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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.

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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."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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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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