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.