3 very different tweets reveal a painful truth about inequality in America.

The shootings that interrupted an otherwise peaceful protest in Dallas on July 7, 2016, were terrible.

They were also a statistical anomaly and not evidence of a pattern of wider violence. I'll explain that in a moment.

First, here are three images that can help us understand how to process our feelings about this truly awful event. They represent three different, contrasting realities that currently exist in the U.S.:


1. Here's a photo that was taken in Dallas on that same night, before things took a tragic turn:

This photo represents an ideal situation — and in fact, it's a pretty accurate representation of the celebrated work done by the Dallas Police Department in community policing.

If police are public servants who are meant to uphold our rights as citizens, then it is right that they would stand in solidarity with those exercising their First Amendment rights to protest against injustice.

I like to think that the moment reflected here is an accurate representation of the majority of police officers.

These are our brothers and sisters and neighbors and friends, people who willingly enter into a career where they're more likely to encounter a hostile situation than, say, a writer like me. But a lot of their work is doing exactly what you see them doing in this photo.

2. That's the reality of America. But so is this:

American police are also responsible for killing around 1,000 people each year in the United States. Tragically, a disproportionate number of those people are black Americans24% per a Washington Post calculation, despite the fact that black Americans comprise only 13% of the U.S. population.

By contrast, the number of police officers killed in the line of duty is much lower and has notably decreased over time. 51 of the 96 police officers who died in the line of duty in 2014 were killed during felonious acts, according to the FBI — killed through the actions of another person, rather than as a result of an accident. 71% of the offenders responsible for those murders were white, despite white people making up 64% of the U.S. population today.

None of this means that officers, particularly those who give their lives in the line of duty, aren't brave and noble individuals worthy of appreciation, of course. But it does mean that it's more likely for a bartender or garbage collector to be killed on the job than it is for a black man to shoot and kill a police officer.

So despite the general high-stakes job, there's no logical reason for police to feel particularly threatened by or anxious around black Americans, despite this shooting.

And yet, this photo still represents the tragic reality that black Americans are forced to live with every day. Regardless of your feelings toward police, I hope you can empathize with the fear that black Americans have during encounters with police — because it is statistically justified. Black Americans are 2.5 times more likely than white Americans to be killed by police, even though white Americans are more likely to kill cops.

This is unfortunate, but it's the truth.

3. We've seen one reality where cops are good but shouldn't feel overly threatened by black people. We've seen another where black Americans are justified in fearing the police. And then there's this:

Screenshot via Twitter.

This tweet was made by a former U.S. congressman from Illinois in the aftermath of the shooting in Dallas. It has since been deleted, although he still stands by the sentiment.

This tweet is indicative of the source of most of the controversy about violence — about whose lives matter and about when those lives can matter. This tweet is the insidious virus of white supremacy laid bare for all to see by a white man in a position of power and influence. It is proof that white supremacy still exists today.

And unfortunately, it is not a statistical anomaly.

It is people like this who create a system that continues to disadvantage black Americans 150 years after the formal end of slavery.

Their actions and influence lead to poverty, which leads to desperation, which leads to racial profiling, which leads to more black Americans in jail, which makes it harder for black Americans to get jobs, which leads to more poverty, desperation, and other problems.

It is people like this who use their power to appeal to the most rotten fears in the hearts of other Americans by pointing to statistical anomalies like a sniper at a Black Lives Matter protest and using that anomaly as evidence or justification of some greater evil while ignoring all other persistent evidence to the contrary.

It is these same people who will readily classify any white shooter as a "lone wolf" or as "mentally ill" — perpetuating the idea that only white people are allowed to be individuals while all minorities must stand as representatives for their entire group. They are the same people who dig up dirt on murdered black Americans while reminiscing about white mass murderers as quiet, gentle men.

You're not going to be able to end poverty or racism or white supremacy all on your own, which is why the events of the past week can feel difficult.

"Fixing this" can feel overwhelming, and it isn't realistic.

But it's also not realistic to "choose a side," to pit police against black Americans. If we do that, we're letting that specter of white supremacy continue to divide our country.

What we can do is speak out against the injustices we see.

If we do that, maybe we can finally start to mend this broken system.

When someone says something racist or does something oppressive or harmful, we can call them on it. Maybe they didn't mean it; maybe they didn't realize they were saying something that perpetuates the roots of white supremacy. But they're not going to learn unless someone takes the time to explain it.

It's also important to listen to people who have other opinions. A lot of people are hurting right now, and with good reason. You don't even have to agree with them to accept that their pain is justified and their perspectives and experiences are real. Reach out and connect, and try to understand someone else's point of view before forcing them to see it from yours.

And you can volunteer. You can tell your friends. You can amplify the voices of the people who are hurting and try to empathize with everyone you meet. You can get mad and use that energy productively instead of sitting back while these things happen again and again and again because you don't think it affects your life. (It does.)

It is 2016 in the United States of America, and these three photos represent three very different realities that still manage to exist at the same time.

And that, in itself, is a problem worth solving.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

It's one thing to see a little kid skateboarding. It's another to see a stereotype-defying little girl skateboarding. And it's entirely another to see Paige Tobin.

Paige is a 6-year-old skateboarding wonder from Australia. A recent video of her dropping into a 12-foot bowl on her has gone viral, both for the feat itself and for the style with which she does it. Decked out in a pink party dress, a leopard-print helmet, and rainbow socks, she looks nothing like you'd expect a skater dropping into a 12-foot bowl to look. And yet, here she is, blowing people's minds all over the place.

For those who may not fully appreciate the impressiveness of this feat, here's some perspective. My adrenaline junkie brother, who has been skateboarding since childhood and who races down rugged mountain faces on a bike for fun, shared this video and commented, "If I dropped in to a bowl twice as deep as my age it would be my first and last time doing so...this fearless kid has a bright future!"

It's scarier than it looks, and it looks pretty darn scary.

Paige doesn't always dress like a princess when she skates, not that it matters. Her talent and skill with the board are what gets people's attention. (The rainbow socks are kind of her signature, however.)

Her Instagram feed is filled with photos and videos of her skateboarding and surfing, and the body coordination she's gained at such a young age is truly something.

Here she was at three years old:

And here she is at age four:


So, if she dropped into a 6-foot bowl at age three and a 12-foot bowl at age six—is there such a thing as an 18-foot bowl for her to tackle when she's nine?

Paige clearly enjoys skating and has high ambitions in the skating world. "I want to go to the Olympics, and I want to be a pro skater," she told Power of Positivity when she was five. She already seems to be well on her way toward that goal.

How did she get so good? Well, Paige's mom gave her a skateboard when she wasn't even preschool age yet, and she loved it. Her mom got her lessons, and she's spent the past three years skating almost daily. She practices at local skate parks and competes in local competitions.

She also naturally has her fair share of spills, some of which you can see on her Instagram channel. Falling is part of the sport—you can't learn if you don't fall. Conquering the fear of falling is the key, and the thing that's hardest for most people to get over.

Perhaps Paige started too young to let fear override her desire to skate. Perhaps she's been taught to manage her fears, or maybe she's just naturally less afraid than other people. Or maybe there's something magical about the rainbow socks. Whatever it is, it's clear that this girl doesn't let fear get in the way of her doing what she wants to do. An admirable quality in anyone, but particularly striking to see in someone so young.

Way to go, Paige. Your perseverance and courage are inspiring, as is your unique fashion sense. Can't wait to see what you do next.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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