Meet the 15-year-old hero who just gave the U.N. some real talk about the future of his generation.
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Unilever and the United Nations

A 15-year-old kid from Colorado just walked into the United Nations and dared a group of world leaders to do something about climate change.

His name is Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez, and he's a true teen badass with a badass Aztec name to match. But, to truly appreciate how epically out of left field his speech was, allow me to set the scene...

The United Nations is a majestic place. At least on the outside.



Photo by WorldIslandInfo.com/Flickr.

On the inside, it looks a little like my grandmother's apartment.

She definitely has those chairs. Photo by Eric March/Upworthy.

It is filled with Very Serious and Powerful People who spent the morning addressing each other as Your Excellency...

Figures. Those two always sit together. Photo by Eric March/Upworthy.

...watching a Very Serious Video narrated by Morgan Freeman that featured sad polar bears ('cause we're all a sucker for Morgan Freeman and sad polar bears, even us)...

"Are you a fish?" — a polar bear. Photo by Eric March/Upworthy.

...and spent much of the morning on June 29, 2015, speaking to one another about how climate change is a Very Serious Problem.

They also talked about how world leaders have really got to get around to really, really solving it this time with the climate agreement they're going to make in Paris this year.

And that's good! It's awesome that the UN is pushing world leaders to talk about climate change. And it's good to have goals. Yay, goals.

When Martinez got up, he immediately threw some fuel on the fire.

"In the last 20 years of negotiations, almost no agreements have been made on a bonding climate recovery plan," he said.

Image by the United Nations.

Whoa.

Frustration with the slow place is common and something folks at the U.N. also feel, as even Ban Ki-moon compared the speed of the negotiations to “a snail's pace."

It's not surprising. This fight against climate change is a huge undertaking by a huge group of people. But, Martinez wanted to remind the assembly that urgency is key because the stakes are too high.

Martinez believes that climate change isn't just a moral issue, it's a life-or-death issue.

“What's at stake right now is the existence of my generation," he said in his speech.

He's 100% right. It's great that politicians are thinking about climate change and are getting together to talk about when they're going to talk about what they're going to do about it. But the decisions they're making won't affect them as much as the generations after them.

Kthxbye, hope you like the planet we left you! Photo by Ricardo Stuckert/PR.

Martinez is 15. He and his friends are actually going to have to deal with the consequences of whatever gets decided here.

"We need to reconnect with the earth and end this mindset that we have that we can take whatever we want without ever giving back," he said.

As an accomplished writer, hip-hop artist, climate warrior, and all-around way-too-impressive 15-year-old, Martinez gets invited to speak at a lot of events like this.

This is the third time he's spoken at the U.N. alone. And he knows the drill.

Photo by Patricia Carnevale/Upworthy.

I spoke to Martinez after his speech, and he was characteristically to the point:

"At climate talks, the fossil fuel companies are lobbying in the hallways," he told me. "There are a lot of systems in place that are making it so that we're kind of stuck. ... It's the truth of the message, the voice, the passion I bring against money."

And the politicians who spoke before him at the conference?

"They were all talking about the same thing in a way," he said. "A lot was addressed about needing to take action and wanting to do something, and that's great. But the people are listening are the people in the room, and the world's not listening to them. ... They're not finding ways to relate to this generation."

It may sound like Martinez is a pessimist, but he's not. Not even close.

He just speaks bluntly and from the heart. Because he cares so deeply. And his passion is infectious.

GIF by the United Nations.

"It's reassuring there's a conversation going on," he said. "We have to speed up the conversation. ... Unless we make the right decisions, we're going to wind up with a pretty messed-up planet."

In order to help people make those decisions, Martinez and his organization, Earth Guardians, came up with a list of 50 simple things you can do to start reducing your carbon footprint.

You can try some of them right now! They're really simple.

Every little bit helps the massive global effort Martinez hopes to kick-start with his speech.

And when the nations of the world meet in Paris later this year to draft a new climate agreement, he hopes that this time they'll actually take some serious, no-doubt-about-it action. The U.N. hopes so, too; they gave him a round of applause.

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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."

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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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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