards ceremony at the 2020 BTO Gala.

I am also thinking of and would like to honor those who do not get the opportunity to be publicly recognized for their achievements in the midst of struggle– those who are navigating their tumultuous journeys in the shadows. I want to let you know that I see you. I am proud of you. On that note, I end this blog post with one of my favorite mantras to summon strength during any time and space: “Look how far you have come.”

2020-03-09T15:24:21-05:00
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