With the holiday season in full swing, there’s no better time than now to give back. Stars like Conan O'Brien, Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams, Jussie Smollett, and Jurnee Smollett-Bell did just that at the Children's Defense Fund's Beat the Odds Awards Thursday evening in Beverly Hills, Calif. At the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, attendees celebrated the accomplishments of five high school students who have overcome unbelievable odds.
“It’s humbling, because you see what these kids have achieved at the age of 17, 18, sometimes 16 ... not only with no help, but often with incredible obstacles in their way and it makes you want to try a little harder in your own life,” O’Brien, who hosted the show told InStyle.
Just like the late-night host, who serves as a co-chair for the organization, Jurnee has a close relationship to CDF as well and serves on its board. “Real lives are being changed by donating to them, by working with them, by serving on the board of the directors,” Jurnee, who sported a fit and flare navy Wolf Marais dress, said. “So, any little thing I can do to help with this amazing cause—it’s my honor.”
Her Empire star brother not only echoed their sentiments, but had a special moment on stage as he introduced one of the honorees, who happened to be a huge fan of his show. When Stephanie Gambino headed to the stage, she gave Jussie a big hug and tearfully walked to the podium. "Sorry, he's my idol," she said with a laugh.
The actor (pictured above, with Jurnee) looked dapper in a navy Calvin Klein suit and told InStyle how excited he was to be at the event. “This is the kind of stuff that I really care about,” Jussie said. “The fact that we're shining light on the kids that are doing something so positive … In the most horrible conditions, you've still got to fight and you've got to make the best [of it] and that's what all of these kids and these honorees have done tonight.”
The Beat the Odds program honors outstanding high school students who have overcome adversity, demonstrated academic excellence and have given back to their communities. Each student is given up to $10,000 in scholarship money, and receives on-going mentoring and internship placement, among other things.