CNN News Anchor Soledad O’Brien has witnessed devastating disaster outcomes, financial struggles, broken dreams – loss of hope. She’s also met strong women who have been beaten by life’s hardships and sad, unfortunate circumstances. That’s why when one of her best friends asked her to help a young woman (a victim of Hurricane Katrina) pursue her university studies, she said: “Yes.” And that's how the Soledad O’Brien + Brad Raymond Foundation was born. By providing them with scholarships, a mentor, and essentially helping them to realize their true potential, the lives of 15 young women have been forever changed.
We attended the Soledad O’Brien + Brad Raymond Gala, heard the inspiring stories of these young scholars and got the chance to talk to Soledad O’Brien, who gave us some really good advice. Check out our interview below:
DoSomething.org: What do you think is the biggest difference the foundation has made in the lives of these 15 young scholars?
Soledad O’Brien: When I started I thought the biggest difference that we were making was helping fund tuition, and that’s hugely important. But I realized very early on that by providing mentors, we would help young women get through college and that money was part of it, but that actually the support, the guidance, and the person to pick you up when you are struggling were equally important. So I think the fact that we combined that was very unusual and very important.
DS: What have you learned from them?
SO: I’ve learned everything from them. I think these young women are so much more resilient than I could ever be. Some of our girls come from really tough circumstances. I guarantee you, I could not have experienced some of the [things] they have and turn around and continue through high school, graduate, and then take on college. Any rational person would say “there’s no way you’re going to college: your mother has abandoned you, you have no money, you live in poverty, Hurricane Katrina has happened, why would you apply?” And yet they do! And whether it’s girls in New Orleans or girls in New York, or girls in Indianapolis, or Houston, or Miami, or wherever we have them, it’s that girl: the rational thing to do would be to quit and not even bother to try because it seems at times that everything’s against you. And these girls always are striving for amazing things; I don’t think I could be that resilient.
DS: Any advice you would like to give to teenagers who are willing to take action?
SO: I think our biggest challenge with these young women (and I think this is true of teenagers and young people regardless of their socio-economic status): they don’t really dream very big. For example, we have a scholar whose dream is to be a math teacher, which is perfectly nice, but I tell her: You could be an astronaut, and be a math teacher too, at some point: DREAM REALLY BIG! And she always says: “But Soledad, I’m afraid of heights!” And I say “Blah, Blah, Blah. You could get over that!” I just want them not to see the thing in front of them and say “Oh, I could do that.” I want them to see 20 steps ahead of themselves and say “I want to do that.” And that’s very hard, that’s very scary, and if it’s not in your range of vision whether you are in poverty, you are a middle class kid, or you are a wealthy kid is very hard to create an idea of what you want to be when you don’t necessarily see it written out for you. So I think young people need to say "I have this idea," and figure out how to get people to buy it and make it a reality. It’s not that hard, people want to support young people.
DS: If you could have a superpower, which one would you have?
SO: I would want to have the ability to look through walls. I have four children and it would be great just to be able to sit and be like: “Jackson stop hitting your brother,” “Sophia put that down,” “No, no TV for you,” and I wouldn’t have to move. I would just sit still, that would be awesome!
Start a peer mentoring program at your school. GO