Activists are celebrating as the world's biggest ivory market officially closes its doors.

Elephants are having a pretty good 2016 so far.

Early this year, the Ringling Bros. circus announced that it would retire all elephants from its performances by May 2016, more than a year ahead of its original schedule, which would've had the elephants working until 2018.


Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images.

Then, on Jan. 13, 2016, everyone's favorite betrunked pachyderms received even more good news:

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced plans to "phase out" ivory sales in the city.

Leung Chun-ying speaking in Hong Kong in 2015. Photo by Phillippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images.

Ivory, of course, is the hard, white material that comes from the teeth and tusks of various animals. Elephants, with tusks that are often bigger than those of walruses or warthogs, are the biggest source of ivory and most at risk from ivory poachers.

The use of ivory to craft items dates back to prehistoric times. In the modern age, ivory has been used to craft everything from billiard balls to piano keys to gun stocks.

A 26,000-year-old mammoth ivory carving on display in Paris. Photo by Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images.

The import and export of ivory is already banned in Hong Kong. But the ivory trade remains very much alive there.

About 400 sellers are permitted to trade in ivory material and products as long as they were created before 1989, which is when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species introduced a treaty that banned the sale of ivory products created after that year.

Activists like Alex Hofford of WildAid Hong Kong argue that while the treaty had its merits, it has resulted in a legal loophole, through which a large ivory black market has been able to survive.

"Hong Kong has always been the dark heart of the ivory trade," Hofford told CNN.

The plan introduced earlier this year will close the loophole and "ban totally the sale of ivory in Hong Kong" Chun-ying said in his statement. "We'll do it expeditiously. As quickly as we can."

Seized ivory tusks in Hong Kong, which were subsequently destroyed by the Chinese government in 2014. Photo by Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images.

This total ban is poised to make a significant impact, as Hong Kong "displays for retail sale more elephant and mammoth ivory items than any other city in the world surveyed for ivory," according to a 2015 report from activist group Save the Elephants.

This is a huge victory for elephants, a species rapidly nearing extinction.

They needed a victory, too.

The demand for ivory has led to an epidemic of elephant poaching. In Africa, ivory poachers killed 100,000 elephants in the last three years. If that trend continues, African elephants could be extinct within a generation.

Dune Ives, senior researcher at Vulcan, told The Guardian last March that “in five years we may have lost the opportunity to save this magnificent and iconic animal.”

African elephants walking to a water hole in Tanzania. Photo by Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images.

In October 2015, after a visit to an elephant sanctuary in China, Britain's Prince William urged the Chinese to stop purchasing elephant ivory and rhino horn.

Prince William with a baby elephant in China's Yunnan province. Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images

In a speech broadcast on Chinese state television, he told the public to think of what they would tell their children if elephants went extinct on our watch.

"Let us not tell our children the sad tale of how we watched as the last elephants, rhinos, and tigers died out," he said, "but the inspiring story of how we turned the tide and preserved them for all humanity."

With Hong Kong finally phasing out the ivory trade, we might actually be able to save the species.

Which is great news for the whole world.

Especially since baby elephants look like this:

OH MY GOD LOOK AT HIM. Photo by Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/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."

In 2015, Gravity Payments CEO Dan Price had a life-changing epiphany.

Price, who founded Gravity with his brother in 2004, was out hiking in the Cascade Mountains with his friend, Valerie. She told him her landlord had raised her rent by $200 and she was struggling to get by on her $40,000 a year income. Price, who was making $1.1 million a year as CEO of Gravity, was struck by her story. Not only did he feel for Valerie—a military veteran working two jobs and barely making ends meet—realized that some of his own employees might be facing similar struggles.

And they were. One employee frankly told him his entry-level salary was a rip-off. Another employee had secretly been working at McDonald's outside of work hours to make ends meet. So Price decided to make a drastic change by investing in his employees.

He researched how much money the average person would need in order to live comfortably and settled on $70,000 a year. In one fell swoop, he dropped his own salary to that amount, while also making it the minimum salary for anyone who worked at Gravity.

The move drew media coverage—and dire predictions from pundits. On Fox News and other conservative outlets he was called "foolish," a "socialist" and a "lunatic of lunatics." Rush Limbaugh called the company policy "pure unadulterated socialism" that was "going to fail" and should be a case study in MBA programs on how socialism doesn't work. Talking heads predicted that his employees would end up in the welfare line.

Six years later, Price has proved the haters wrong—by a lot.

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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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