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5 ways Obama is using $118 million to improve the lives of women of color.

The White House has a $118 million plan to improve the lives of women and girls of color.

5 ways Obama is using $118 million to improve the lives of women of color.

The White House unveiled a five-point plan in November aimed at helping women and girls of color.

The plan is part of an effort by the Obama administration to address the unique challenges facing women and girls of color, tackling topics like health care, violence, economic development, criminal justice, and media representation.

For those of us (like myself) who aren't women of color, it's easy to gloss over these challenges — so let's pay attention.


I know some people will be thinking, "Why not just have a summit about the struggles that affect all of us? Why not just all people?"

The answer to that is simple: because we're always talking about all people. If we want to find solutions, and not just platitudes, we need to look at the issues on a closer level.

Here's what the White House hopes to accomplish. It's worth listening to.

Many of these are issues that affect people of all races and genders but which make success particularly difficult for women and girls of color.

Obama senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, shown here in a November 2013 photo, was one of roughly 40 speakers at the summit. Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images.

1. Address the racial and gender disparities that affect what kind of education our children receive.

One of the biggest issues is how school discipline is handled. Data shows that girls of color are disproportionately targeted for things like detention and suspension.

"Black girls are suspended at higher rates (12%) than girls of any other race or ethnicity and at higher rates than white boys (6%) and white girls (2%)," reads a statement on the White House's website. "American Indian/Alaska Native girls are also suspended at rates that exceed those of white students."


How do we address this? Well, one of the suggestions put forward by the Obama administration is additional funding to study the root causes in these disparities. What we do know is that when students aren't in school as the result of suspension or expulsion, they're not learning; when they're not learning, that sets off a whole chain of not-so-great things.

2. Invest in programs to end the school-to-prison pipeline.

"In 2013, black females were nearly three times as likely as their white peers to be referred to juvenile court for a delinquency offense," reads a Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention report.

Last year, the Obama administration released guidelines to support at-risk girls — in particular, to help keep those involved in school discipline or sexual abuse from ending up in prison.


3. Promote diversity in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs.

In a look at 2012 data on science and engineering degrees, minority women accounted for just 11.2% of bachelor's degrees, 8.2% of master's degrees, and 4.1% of doctorate degrees.


One of the administration's educational goals has been to help spark interest in the sciences at an early age. That's certainly a start to addressing these problems.

4. Provide programs, resources, and education to reduce unplanned teen pregnancies.

Teen pregnancies have been on the decline! Go us! However ... the White House acknowledges that "black and Latina girls remain more than twice as likely as white girls to become pregnant during adolescence." As teen mothers are less likely than their peers to graduate from high school (just half of teen moms graduate by the time they turn 22), this feeds into some of the aforementioned challenges.


While programs like those run in Colorado have been a huge success, the White House's latest move could be just as helpful. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will spend $9.75 million to ensure public health centers are up to standards — complete with accurate, comprehensive material surrounding sex ed. Oh, and they made a teen pregnancy prevention app!

5. Address the wage gap in both gender and race.

Yes, the wage gap exists. Usually, though, we just hear about the difference between what men make and what women make. The truth is that if you factor in race, it's even worse. For example, check out this chart from the American Association of University Women.


That's ... not good, and we need to do something about it. On the White House's end, the president is recommending making permanent some of the tax cuts set to expire in 2017 and pushing to bring paid family leave to the U.S. Just as big, however, was Friday's announcement that the Ms. Foundation and Prosperity Together announced a five-year, $100 million commitment to fund programs to help low-income women find success.


Can the issues discussed be fixed in a day? Of course not. But these are some real, actionable steps. And that's great.

The intersection of racism and sexism is one of those areas that seems to get left behind in much of the "American Dream"-type talks and debates we hear politicians talk about. That's what makes today so different. For one powerful day, the focus was on those who so frequently get stepped on, talked over, and pushed away from policy conversations.

The women in attendance at the summit came ready to set the agenda. Now it's our responsibility as a country to help see it through.

We should look to those like Melissa Harris-Perry, Loretta Lynch, Valerie Jarrett, and all the other women who spoke at the conference as inspiration to fight racism and sexism wherever we see it through society and ensure that future generations are offered the same opportunities as their peers regardless of race or gender.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch is the first black woman to hold that office. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves
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It can be expensive to have a pet. It's possible to spend between $250 to $700 a year on food for a dog and around $120-$500 on food for a cat. But of course, most of us don't think twice about the expense: having a pet is worth it because of the company animals provide.

But for some, this expense is hard to keep up, no matter how much you adore your fur baby. And that's why Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves decided to help.

Kenneth had seen a man scraping together change in a store to buy pet food, so he offered to buy the man some extra pet food. Still, later that night he couldn't stop thinking about the experience — he worried the man wasn't just struggling to pay for pet food, but food for himself, too.

So he went home and told his wife — and immediately, they both knew they needed to do something. So, in December 2020, they converted a farm stand into a take-what-you-need, leave-what-you-can Pet Food pantry.

"A lot of people would have watched that man count out change to buy pet food. Some may have helped him out like my husband did," Jill says. "A few may have thought about it afterward. But, only someone like Kenny would turn that experience into what we have today."

"If it weren't for his generous spirit and his penchant for a plan, the pantry would never have been born," she adds.

A man with sunglasses hands a box of cat food to a woman smiling Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

At first, the couple started the pet food pantry with a couple hundred dollars of pet food they bought themselves. And to make sure people knew about the pantry, they set up a Facebook page for the pantry, then went to other Facebook groups, such as a "Buy Nothing group," and shared what they were doing.

"When we started, we weren't even sure people would use us," Jill says. "At best, we were hoping to be able to provide enough to help people get through the holidays."

But, thanks to their page and word of mouth, news spread about what they were doing, and the donations of more pet food started flooding in, too. Before long, they were coming home to stacks of food — and within a couple of months, the pantry was full.

Yellow post-it note with handwritten note that reads: "Hi, I read your story on Facebook. Here is a small donation to help. I have a 3-year-old yellow lab who I adore. I hope this helps someone in need. Merry Christmas. Meredith" Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

"The pounds of food we have gone through is well, well, well into the thousands," Jill says. "The orders from our Amazon Wish List alone include several hundred pounds of dry food, a couple of hundred cases of canned food, and thousands of treats and toys. But, that does not even take into account the hundreds of drop-offs, online orders, and monetary donations we have received."

They also got many 'Thank you notes' from the people they helped.

"I would like to thank you for helping us feed our fur babies," one note read. "My husband and I recently lost our jobs, and my husband [will] hopefully [find] a new one. We are just waiting for a call."

Another read: "I just need to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I haven't worked in over a month with a two-year-old at home. Dad brings in about $300/week. From the pandemic to Christmas, it has been tough. But with the help of beautiful people like you, my fur baby can now eat a little bit longer, and my heart is happy."

Jill says that she thinks the fact that the pet pantry is a farm stand helps people feel better.

A woman holding a small black dog and looking at the camera is greeted by Jill Gonsalves Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

"When we first started this, someone who visited us mentioned how it made them feel good to be able to browse without feeling like they were being watched," she says. "So, it's been important to us to maintain that integrity."

Jill and Kenneth aren't sure how many people they've helped so far, but they know that their pet food pantry is doing what they hoped it would. "The pet owners who visit us, much like donations, come in ebbs and flows," Jill says. "We have some regulars who have been with us since the beginning. We also have some people that come a few times, and we never see again."

"Our hope is that they used us while they were in a tough spot, but they don't need us anymore. In a funny way, the greatest thing would be if no one needed us anymore."


Today, the Acushnet Pet Pantry is still going strong, but its stock is running low. If you want to help out, visit their Facebook page for updates and to find ways to donate.

Jamie Costa in ROBIN Test Footage Scene.

I think we can all agree, the loss of Robin Williams is still one that just hurts. He had an otherworldly type of quirkiness and charm that is simply irreplaceable. Not to mention a warmth that was like no other.

Luckily, we get to have one more viewing opportunity. One that feels remarkably like watching Williams on screen again. All thanks to a fellow comedian.

Jamie Costa, like Williams, is a jack-of-all-trades in the performing world. His bio describes him as an actor, director, producer, writer, voice actor, filmmaker, comedian and—most important for this story—a very talented impressionist. Though he embodies many well-known characters, Costa's claim to fame is his uncanny rendition of Robin Williams.

It's easy to see why. The actor not only bears an eerie physical resemblance to the late comedian, but perfectly matches his (unique) vocal tone to a tee.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!