Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children & Family Services, Philip L. Browning introduced speakers and congratulated the graduates.
KTLA 5 Morning News Co-Anchor, Chris Schauble returned to serve as Master of Ceremonies for this year’s graduation celebration.
2008 Alumnus Speaker, Angelica Nwandu was the youth featured speaker, who shared her story of overcoming her doubts and realizing her dreams.
Featured guest speaker, actor, director and producer, Obba Babatundé spoke to the graduates about concentrating on the goals ahead of them and not obstacles behind them.
(From Left-to-Right): Graduates, Jamilah Sims, Nubia Jackson, actor, director and producer, Obba Babatundé, youth guest speaker, Angelica Nwandu and graduate, Quron Clarks.
All Photos by Brian W. Carter
The Los Angeles County Department of Children & Family Services continues to succeed in ushering youth to a higher education and purpose.
On Thursday, June 19, at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, 188 youth, that’s 9 more than last year, celebrated a special high school graduation. The Los Angeles County Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS) celebrated their 25th Annual “Celebration 2014: Honoring the Academic Achievements of Foster Youth,” which continues to see foster youth through difficult circumstances towards a successful future.
KTLA 5 Morning News Co-Anchor, Chris Schauble once again served as Master of Ceremonies for the event. A foster youth himself, Schauble made it clear to the 188 that they have a “big brother” that they can count on him if they needed him. He welcomed guest speakers, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, DCFS Director, Philip L. Browning, DCFS Chief Probation Officer, Jerry E. Powers, 2008 Alumnus Speaker, Angelica Nwandu and featured guest speaker, actor, director and producer, Obba Babatundé.
These graduates have a unique and different story to tell than most high school graduates. Most of them have been to hell-and-back all the while keeping their education in plain view. All 188 graduates are going on to pursue a higher education at a college or university, which include UC Los Angeles, Irvine and Santa Barbara, Cal State Los Angeles, Northridge and Long Beach, St. Johns University, Arizona State University and local colleges such as West L.A. College and Santa Monica College. Surpassing last year, over $1 million dollars was awarded in scholarships to most of the youth.
Nubia Jackson is headed to Yale University on a completely free ride scholarship, which she earned through hard work and determination. She spoke about what it took to get to this moment and what helped her along the way.
“It took a lot,” said Jackson. “It took a lot of support from my family, especially from my aunt and uncle, who took me in after I had been homeless and evicted from my childhood home.”
Jackson shared that there were a lot of different things going on in her life at one point in time and that she almost didn’t graduate from middle school. Nevertheless, she found help and stability through her aunt, who took her in.
“[She] gave me the push that I need to get where I am today. She kept pushing me even when I didn’t want to keep going and with that support [and] mentors I’ve had in my life, I’ve been able to overcome the circumstances that have been pitted against me.”
Jackson plans on studying English with a writing concentration.
“It’s a blessing,” said graduate, Jamilah Sims. “I feel very honored to be a part of this program. They’re very helpful and they brought a lot of resources to me so it’s great to be a part of [this celebration].”
Sims will be attending Cal State Bakersfield in the fall. She and plans on studying business management and hopes to work in finance or marketing.
“We’ll see whatever I end up doing,” said Sims.
Quron Clarks shared a little bit of his story and journey as a youth going through DCFS.
“My mother first left me when I was about four or five-years-old,” said Clarks. “Shortly after… I found dance at my pre-school graduation.
“From there, I asked my guardians, my great aunt and uncle, if they would put me into dance classes and I’ve been in dance classes ever since. Of course, my great uncle didn’t support it, he was like ‘you need to be a football player,’—so I did football and ballet classes all at the same time during middle school.”
Clarks truly found his love for dance in high school and has decided to pursue his passion. He has danced with numerous companies including the Debbie Allen Dance Academy and Lula Washington Dance Theatre. He will be attending the Institute of the Arts in Barcelona, Spain. Clarks credits his great aunt and uncle with giving him all the love and support he needed to see him through. He hopes to come back to L.A. to open an inner-city arts studio.
Nwandu is a United Friends of the Children College Sponsorship Alumna and was the featured youth speaker for the celebration. A former foster youth and graduate of Loyola Marymount University, she was recently selected as a fellow of the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab for a script that depicts the struggles of a youth transitioning out of the foster care system. She spoke about coming back to speak at a graduation she experienced not to long ago.
“It is one of the most rewarding experiences because I really know that those children that were on the stage are the greatest people of their generation,” said Nwandu. “I know that they are going to be stars. I just really wanted to make sure that they knew that and they didn’t let failure or anything else stop them.They inspire me too.”
The Emmy and Tony- Award nominated Babatunde, who’s appeared in HBO‘s Miss Evers’ Boys; Introducing Dorothy Dandridge; Dreamgirls; Jelly’s Last Jam, Chicago, and most recently, the critically acclaimed role as Sammy Davis, Jr. in the Broadway bound production of Sammy, had a special message for the graduates. He spoke about the importance of the end of the journey and commended the strength and fortitude of the youth.
“When I was asked would I be willing to come and do this, I told them wild horses couldn’t keep me away,” said Babatundé. “Today we had an opportunity to shakes hands with greatness, we had an opportunity to be among the best that there are and here’s why—because as I shared with the students, that it’s not where we start, it’s where we end up.
“They [graduates] have proven that through some of the most tumultuous and difficult circumstances that they have risen to be shining stars.
“I hope I was as much an inspiration as they have been to me.”
“This is the department’s greatest night every year,” said DCFS Public Affairs Director, Armand Montiel. “When we see these youth, to say that it inspires us doesn’t really capture it—it fulfills us.
“Their success is why we are in this job.”
DCFS is not perfect but they are doing right by many youth, who because of them are realizing their dreams and potential.
Congratulations to all the graduates!