Colin Kaepernick just snagged a top honor also given to Malala and U2. He deserves it too.

Sometimes the smallest actions can have the biggest impact.

All former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick did was sit down. He didn’t shout, he didn’t stomp, he didn’t set anything on fire — he simply didn’t stand up during the national anthem.

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images.


That one small act sparked conversations about racial injustice and police use of force — in addition to the meaning of the national anthem and American flag — and ignited a social media controversy the likes of which I have rarely seen.

But Kaepernick didn’t continue to sit. After consulting with veteran and fellow football player Nate Boyer, Kaepernick switched to kneeling instead of sitting, to show respect for veterans while still protesting racial injustice in America’s law enforcement and justice system. Throughout the 2016-2017 football season, despite the controversy swirling around him, Kaepernick quietly knelt on the sidelines at every game.

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

Some people hated him for it. Some people loved him for it. Amnesty International just awarded him their highest honor for it.

Global human rights group Amnesty International named Kaepernick their 2018 Ambassador of Conscience — the top human rights award given by the organization. Previous winners include Malala Yousafzai, Nelson Mandela, and U2.

Many Americans celebrated the honor, while others rolled their eyes. But whether or not you agree with Kaepernick’s message or methods, there’s no doubt he earned and deserves this award.

As Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International, said:

“The Ambassador of Conscience award celebrates the spirit of activism and exceptional courage, as embodied by Colin Kaepernick. He is an athlete who is now widely recognized for his activism because of his refusal to ignore or accept racial discrimination. Just like the Ambassadors of Conscience before him, Colin Kaepernick chooses to speak out and inspire others despite the professional and personal risks. When high profile people choose to take a stand for human rights, it emboldens many others in their struggles against injustice. Colin Kaepernick’s commitment is all the more remarkable because of the alarming levels of vitriol it has attracted from those in power.”

Kaepernick sacrificed his football career for a cause. And he’s done much more than that.

Some people have focused so much on Kaepernick’s anthem protests that they’ve missed the work he’s been doing off the field.

He started the Colin Kaepernick Foundation, with a mission "to fight oppression of all kinds globally, through education and social activism." Through his foundation, he has donated a million dollars of his own money to various organization working for justice and police reform. He’s created a camp for kids to learn about their civil rights. And he has inspired others in the NFL, and throughout the entertainment world, to donate to similar causes.

When I started the #10for10 #Encore as part of my #MillionDollarPledge it was because after I ended the Pledge I still had an amazing show of support from friends that wanted to be involved, so I decided on one more day to continue to support the organizations on the ground. Well that one day, turned into two days after an outpour of support from friends wanting to join to giveback to the community who are fighting hard for us on the ground everyday. 10 people in my original #10for10 turned into 20 people adding on at the end of these two days! Amazing! · Of course, I couldn’t end the #10for10 without hearing from this amazing singer, philanthropist, mother, wife, actress and activist, @aliciakeys. She messaged me instantly as the #10for10 was going to show her support and Pledge $15k to Silicon Valley De-Bug! @sv_debug is an organization that has initiated and lead successful social justice campaigns to advance the rights of youth, workers, immigrants and those impacted by the criminal justice system. · Thank you, Alicia for all the work you do in the community to help our brothers and sisters globally. And thanks to everyone that was involved with the #MillionDollarPledge! Together we are strong. See everyone involved as well as all the organizations we donated to that are on the frontlines everyday fighting for social justice on Kaepernick7.com! #PowerToThePeople

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All of this in addition to serving as a catalyst for conversation, a powerful symbol of peaceful protest for some, and a highly controversial figure in the social and political landscape for others.

You don’t have to agree with Kaepernick’s philosophical — or physical — stance to agree that he's met the criteria for the Ambassador of Conscience Award.

Standing — or sitting, or kneeling — for what you believe in takes courage, especially in the face of great resistance. After many teams had the opportunity to pick him up, Kaepernick still remains jobless with the NFL. He has been the target of the president of the United States, who referred to protesting players as a “son of a bitch” and encouraged people to boycott games when players kneel or sit during the anthem. There’s no question he made enormous sacrifices in his career — and in the court of public opinion in a “spirit of activism.”

In doing so, he joins an elite group of activists around the world who have been recognized with Amnesty International. And no matter what people think of his method of protest, he has rightfully earned his place among them through his uncompromising stand, and unwavering dedication to fighting injustice.

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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."

We know that mammals feed their young with milk from their own bodies, and we know that whales are mammals. But the logistics of how some whales make breastfeeding happen has been a bit of a mystery for scientists. Such has been the case with sperm whales.

Sperm whales are uniquely shaped, with humongous, block-shaped heads that house the largest brains in the animal world. Like other cetaceans, sperm whale babies rely on their mother's milk for sustenance in their first year or two. And also like other cetaceans, a sperm whale mama's nipple is inverted—it doesn't stick out from her body like many mammals, but rather is hidden inside a mammary slit.

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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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