Breakthrough New York Visits The White House

On July 23rd, Breakthrough New York students Sabrina Carrero and Talib Lawal and

Breakthrough New York High School Coordinator (and FAO Schwarz Family Foundation

Fellow 2014-2016) Joseph Rosales visited the White House to take part in a conference

as part of the First Lady’s Reach Higher Initiative. About 150 students from across the

country attended the event, which included workshops, a hip-hop concert, and a surprise

appearance by the President. 

Sabrina Carerro and Talib Lawal

Sabrina Carerro and Talib Lawal


Carrero, a Posse Scholar, will start her freshman studies at Brandeis University this fall. 

Talib, who spent the summer as an intern at the Clinton Foundation, will be starting as a 

freshman at Franklin & Marshall College this fall. Talib wrote the following essay about 

his experience at the White House.


My name is Talib Lawal. I began my Breakthrough journey as a shy yet motivated 

student from Brooklyn, N.Y., in the summer of 2009. I came in full of dreams to be great 

and successful. I wanted to be a Senator. I wanted to be the first black President of the 

United States of America. I wanted to be different and accomplish more than what was 

expected of me as an African American. I saw the visions. I dreamed my dreams. But for 

it to be reality I needed the skills that would help me to become who I wanted to be, and 

I needed to grow out of my shy shell for my voice and ideas to be heard. Breakthrough 

laid the path for me and I followed. 


During the summer programs and school year programs I was forced to work hard and 

be attentive. I was forced to talk and speak out my ideas. This forceful push matured into 

a strong partnership between Breakthrough and me that showed that no matter what, I 

was going to make it and succeed. I not only learned how to be persistent and 

conscientious, but I learned how to establish strong connections with those around, and 

in the end I made friends that will last a lifetime. 


When I was nominated by Breakthrough to attend the Beating the Odds Summit at the 

White House I was extremely grateful and excited about this unique opportunity. My 

experience at the White House was a once in a lifetime event that I will never forget. I 

have been to the White House a couple of times for a regular tour, but to be there and 

actually be recognized and noticed by the First Lady and President Obama was inspiring 

and enlightening. I was able to hear about the challenges Michelle Obama faced during 

college and how she overcame those struggles. One piece of advice that First Lady 

Michelle Obama gave to me that I will always remember is, “Don't be afraid of hard 

work...Do not be afraid to fail...And if you fail, then recover. Get over it. Get up, figure out 

what went wrong, and go back in. If you fail again, get up, brush yourself off. You will fail. 

You will fail again. You will fail some more. And the difference between that failure and a 

failure is that somebody just stopped trying. So don't stop trying.” 


This advice from Michelle Obama really resonated with me and it opened my eyes to 

see that the only ingredient for success is hard work. Hard work is the absence of fear 

and believing in the impossible. This event helped me to see college and the world in a 

different light. I was able to network with unique and interesting students who possess 

the same determination for success as I do. I was able to listen to Arne Duncan, United 

States Secretary of Education, and his advice on financial aid and how getting into 

college and completing it is definitely attainable. I also had the opportunity of receiving 

college advice from E! News host Terrence Jenkins and performing artist Wale.

The highlight for me at this White House Event was the surprise appearance from 

President Obama. My dream as a young boy was to become the first black President of 

the United States of America; to be able to see President Obama in person, who was 

able to break the barriers and become the first black President of the United States of 

America, was very uplifting and encouraging for me. The advice from President Obama 

that continues to motivate me is, “If you are willing to work hard and if you are willing to 

dig deep, and if you’re willing to make sacrifices, and if you’re willing to embrace the 

values that are best in us, there’s nothing that’s going to stop you. And you’ve got to set 

your bar high... Look, if a kid born in Hawaii named Barack Obama can end up being 

President of the United States and a young girl born on the South Side of Chicago can 

end up being the First Lady there’s nothing you can’t do.


And hopefully this summit has given you some sense of the possibilities and also 

hopefully it’s given you some relationships and some networks that you can now tap 

because not only do I expect out of you individual success, but I also expect you to work 

together to bring about some collective success.” The fact that Obama expects me to be 

successful and to help others to be successful is an eye opener that the world needs me 

to be successful. 


I am thankful and humbled at this special opportunity presented to me by Breakthrough 

New York, and it is an experience that I will never forget and will always look back to 

when facing any struggles on my journey to be outstanding.