This Black History Month, we honor the GAME CHANGERS: Everyday heroes whose actions make life better for the people around them. SEE ALL OUR GAME CHANGERS HERE.
Place of Residence: New Jersey
Why She’s a Game Changer: Christine Carter is the CEO of the Against All Odds Foundation, which provides educational programs and social services for at-risk youth, but she could be the organization’s charter member.
As a child, Carter says her mother, a teen prostitute, traded her out for sex in order to get drugs. Her father was also a drug addict. At 5, left alone home with her infant brother, Carter took him to school with her. That’s when she became a part of the foster care system.
When she was 7, Carter’s mother died of complications from HIV/AIDS, and she began bouncing between foster homes and relatives who lived in the rugged housing projects of Newark, New Jersey. Facing abuse and neglect, Carter describes herself as the “residue of the 1980s crack era.”
“My childhood was one that no child should endure. I was physically abused, neglected, and literally left for dead,” Carter told TheBlackManCan.
“The adversity that I faced as a child prepared me for life’s greatest challenges. Growing up as an orphan compelled me to become a social worker and give back to those most vulnerable. If it were not for my childhood, I would not be where I am, nor would there be an Against All Odds Foundation,” Carter said.
It all started at her high school, where Carter had a teacher who took interest in her, tutored her and pushed her.
Despite working two jobs while also looking out for her younger brother, Carter made it to Norfolk State on a full scholarship, where she studied social work.
She began working in New Jersey child services, and at 24, she decided to start Against All Odds. Carter told Forbes about her motivation for starting her non-profit:
I think everyone is able to create change. I don’t think that some are chosen over others. For me, what drives me – Against All Odds echoes my life. Against All Odds is not a statement or a phrase. It’s a life and a movement of resilience. At the core, it’s not just a program. Growing up, I was an orphan, homeless, neglected, and academically disadvantaged. Now, I use my adversities to create systemic change in communities.
Now, Carter’s Against All Odds runs a community center and Newark Family Success Centers at one of the city’s public housing complexes. Her group helps raise student achievement and also helps parents learn the skills they need to be successful.
Carter has made sacrifices to help her agency grow. She took out a home equity loan to seed it and used her own funds to keep it going when budget cuts came. There were periods when she didn’t take a salary or have health insurance for the good of the organization.
“At times I call Newark the ‘Non-profits R Us’ because everybody wants to start one,” Rep. Donald Payne Jr. told Star-Ledger columnist Barry Carter (no relation) about Christine Carter. “But she’s different. She’s putting clothes on kids’ backs, making junkies go to rehab. She’s one of the few who does the work. When she says she’s on it, she’s on it.”
And despite all the big picture work she does, Carter still finds time to give back on a more personal level. Carter mentors a 16-year-old whose mother died and is helping Minnie Cuevas get her life on track.
“She gives me a sense of motivation,” Cuevas says. “She’s in tune with me and I’m in tune with her. I’m about action right now.”
That’s why Carter tells everyone that what she went through happened to her for a reason.
“This is God’s work,” she told a Newark church. “It’s the only plausible explanation for the hell I went through.”
SEE ALSO: Father Helps Young Men Be Better Dads