Roadtrip Nation: Beating the Odds

After 15 years of making films and series about overcoming life’s obstacles, Roadtrip Nation’s newest one-hour documentary “Beating the Odds” tackles some of its toughest hurdles yet. The film takes an unflinching look at the socioeconomic problems affecting the lives of young adults across the U.S., from poverty, to physical and mental abuse, to the creeping influence of the
drug epidemic. But in examining these ills, it also presents the antidote: the resilience of America’s youth, as inspiringly illustrated by the stories of its three featured road-trippers.

“Beating the Odds” centers around the cross-country journey of three young adults who’ve made it through some formidable challenges: There’s Estephanie, the college sophomore who’s struggling to finance her dream of becoming an actress, yet refuses to give up because she knows that higher education is her ticket out of the Bronx. There’s Esther, who was adopted out
of a neglectful home thanks in part to the intervention of her elementary school teachers, and is now entering college in the hopes of becoming an educator herself. And James, nicknamed “Ikie”, who lost his father to drug addiction when he was a teenager—yet, rather than resenting his afflicted town, has since done everything he can to fight for his West Virginia community. Currently studying political science, he hopes to one day represent his state in the U.S. Senate.

The struggles of these three young adults are deeply personal, but they’re also universal, and the road trip reflects this geographically. The “Beating the Odds” journey covers nearly 3,500 miles, making stops in locales as diverse as New York City and Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, as the team winds its way from coast to coast in Roadtrip Nation’s signature green RV. Along the way, the road-trippers take time to sit down with several individuals who’ve not only
made it through their obstacles, but then used them as fuel to propel their communities forward: leaders like Geoffrey Canada, the education reform activist whose “cradle-to- college” method is raising high school graduation rates in his hometown of Central Harlem, and Robert Garcia, a Peruvian immigrant who became the youngest-ever—and the first openly gay—mayor of Long Beach, California, one of the most populous and diverse cities in America.

A hands-down highlight of the trip comes when the road-trippers are invited to attend former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Beating the Odds Summit in Washington, D.C. After seeing the former First Lady use her platform to support her fellow first-generation college students, the three realize that, as much they’ve needed the advice and encouragement gained from their interviews, they now also have a responsibility to pass their findings along to other young adults who need it just as badly. Of course, none of the road-trippers see this as a burden—instead, they’re all eager to become advocates for their communities in their own unique ways.

“Beating the Odds” may cover some of Roadtrip Nation’s heaviest subject matter yet, but rather than leaving viewers with the weight of the world, the film proves to be an empowering buoy that will lift up and inspire anyone who’s ever faced a challenge.


Estephanie Cardenas

Age 20

From The Bronx, NY

Estephanie is focused on growing into who she wants to be, and when something blocks her way, she finds a new way up. Raised in the Bronx by her mother, who worked seven days a week, Estephanie has been acting and performing for as long as she can remember, but arts education at her school was nonexistent. She got the spark she needed in an after-school arts program for inner-city students. Going from a school where she’d been teased for trying and striving, she saw what a difference one opportunity could make. After finishing high school in Miami, she’s back in the Bronx, working full-time and commuting to college at Pace University, where she’s studying acting. Even through the stress of paying for school, the hard work is worth it if she can help other kids like her find that spark to become who they are, too.

James “Ikie” Brooks

Age 21

From Boone County, WV

There’s nothing that can keep me down, says Ikie. He knows that now, because in his teens, he faced his biggest turning point, and made it through. For his whole life, his parents struggled with drugs, but when he was 15, both of his parents were arrested, and the next year, his father died of an overdose. Surviving that time and getting to college has given him a different perspective on the programs and policies politicians talk about. That’s why he’s majoring in political science at Marshall University. Born and raised in the heart of coal country in West Virginia, Ikie wants to get into politics to help start conversations and do something about the problems he sees at home. On this trip, he’s looking for inspiration from others who have come from small towns and gone on to make big changes.

Esther O’Brien

Age 19

From Brookfield, WI

For Esther, theater was always a way to escape what was happening at home. And even when home changed, as she moved from an abusive household and bounced through the foster system, her love of acting persisted. At 13, when she and her brother were adopted into a big family, she gained 19 new brothers and sisters and a world of support. But every day is still a battle, even with her family by her side. The challenges she’s faced have made her stronger, and she’s determined not to let them limit her--or her opportunities. Theater, once an escape, is now her focus, along with elementary education. She’s planning on studying both next year at the University of Wisconsin—Stevens Point. That’s why she wants to see how others pursued many passions and reached their goals, so she can learn and grow from their stories.

Media Contact:

Loureen Ayyoub,
Christina Reagan,

Funding for Roadtrip Nation: Beating the Odds is made possible by: ACT Learning for Equity in Learning

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