How dating outside of my race made me experience a heart-dropping letdown moment.

I settled into freshman year at Rhode Island School of Design the tried and true way most other college students do: I drank.

During one lively night out, I met the. hottest. guy. We'll call him Derrick. As we talked for the first time, I thought he looked like something out of an ad in "Town & Country" — and he was smart and well-spoken to boot.


Not only that, he's the one who walked up to me, and he's the one who asked me out to dinner after the witty banter we shared. This gentleman was a gentleman in every sense of the word, and I fell quickly.


During our first date, we both ate sushi and enjoyed adult-adjacent conversation on television, movies, and what we were planning on majoring in.

I felt like this was what adulthood is supposed to be like. Easy.

After dinner, as we were walking back to his car, he stopped before unlocking my door, and he kissed me. He was pretty great at it. As he pulled back, his eyes opened and suddenly there was a look of confusion on his face. Then he said, “I've never kissed a guy like you before."

“Oh?" I said, wondering what that meant, exactly. Does he think I'm the one or something?

“It's just..."

“Yes?"

“I just realized I've never kissed a black guy before. I've never been into them."

“Oh," I said, wondering if this was supposed to be a compliment.

“But you — you're different. You're hot," Derrick said, and he smiled.

At the time, I smiled back and thought nothing of it. I thought this was a compliment. I'm so good-looking to this guy that I transcend what he finds attractive.

Turns out, it's a lot less flattering to hear that you're the first black guy a white guy has dated, found attractive, or would ever sleep with — the sixth or seventh time you hear it.

Me, after hearing it for the seventh time.

In the four years of dates I had in Rhode Island, I heard all sorts of colorful things, but that statement was the most consistent.

As I heard it more and more, it started to make me angry — and I really had no idea why. I thought to myself: "Why am I so mad? They're complimenting me! They think I'm special!" But gradually, it began to dawn on me: It wasn't a compliment. It was an insult in disguise.

I'm not the only one who has fallen prey to this "compliment." Other colorful things my friends and colleagues have heard include:

  • "Your butt looks like it belongs south of the border."
  • "I love the contrast of our skin."
  • "You're such an exotic person!"
  • Said to a black person, while making out: "Will you be my n*gger?"

Do any of those things sound hot? Maybe. That's why they were said. But they hurt the person they were trying to attract. That's a problem.

It's OK to find a new person attractive. Sometimes it's shocking who you find alluring from one day to the next. But when it becomes clear that the only reason you're into someone is the way they look — and that look is different or exotic to you — that's a problem. It's called “othering."

Let me give you an example:

Say there are two types of kids that go to my high school: the popular kids and the geeks. I'm a popular kid. I love being popular and everybody else in school knows I'm popular. I just got nominated for prom king. I'll probably win.

When a nerd looks at me, I'd think, “How dare he." He's not as good as me. I'M POPULAR.

This is essentially what Derrick was doing with me. Whether he realized it or not, he was saying black people aren't good-looking enough for him to be attracted to, but I was an exception to this rule.

“But you — you're different. You're hot," Derrick said, and he smiled.

Derrick believed, deep down, that white people are fundamentally worth more than black people (in the looks department), even if he didn't acknowledge it and would probably never admit it to himself.

I have some dating advice for ... everyone, really.

Tip 1: Black or white, thin or fat, old or young: You may find yourself attracted to someone who is different from you.

I love this picture. Courtesy of @mrchunkyexpress
A photo posted by Nickelson Wooster (@nickwooster) on

It happens! I have a deep, relentless attraction to fashion maven Nickelson Wooster (the freshly dressed fellow above), a man who is 24 years my senior. In the past, I've mostly dated around my age, but the past is the past. Let's all embrace the possibilities!

Tip 2: Everyone wants to feel wanted — for everything they are, not just a superficial attribute.

Your soulmate could look or act differently or have different political beliefs than all of your exes or anyone you've ever known. But don't feel compelled to differentiate them from everyone else you'd ever think of dating. After Derrick and I stopped seeing each other a few months later, he could have met another black man he found cute. And maybe they eventually got married. Who knows!

Tip 3: If you find yourself surprised by someone you're attracted to, it's a very good thing!

This is the most important tip. If you're expanding your horizons, great! You know what Cupid says: Variety is the spice of life.

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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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