Makwei Mabioor Deng

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caption=”Scholarship winner Makwei Mabioor Deng, 23, plans to return to his Sudanese homeland to practice law.”]
Two years ago, Makwei Mabioor Deng had never seen a computer or a library full of books. For 16 years he lived in a Sudanese refugee camp after his village was destroyed. But, today he has access to those things and more educational resources he could imagine as a student at George Washington University.

Student activists on campus wanted to help young people from the war-torn region by setting up a scholarship. Makwei was a awarded a scholarship worth more than $200,000 to study at GW. But, the scholarship has one major condition. Makwei must go back and educate his people or pay the money back.

Makwei, 23, plans to fulfill that obligation. He plans on becoming a lawyer and move back to Sudan. “I what to replace battlefield with courtroom, guns and bullets with legal representation, and open confrontation with negotiation around the table.”

Posted in Community contributors, Social reformers, Stereotype busters, Unsung hero, Worldwide reach | 2 Comments

Derrius Quarles

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caption=”Derrius Quarles received more than $1 million in college scholarships”]
We have heard horrific news about young people in Chicago as of late. Derrion Albert, an honors student who was gunned down, has become the “face” of the violence. If I may, I would like to present another representation of the story. Derrius Quarles represents the strength, hope and determination of young Chicago.

Derrius could have been a statistic. His father was killed when he was 4 years old. His mother was a drug addict. Instead of getting caught up in the life that destroyed his parents, Derrius moved to break the cycle.

He graduated high school with a 4.2 GPA and more than $1 million in scholarships ($1,150,000, to be precise) with acceptance into dozens of colleges. He stood up to the image he saw plaguing his city and said, “I can be all the things I was told I could never be.” He now attends Morehouse College and hopes to pursue a career in medicine. Ultimately, he has his sights set on being the Surgeon General, so that he can shape the public health policy.

Posted in Stereotype busters, Under 20, Unsung hero | 16 Comments

Morasha Winokur

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caption=”Morasha Winokur, 11, is the author of ‘My Invisible World.'”]
Morasha’s mother describes her daughter as “an old soul.” She’s 11 years old but has the sharp sense of awareness and honesty of someone many times her age. In her new book, “My Invisible World – Life with a Brother, His Disability and His Service Dog,” Morasha discusses a rarely talked about condition, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).

Morasha and her brother Iyal were both adopted from different Russian orphanages when they were babies. When Iyal was 4 years old, he was diagnosed with FAS. The disorder, along with its similar conditions, affects 1 out of 100 infants each year. That’s more than autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida and sudden infant death syndrome combined. Growing up with Iyal has been challenging, dealing with his outbursts and behavioral issues. To help make it easier, the family brought home an FAS-trained dog named Chancer, the first-ever in the U.S.

Morasha’s uses her book to blatantly and poignantly express what her life is like having someone with FAS in the family. With her youthful voice, she has raised awareness for FAS and touched other families who are going through the same thing. She writes, “When my mother and I go out shopping, I usually get asked, ‘What’s the matter?’ because people think something is wrong with me. They just can’t get it into their head that it’s okay for people to all be different and some people need to wear glasses, or use a wheelchair for better abilities. I reply, ‘Nothing, the service dog is for my brother, but we just wanted to take him for a walk. My brother is not here right now.’ The person who asks that question responds, ‘Oh,’ or nothing at all and turns away. I get that a lot. It’s really quite annoying.’”

Update: Watch the Live interview

Posted in Social reformers, Stereotype busters, Under 20 | 14 Comments

Carolina Correa

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caption=”Carolina Correa, 19, is the first Latina to win the award.”]

Carolina Correa is poised beyond her years. When I meet her, she is fresh- faced and enthusiastic. She walks with an entourage for the first time in her life, but it’s well-deserved. The 19-year-old is the Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year, representing 4.5 million young people in clubs throughout the country.

The fact that she is the first Latina named in the award’s 63-year history, isn’t something that’s lost on her. She came to the States when she was 12 years old from Colombia. Her dad was sick with kidney failure and her mom worked two jobs, so there was no one to take care of her. So, she joined the local Boys & Girls Club, where they taught her English and instilled the importance of education.

Carolina never stopped being active in the club. Over the last seven years, she has dedicated hundreds of hours to tutoring other immigrants. Her award gives her tens of thousands of dollars in scholarship money that allows her to go to college and a platform to speak her mind. “Get involved, get involved, get involved. Always strive to be your best and always believe in yourself because no one else will do it for you,” Carolina says.

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Posted in Community contributors, Stereotype busters, Under 20 | 11 Comments

Justin Bieber

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caption=”Justin Bieber, 15, is a YouTube singing sensation.”]
He has the soul of a seasoned artist. And a legion of fans to make him legit. Justin Bieber, at 15, is a singing wunderkind.

Raised by a single mom in Stratford, Canada, Justin entered a local “American Idol”-esque competition just for fun. With no formal musical training, he dazzled the crowd with his voice, not to mention his mastery of the drums, guitar, piano and trumpet. The musical autodidact came in second at age 12.

Soon afterward, he started uploading his jams on YouTube. He’s racked up more than 10 million views so far. Even Justin Timberlake and Usher started noticing him. They actually got into a bidding war to sign with him! Usher won. But, Justin Bieber is the big winner with his single “One Time” just going Platinum in his native Canada.

Update: Watch the Live interview

Posted in Amazing talents, Entertainer, Under 20 | 32 Comments

Brianna Karp

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caption=”Brianna Karp, 24, blogs about her experience being homeless.”]
“If you saw me walking down the street, you wouldn’t assume I live in a parking lot,” Brianna Karp blogs. “In short, I am just like you, except without the convenience of a permanent address.”

Brianna is 24 years old and homeless. She was laid off from her $50,000-a-year job last summer, trying to hang on by working temp jobs and living off unemployment benefits. But, early this year, she had no money left. She’s estranged from her mother. The father she barely knew committed suicide. All he left her was an RV she was planning on selling until she needed it to live in. She moved into a Walmart parking lot and started blogging about her experience.

Again, she’s homeless but, “not hopeless.” With moxy and nothing to lose, she contacted famed Elle columnist E. Jean Carroll and scored an internship with an honest e-mail that was signed, “homeless but not hopeless.” With her newly-found profile online she hopes to help the thousands of other smart young people who are living like her.

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Posted in Stereotype busters | 12 Comments

Brittany Merrill

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caption=”Brittany Marrill founded the Ugandan American Partnership Organization to help Ugandan families.”]
At first glance, it’s hard to see how a pretty college student from a good home in Georgia and a poor, young mother in a Ugandan village who took in 24 orphans could be connected. But, while Brittany Merrill was studying abroad in Uganda, Sarah Kamara and her children changed the course of Brittany’s life and career. “They taught me about what is meaningful in this world and gave me purpose,” Brittany said of the encounter. “They shook me out of my complacency.”

Seeing the young mother’s need for food and shelter for the children she took in from the village, Brittany started to raise money for a better home for Kamara when she came back to the States. She found a donor to buy them a house. But, she didn’t stop there. She started the non-profit Ugandan American Partnership to help other Ugandan communities.

Four years and about $800,000 in donations after her first encounter with Kamara, Brittany opened The Ranch on Jesus Orphanage in March of this year. It holds the orphans she sought out to help and more. At capacity, 180 orphans can live there. Brittany now splits her time between Uganda and Atlanta, running her organization full-time.

Update: Watch the Live interview

Posted in Community contributors, Social reformers, Worldwide reach | 28 Comments

Aaron Fotheringham

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caption=”Aaron Fotheringham, 17, competes in extreme sports with a wheelchair.”]
Aaron Fotheringham has earned his “whining rights,” but he’s never touched them. He was born with spina bifida, unable to use his legs and adopted into a home with 5 other kids. None of that has ever kept him or his need for speed down.

Since he was a baby, he was right on track with the rest of the kids. There was nothing he couldn’t do. He just did it in his own way — crawling on his tummy and pretending to fly like superman down the hallway on crutches. When he was eight years old, he went to a skate park in his wheelchair and saw the tricks the guys there were doing and said, “Hey, I can do that!”

At first, he fell off a drop in a quarter pipe. But, he tried again until he started doing difficult tricks and entering free style competitions. “Wheelz,” as his friends call him, won the 2005 Vegas AmJam BMX finals, and soon after landed the first wheelchair back flip. He is the only known competitive “hard core sitter,” as he likes to say, so he competes against extreme bikers and skaters. His advice to anyone thinking about cashing in their “whining rights” — “Don’t limit yourself. Just go out there – just live your life. Do something gnarly.”

Update: Watch the Live interview

Posted in Amazing talents, Athletes, Stereotype busters | 18 Comments

Sadiya Buta

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caption=”Sadiya Buta, 15, is getting attention for much more than what she wears on the tennis court.”]
It’s 100 degrees in Arizona, but that doesn’t keep Sadiya Buta off the court. She is part of one of the top doubles teams in her high school’s division. Like her teammates, she is clad in her school’s team shirt and skirt, but Sadiya also wears an extra layer of pants, a long sleeve shirt and a hijab, as part of her traditional Muslim beliefs.

The 15-year-old is looked at like a phenom in the sport, only picking up a racket for the first time last year. Her family recently came to Tucson, Arizona from a refugee camp in Kenya. Before leaving the camp in Dadaab, Kenya, Sadiya’s family was forced out of war-torn Somalia. The International Rescue Committee resettled Sadiya, her 5 siblings and her parents in the United States.

The adjustment for “Sandy,” as her friends call her, was a challenge, to put it mildly. She acts as a translator for her family, as they all learn English and her parents look for work. Despite the obstacles, Sadiya does whatever it takes to tackle her home life with school work and tennis, including waking up at 3 a.m. to complete her homework to keep up her better-than-perfect GPA. She admits that people at school made fun of her at first, but she paid no attention, determined to keep her eye on the ball.

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Posted in Amazing talents, Athletes, Stereotype busters, Under 20 | 52 Comments

Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre

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caption=”Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, both 24, created an eco-friendly replacement for Styrofoam.”]
We all use Styrofoam and don’t realize it. Beyond packaging, it’s in the tables we use and the airplanes in which we fly. We’ve long heard, though, that it’s not the most environmentally friendly product, taking 10,000 years to break down. Enter two 24-year-old innovators with some mushroom roots and seed husks.

Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre are the co-founders of Ecovative Design, a company that builds a completely organic and natural Styrofoam replacement. In non-scientific terms, they grind up seed husks and glue the small pieces together with the mushroom root, yielding a product that’s natural and completely compostable. Unlike other sustainable inventions, like ethanol, their product doesn’t come from anything humans or animals can consume, so their materials are available in abundance.

The two now run a 10-employee operation that is fueled primarily by grants and scientific competitions that have brought the young men upwards of $1 million. “If you have a passion and a vision and something that you know is attainable, drop everything and go for it. Don’t keep your side job because your concentration and focus will be deterred. Follow your passion,” Gavin says.

Update: Watch the Live interview

Posted in Entrepreneurs, Science and discovery | 9 Comments