A 'Parks and Recreation' star's blunt description of how race works in Hollywood.

Last weekend, "Parks and Recreation" star Aziz Ansari went off the typical press junket script to tackle one of Hollywood's biggest taboos: race.

Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images.


In a Q&A session to promote his new show "Master of None," the actor and comedian used the opportunity to speak out against racial quotas on TV...

...as reported by Samuel Anderson in Vulture:

"When they cast these shows, they're like, 'We already have our minority guy or our minority girl.' There would never be two Indian people in one show. With Asian people, there can be one, but there can't be two. Black people, there can be two, but there can't be three because then it becomes a black show. Gay people, there can be two; women, there can be two; but Asian people, Indian people, there can be one but there can't be two."

There's lots more in the interview, including thoughts about white actors playing South Asian characters in "brownface," television's history of offering one-dimensional, stereotypical roles to Indian-American actors, and why "Empire" doesn't mean racism is a thing of the past.

You should go read the whole thing.

Ansari isn't the first to speak out about Hollywood's race problem.

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TV mega-producer Shonda Rhimes, "Fresh Off the Boat" creator Eddie Huang, "Selma" star David Oyelowo, and many others have recently called out the TV and film industry for selling actors of color short and promoting stereotypes on screen.

The numbers back them up.

A 2014 analysis by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA found that, in 2011, non-white actors were underrepresented on film by a factor of 3:1 when adjusted for their share of the population. The same analysis also found that more than 50% of films that year featured casts that were less than 10% non-white.

Why does it matter?

Representation matters, and it matters from a very early age. When characters of color are either not represented at all or portrayed as sidekicks, buffoons, and assorted other one-dimensional stereotypes, kids internalize those stereotypes — and the notions that "That's how the world I live in sees me" or "I don't count."

It's hard to overstate the value of seeing someone who looks like you realized as a full human being on-screen. And right now, for people of color in America, that's not happening nearly enough.

What can be done?

Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images.

Thankfully, the landscape is changing — thanks in large part to shows like Ansari's, "The Mindy Project," "Fresh Off The Boat," and "Empire," which feature characters of color who are front and center rather than tokens in the background, and three-dimensional people rather than stereotypes.

Giving creators who are people of color a chance to make entertainment is the quickest way to make the industry more inclusive. Hopefully, the success of those shows will help convince Hollywood that doing so can be a winning bet.

As for shows that aren't built from the ground up by people of color...

Inclusion should be the goal, not a byproduct of the process.

Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images.

Earlier this month, in an interview with NPR, Lorne Michaels was discussing diversity on "Saturday Night Live" when he said something extremely revealing:

"Chris Rock called me about Leslie [Jones] ... said, 'She's the funniest person, or one of the funniest people I know, and she's either going to end up working for you or working for AT&T, so.' And Leslie was 46 and was not in any way what I was looking for, but when I saw her and she just destroyed — and she's, aside from being incredibly funny, she's a wonderful person, and lovely — and you go, 'Right, OK, you join.'"

Here's the thing. It's not like no one knew about Leslie Jones.

Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images.

Lots of people knew about her, in fact. She had been doing stand-up since 1987. She toured with Katt Williams. She was good enough that Chris freaking Rock knew about her.

But Michaels didn't.

He didn't know about her because he scouts talent from a few well-worn comedy establishment theaters — many of which predominately attract white (and male) performers. If Chris Rock hadn't gotten in his face about it, Michaels never would have known. And crucially, "Saturday Night Live" would have been not just less diverse, but more importantly, less funny as a result.

For Lorne Michaels, the moral of the story seems to be that talent is talent no matter where it comes from. And that's true! But that's not the real lesson here.

The actual moral of the story?

Look harder. There's lots of talent out there. It just might not be in the places you always look.

And if you don't snatch them up, they might just leave you behind.

Photo by Frederick M. Brown/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."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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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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