Teneeyah Hale knows the odds were stacked against her.

A single mother while she was still in middle school, the result of sexual abuse by her stepfather, any chance at success in life simply didn't seem to be in the cards.

In spite of all that, Hale recently graduated from Northland High School where she was named "Most Inspirational Senior" by her classmates. She will be going to Ohio State University in the fall under the Morrill Scholars Program.

"The scholarship is awarded to students who show commitment to both academics and diversity by excelling in the classroom and making a positive impact in their communities," according to the website of the university's Office of Diversity and Inclusion. "Morrill Scholars are selected because they have shown their advocacy for equity and access by contributing to those around them."

"I do consider myself somebody who beat the odds," Hale said.

So do officials with the Children's Defense Fund-Ohio, who selected the young woman to receive one of five "Beat the Odds" awards, which were presented during a ceremony June 15.

So does Hale's mom, Tanitra Hale.

"I think she's amazing," Tanitra Hale said. "She always says she's not going to do something, but I say you're going to do it."

Mom, as is the case with moms, is right.

Teneeyah Hale said when Northland High School guidance counselor Eric Watson urged her to apply for the Beat the Odds award, she scoffed at the notion.

"I was, like, it's all of Ohio; I'm not going to get it," she recalled.

She got it, along with $5,000 in additional college scholarship money, a laptop computer, an invitation to join Children's Defense Fund leadership programs and other support from the organization.

"Teneeyah's story, her ... day-to-day circumstances and what she faced during a number of her formative years, how she was able to move past that trauma and stress and, in a sense, compartmentalize it and deal with it so she could become successful and forward-thinking and forward-looking speaks to her inner grit and determination," said Pam Kreber, interim executive director of Children's Defense Fund-Ohio.

"The selection process can be heart-wrenching," she added. "Once we get past that, it's the most inspiring and uplifting part of our job."

Teneeyah's father was diagnosed with brain cancer when she was 3 years old and died when she was 11.

According to information from Children's Defense Fund-Ohio, when Teneeyah was in fifth grade, her stepfather, who is now serving time in prison, began sexually molesting her. She endured the abuse in silence, afraid for the safety of her mother and sister. Finally, when she was in seventh grade, her mother separated from her stepfather.

Not long after, Teneeyah began to feel ill and her mother noticed she looked pregnant.

At that point, she told her mother everything, and, several months later, gave birth to a son, TaCorie.

Teneeyah Hale said her mother became a second mother to the boy, now 4 years old.

"I decided to keep the baby and I wanted to make sure she still got to be a child," Tanitra Hale said.

"It was a lot of late nights," her daughter recalled. "I always put TaCorie first, even before my homework.

"There were a lot of times I wanted to give up, but I had a wonderful support system. I just wanted someday to be someone people can look up to, ... that your past doesn't define you."

Hale, who graduated in the top 10 percent of her class at Northland High School, for now wants to become a history teacher and plans to major in African American studies at OSU, but will explore other options in the coming years.

"Since my school is paid for, I might as well get the most I can out of it," she said.

"I want her to do whatever she wants to do," Tanitra Hale said.

"She's interested in it now, and I'm glad she's into it."

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1