In CNN’s annual Champions for Change initiative, network anchors highlighted stories of organizations and people who have had a lasting impact on them and continue to change their communities and the lives of others.
I spoke with CNN anchor Don Lemon about his choice to spotlight the Oliver Scholars program — a cause dedicated to helping promising adolescent students in underprivileged environments thrive and prosper.
The special ‘Champions for Change’ anchored by Dr. Sanjay Gupta will air Saturday night at 8pm ET.
(This Q&A initially ran in Mediaite’s daily newsletter, which you can sign up for here.)
Talk a little bit about the Champions for Change cause you chose and what it has been able to accomplish.
Oliver Scholars has been able to send the hundreds of mostly Black and Latino students to independent and prestigious colleges around the country. Most of the students probably would not have had the opportunity and the exposure to either of those. This program is a blessing. It not only changes the trajectory of the students life, but it changes the trajectory of the entire family’s future.
How were you first exposed to this organization? Is there any particular reason this cause spoke to you?
I was first exposed to the organization when they asked me to speak at one of their fundraisers. And then I decided to feature them in the first Champions for Change because I was so impressed by what they did and by meeting the students. This program spoke to me because if I had a similar program when I was growing up I think it wouldn’t have taken me so long to reach the level of success that I wanted – and, it definitely would have made my journey less circuitous. It would have given me more confidence.
What was the most rewarding part of filming this followup piece to last year’s initial spotlight of the Oliver Scholars Program? What is the biggest thing you want people to know about the program?
The most rewarding part of filming this follow-up is that I actually get to see the students all mature and become young adults in the span of one year. Their metamorphosis is really notable. The biggest thing I want people to know about the program is that it is the ultimate leveler of the playing field. This program, if implemented in other communities around the country, can help bridge the income, wealth and class gaps in America.
As a public figure, what would your number one piece of advice be to burgeoning young students?
Easy. My advice is to not to worry about your perceived shortcomings. If you’re a minority of any kind, don’t look at yourself as “other.” Just be excellent. Excellence always succeeds.
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