CNN's Symone Sanders wants you to re-think what 'professional' looks like.

Symone Sanders is no stranger to disagreement. In fact, challenging people's ideas is a big part of what she does on CNN.

The progressive commentator and political consultant regularly appears on CNN programming, often standing toe to toe with her ideological opposites. She's weathered a lot of criticism with grace, even when people on the other side of the debate lose their cool, like when conservative Ken Cuccinelli told her to "shut up" during a segment.

She doesn't need you to agree with her, but you'll probably be better off and better informed if you at least hear her out.


Photo by Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for Politicon.

One area where Sanders isn't up for unsolicited criticism, however, is her personal appearance — and she's totally right.

In the first week of May 2018, Sanders received a message from a stranger offering a bit of "advice." No, it wasn't about one of her political positions or a debate strategy (though that type of feedback from strangers might not be particularly welcome either).

It was about ... her fingernails.

"Hi Symone. You are so smart and beautiful. I like your comments on CNN. But may I give some advice? Okay, what do you think about your long nails? [It's] not appropriate when you are on CNN TV and discussing about politics. This is my opinion. Please, don't take it bad. [I'm one of your] followers. Thank you."

This is a message she, unfortunately, gets more often than she'd like. She decided to offer a public response we all probably need to hear.

"I'm going to 'reply all' to this because I think more than a few folks need to hear my answer. Ok?" she tweeted.

The thread that followed examined what it means to look "professional" in the context of cable news and how gendered and racial stereotypes affect that. In truth, Sanders was hired to be herself and share her own insight into the political world. "Professional" shouldn't have to mean trying to look like someone she's not.

"I'm fully aware that when I show up curvy, with a low cut, a bold lip, an oversized bow, amazing nails, and a chilling analysis ... people don't know how to take it," she continued. "I am not 'supposed' to be able to give you solid political commentary with a bedazzled nail right?"

"I have no problem showing up authentically as Symone and delivering. The problem is most of y'all aren't comfortable. Some of y'all keep showing up as K. Ashley when your name is really Keisha."

"But also don’t let anyone (because friends, family, and folks that mean well also struggle with authenticity) try to put you in a box and tell you what is 'appropriate.' Let’s strive to live boxless ... there, the opportunities are endless," she concluded, sharing a video of her nails.

These types of stories show up constantly. It's time we looked at the issue a little differently, as a question about how standards are created.

In 2017, Dallas traffic reporter Demetria Obilor was criticized by someone complaining about "a size 16/18 woman in a size 6 dress."

Obilor responded:

"This is the way that I'm built. This is the way that I was born. I'm not going anywhere, so if you don't like it, you have your options. You know when you look a little different, people think it's OK to talk to you a little different. And I'm on TV, I can't clap back how I want to clap back all the time."

Earlier this year, Fox News meteorologist Janice Dean responded to a viewer complaint about her legs, writing, "Fox doesn't dress me. I dress myself. I'm sorry if you don't like my legs. I'm grateful I have them to walk with."

Men aren't typically held to this sort of standard, aren't typically criticized for their appearance. Instead, they are — gasp — judged on the quality of their work. To prove this point, Australian news anchor Karl Stefanovic wore the same suit every day for a year in 2014 to see if viewers would notice.

They didn't.

Meanwhile, the women who worked with him continued to get messages about what they should and shouldn't wear on air.

If you ever catch yourself thinking that someone doesn't look "professional" on TV because of their hair, nails, dress, or makeup, take a moment to ask yourself what "professional" means to you and why.

You might be surprised by what you find out.

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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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