Three Essex High School Seniors Beat the Odds and Earn Scholarships

Being raised by a single mother has shown me the true hardships of life, but it has also taught me to never give up in spite of what any situation may look like.


The 2016 #iBeatTheOdds Scholarship finalists were Shelly, Brenda and Erikah. Eight resilient Essex High School (EHS) students in all submitted essays to the #iBeatTheOdds Scholarship Committee. The scholarships are available to any Essex High School senior regardless of GPA and does not require SAT or ACT test scores. The award may be used for a two or four-year college or technical school. Sales from Nelson Beats the Odds, a graphic novel published by EHS alumnus Ronnie Nelson Sidney, II, was used to fund the scholarships. Sidney started the scholarship in memory of former classmates Teddy Rich and Arthur Bundy. “Grit and determination mean more to me than grades. I graduated high school with a 1.8 GPA and limited options for college. Although my future was uncertain, I knew one thing, I would beat the odds,” says Sidney.

Participants are required to submit an essay entitled “Beating the Odds”. The essays are about a personal experience overcoming an obstacle or dealing with a hardship. The t0p two finalist read their essays to an audience of eighth grade students from Essex Intermediate School. The students selected seventeen-year-old Shelly as the winner.

Essex Intermediate School Eighth Graders
Shelly is an Essex High School senior who hopes to enroll in Virginia Union University this fall. The historically black university is located in Richmond, Virginia. Shelly is the 2016 #iBeatTheOdds scholarship winner. She spoke boldly about overcoming the grief she experienced after her father’s death. “I have learned that my life can go back to normal after the death of my dad, that there is no odd on Earth that I cannot beat,” says Shelly, ” I am determined to become the woman that I know my dad would want me to become and one that he will be proud of.”

An excerpt from Shelly’s essay:

“Life has thrown me many curve balls at a young age and I have managed to get by and make the most out of them all. One obstacle that I faced I feel that no child should ever have to go through.  I lost my father at the age of 12 and that is definitely one thing that I thought I would never get over.  He was not only my father, but also my friend.  There were days when I did not understand what was going on or why it even happened.  I even wondered why God had to take my father from me after spending only a short period of time with him.  I know I was wrong for questioning it, but I was so confused and so hurt by this tragedy.”

Brenda, 18, wishes to enroll in Mary Baldwin University this August. Brenda and her sister left their mother in war-torn Liberia to seek a better life in the the United States. Brenda’s mother wanted her daughters to have a quality education, shelter and other necessities so she sent them to the U.S. to live with their father. In the U.S. Brenda encountered bullies who tormented her on a daily basis. “People did not care what I was or had been going though, their only concern was that I did not keep with the latest fashion trend, or enunciate words like them,” says Brenda, “With all the challenges at home, as well as school, my determination to rise above the odds became stronger.”

Brenda and Shelly

An excerpt from Brenda’s essay:

“I never understood the  concept of war, not until I was old enough. I was six years old when the second Civil war started in Liberia. I did not comprehend why people were killing each other. All I knew was that our country was not safe and we had to stay inside until it was over. My mother and a few of our neighbors had to flee their “safe haven” when the conditions worsened and during the evacuation process she was stopped by an armed rebel. The feeling I recall was not fear of the armed rebel, it was the fear of not knowing how the situation would end. Fortunately for us, nobody was injured and we kept on our journey. This experience has made me a sympathetic person and has given me a greater appreciation for human life.”

18-year-old Erikah is determined to accomplish her goal of walking out of Virginia Union University with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Psychology or Social Work. With the support of her loving mother, Erikah overcame both financial and academic hurdles. “One thing I have learned from this whole process is that nothing is ever given to you, you have to work hard to get over every hurdle that you come upon,” says Erikah.


An excerpt from Erikah’s essay:

“In life there are many challenges that are faced, not only as adults, but children go through challenges also. There are simple challenges, such as, what will I wear to school today or I hope I like what is being served for lunch. Then there are bigger challenges, such as, if I do not pass this SOL test will I graduate high school or if my mother does not get paid this week, where will the money come from for dinner? How one deals with these obstacles, regardless of how big or small, is the real challenge. As a young adult I have faced many challenges and have beat the odds because the odds beating me will never be an option.”

Thank you Shelly, Brenda and Erikah for sharing your amazing essays. You three proved that family, resilience and hard work are the ingredients to beating the odds. Although Shelly was chosen as the winner, all three participants deserve a scholarship and supplies for college. Myesha Bryant, another former EHS alumni, donated care packages to the scholarship winners. On June 7, I will be attending an award ceremony at Essex High School and honoring the 2016 #iBeatTheOdds scholarship winners again. We’re currently accepting monetary donations and college care packages for male and female students. Please visit our website to find out how to donate to #iBeatTheOdds scholarship campaign.

In May, Sidney helped Northshore High School senior Devonte Harris raise $1,670 in scholarship money. Harris emailed Sidney his emotional essay several months ago after hearing about the #iBeatTheOdds Scholarship. A previous blog entitled “Louisiana High School Senior Pens Inspirational Essay About Beating the Odds” documents Harris’s story. The young man from Slidell, Louisiana hopes to enroll in Southern University and A&M College – Baton Rouge, LA this Fall. If you’re interested in sharing your inspirational story please visit our #iBeatTheOdds Facebook group.


Author: Ronnie Sidney II, MSW

Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW, is a father, therapist, author, app developer, professional speaker, philanthropist and entrepreneur. He received a Master of Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2014. Ronnie was raised in Tappahannock, Virginia, and attended Essex County Public Schools (ECPS). While attending ECPS, he spent several years in Special Education after being diagnosed with a learning disability. The stigmatization of special education created a lack of interest in school. With limited options regarding four-year colleges, he decided to enroll in J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, Virginia. The following year, he transferred to Old Dominion University, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Services in 2006. Sidney has since published two books, "Nelson Beats the Odds" and "Tameka's New Dress". He also developed the Nelson Beats the Odds Comic Creator.

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