As a former member of the Rogers High School basketball team, Dajuan Mitcham is used to making headlines. But last week he was in the spotlight for his triumphs off the court.
Mr. Mitcham was honored - along with Juliana Barton, Nicholas Duty, Tonya Leu, and Marjory Turner - as winners of the Connecting Point's Triumph Awards. Connecting Point is a child and youth-focused social service agency.
The awards are given to students who have overcome personal barriers and gone on to excel, organizers said. Executive director Jeff Deckebach said the winners are prime examples of kids finding a way to succeed despite tremendous odds.
"We need these stories told, especially after all the craziness that happened [with the riots on Oct. 15]," Mr. Deckebach said.
"When you read these kids' stories, it will make you want to cry. CNN should be out here talking to these kids."
He said Mr. Mitcham's story is just one of the many compelling stories he's heard. Mr. Mitcham, 19, now a student at Owens Community College, was raised by his grandmother Margaret Ramey until she died in 1998. He lost his mother to AIDS in 1997 and never knew his father.
He channeled his energy to basketball and played varsity for three years at Rogers. He was also named Homecoming King at Rogers in 2004.
"I just stayed with it and tried hard to always do the right thing," Mr. Mitcham said. "I would tell other kids to stay positive, because that's the best way to be."
Mr. Mitcham, who is now liv-ing with the family of his best friend, is majoring in communications at Owens.
Ms. Barton, 18, also a freshman at Owens, left home during her senior year at Whitmer High School. She had a difficult home life and suffered physical abuse. She was assisted by Lucas County Children Services.
She finished Whitmer as an honor graduate and was active in tennis, student council, art club, and the National Honor Society.
"I was really excited when I found out about the award," said Miss Barton, who is majoring in landscape architecture and design. "To win something like this is such an honor. I had a lot of obstacles, but I was able to overcome them."
Nicholas Duty, 19, said he plans to major in education when he attends classes at the University of Toledo in the spring. An honors graduate from Waite High School, he said he was physically abused as well.
Some of the organizations he was involved in include the Physics Club, the French Club, the Hispanic Cultural Club, the American Red Cross, and the Indian 100 Leadership Team. He was also crowned prom king this spring.
"My mom died when I was 5 and I knew she would have wanted me to do something with my life," Mr. Duty said. "I enjoy helping kids, and thought what better way to help kids is there than to become a teacher. I first thought about being an engineer, but I didn't like the way that was going. I hope to help other people."
Miss Leu, 18, is a freshman business major at the University of Toledo and a recent graduate of Waite. She said she faced a variety of challenges at home, including her mother's cancer diagnosis. The mounting difficulty led her to stop attending school.
She said the tennis coach persuaded her to try out for the school's tennis team during her sophomore year and that changed her life.
Miss Leu said she lost 40 pounds and gained self-esteem. She played tennis so well that she was named captain during her junior and senior years.
She maintained a straight-A average for the rest of her high school years and helped out at the East Toledo Family Center, Habitat for Humanity, Camp Courageous, and the American Red Cross.
"I would tell other kids: Find something that you love and stick with it," Miss Leu said. "Don't wish for what you don't have, but be thankful for what you do have and work hard to make that even better."
Miss Turner, 17, a student at the University of Toledo, found herself in the foster care system with Lucas County Children Services after a difficult family circumstance.
She said her experience has led her to major in social work at the university and sparked her interest in the ministry as well.
"You can't have a testimonial if you don't endure a test," said Miss Turner, a Rogers graduate. "I know that I am blessed, and God is the reason I'm here today. The biggest thing I've had to overcome was the feeling of being rejected."
Miss Turner and the other winners felt anything but rejected during the dinner in their honor last week.
Contact Clyde Hughes at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6095.