PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Two Portland students aren’t letting the past define them. Instead, they’re being recognized for beating the odds — and are helping others follow in their footsteps.
Johana Amani and Justice English are among the 3 Roosevelt High School students to receive the $16,000 “Beat the Odds” scholarship.
Justice is a spoken word performer who has endured more than many her age.
“I became homeless sophomore year; and also junior year moved out because my mom was just very toxic and into drugs and stuff like that,” Justice said.
Johana experienced a different kind of trauma.
“We’re originally from Congo but we left Congo and went to live in Kenya for 6 years as refugees and then got asylum to come to the U.S.,” she said.
Johana and Justice both wrote essays about their experiences to win the scholarships. But they didn’t stop at that.
Their teacher, Renee Mitchell, saw a chance for the girls to do more.
“I wanted to figure out how to leverage what they accomplished so they could actually help other young people how to be more resilient as well and move past their trauma,” Mitchell said.
They came up with a group called “I Am M.O.R.E.,” which stands for “Making Other Resiliency Experiences.”
The group is made up of students at Roosevelt High. They lead workshops to train people on how to better engage with youth who have experienced trauma.
They’ve also been adopted by the University of Oregon as an action research project.
“What we want to do is show other youth what is possible and to use their stories as their superpower and to help them understand ways they may not have realized before that they are resilient,” said Mitchell.
Johana said the scholarship opened up the first door for her and Justice and now they want to “keep opening more doors.”
Both girls have received numerous scholarships and they’re headed to the University of Oregon in the fall where they will continue to work with “I Am M.O.R.E.” They hope to spread it to other schools.
The “I Am M.O.R.E.” students were invited to speak at a trauma conference in Philadelphia next month. They’re also traveling to Albuquerque in the fall for a conference.