Beating the Odds Award Winners

In 2015 the conference launched a new initiative – its quarterly awards for Justice and Reconciliation. For the 2nd quarter, the Justice and Reconciliation Team solicited stories of youth and young adults of strong faith and character who are succeeding in spite of various challenges. The team was proud to bestow award to the two young women described below. Each received letters of congratulation, certificates and a check for $250 to help them continue to pursue their dreams.


Jalen Lawson

My daughter entered high school in 2007 with dreams of attending college outside North Carolina. Yet, Jalen didn’t know then the journey she would have to walk to find peace.

She endured bullying at school, endured the death of her beloved grandmother, and endured the loss of her father. My mother was diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer in the fall of Jalen’s freshman year. Jalen was just getting to a place of comfort after dealing with the loss of her father, so the news of her grandmother’s illness was heartbreaking.

Jalen often cared for her grandmother, but she struggled to make friends at school. Many of her classmates knew one another from elementary school.

Jalen made the cheerleading squad at school, which brought some normality. But things begin to change when she was invited to a week at the beach, and she was the only one who did not attend due to a lack of parental supervision. Students began to bully her, excluding her and calling her names.

The bullying grew worse during Jalen’s sophomore year. It seemed that I had to constantly meet with counselors, principals and teachers about the bullying and harassment.

During Jalen’s senior year, she was excluded from the cheerleading squad. She had cheered for Guilford County Schools since seventh grade, and she was on the varsity squad her junior year. Despite knowing that she was dealing with her grandmother’s illness, many continued to harass Jalen. I requested a conference, and Jalen was put back on the squad. However, the bullying continued.

Through it all, she relied on her faith. Jalen went through high school with only one friend, and she stopped speaking to Jalen out of fear she would be bullied, too.

My mother died Nov. 14, 2010, after going through two surgeries to attend Jalen’s graduation. My mother asked Jalen if she could go to sleep. (She said she was tired.) Jalen, being unselfish, told her to go to sleep as I rocked her in my arms.

My daughter has risen through many harsh ordeals to become a lady of distinction. She has always taken the right road instead of the popular road. She hasn’t harbored any ill feelings toward the school that tried to break her spirit. God sent her an amazing counselor who provided a lot of support.

Jalen’s grandmother and her aunt, Lola McAdoo, had encouraged her to apply to Bennett College. She promised her grandmother she would continue her education. One day, she found a book her grandmother had given her about Bennett College and asked her aunt to help her attend college. (It has been a life-altering path for my child.)

Jalen has stayed the course and been true to God’s Word, “You were made for more.” She now has the confidence to spread the word of God’s goodness and realizes the journey was the gift! She told me, “Mom, I realized that God wants me to have these feelings so he can show me who he is. But you must follow his lead with doing your part.”

I’m so proud of my prayer warrior because she sees the big picture. Traveling to Seoul Korea, she has seen United Methodism from a global perspective. Jalen’s faith in God has changed how she views people. Korea changed her life for the better. Jalen knows life will never be fair, but with God, all things have been possible. Jalen committed to a “soul tie” while in Korea, and her grades this semester prove that forgiveness has been the foundation of her peace. Jalen ran into one of the girls on the cheerleading squad recently and spoke to her and hugged her. I knew then that God had moved a mountain in my child’s heart.

I’m truly thankful Jalen understands that faith will carry you where your eyes can’t see. Jalen encourages others to do better, but she meets them where they are in life without judgment! God had to block all those things while opening her eyes to see the inner strength.

Jalen does well in college. My child was told her SAT scores weren’t good enough for college, and Bennett was the only college that accepted Jalen. She realized that Bennett has always been in God’s master plan.

Jalen has faced many obstacles in life, but with guidance from her family, pastor, and her faith, she has been able to overcome it all. I’m truly proud of how she has never given up. She has this gift for forgiveness that is remarkable, but I know if she didn’t believe in God I would have loss her during high school. Jalen had a 3.6 GPA this semester and to God be the glory!

Jalen will graduate in December and I know it has only been God. I’m grateful for all United Methodism has done for my child.

Toi Lawson

 Isabella Sutton

Isabella Sutton, 17, is a member of Guilford College United Methodist Church in Greensboro. She has Angelman’s syndrome (AS), which is a rare, neuro-genetic disorder that occurs in one in 15,000 live births. Characteristics include developmental delay, lack of speech, seizures, and walking and balance disorders.

I met Isabella 11 years ago. She and my daughter are the same age. I was so amazed then at how determined Isabella was to keep up with the other 14 girls in her age group at church. She could not speak, but every time I saw her, she was smiling. When I started a Daisy Girl troop, I asked if Isabella could join. Her mother, Carla, agreed. Isabella started coming with her one-on-one. She has earned many badges, her Bronze award and her Silver award over the last 10 years. Her Silver award was earned for working with families that have at least one blind parent. She worked with other girls on a national blind bowling tournament. They also planned a huge Christmas party for all the children of these families in Guilford County. Isabella led putting the gift bags together and giving them out.

Isabella also works every year to help make stockings for the 40-50 children at Partnership Village (Greensboro Urban Ministries). She is always the first one on the assembly line. The girls in the troop donate toys and stuffing items each year. We made all 50 this year with only five volunteers (Scouts). Isabella worked tirelessly for three hours, then loaded them in my car.

Isabella still struggles to talk. I have heard her say around 20 words in 10 years. I was very tired that day as we worked to make the stockings. Isabella reached over, hugged me and said, “Merry Christmas.” That was the best holiday greeting I ever experienced.

Isabella is also a champion swimmer with Special Olympics. She swims every year and encourages others. She is an amazing athlete. She is active in our church youth group, and her high school. All of her peer group respects her and is inspired by her accomplishments.

Ronica Bowen