My anthem kneeling Twitter thread went viral. Here's what it taught me about humanity.

Having something go viral reveals some interesting truths about people.

I recently wrote a Twitter thread based on a longer blog post that went a bit bananas.

I knew it had reached viral status when God (the Facebook comedian, not the actual Lord Almighty) shared it on Facebook, and George Takei (the actual Lord Almighty of social media) shared it twice in one week.


Millions of views, hundreds of thousands of shares, and thousands of comments later, I've gained some interesting insights about my fellow humans.

The thread was about why and how Colin Kaepernick changed his protest of racial injustice in our legal system from sitting during the national anthem to kneeling. Apparently, many people had missed that Nate Boyer, a former NFL player and Green Beret, had suggested that Kaepernick kneel instead of sit in order to show respect to veterans and military personnel.

I’ve been writing on the internet for a long time, and I’ve had some things go viral before. But this was on a whole other level. People have feelings about kneeling during the anthem as a method of protest. Big, Big, Feelings.

They say you should never read the comments on the internet, but that's silly advice for a writer.

When you write things for people to read, you naturally want to see their responses. So I read the comments. And yes, sometimes they are horrible. For this post, I got called a "dumb bitch," "the dumbest woman in America," a "whore" (because that makes sense) and an "instrument of Satan." You can lose your faith in humanity in the comments section really fast.

But if you are willing to wade through some muck and mire, there are some wonderful conversations to be had online. I've personally learned a lot from interacting with people on social media, broadened my own perspectives, and gotten loads of practice engaging in civil discourse.

I've also learned, from the responses to this post as well as others, a few things about my fellow citizens.

Some seem to believe that there are only two types of people: liberals and conservatives.

In addition to being a whore, I'm apparently a "liberal fascist." Why? Because I'm anti-racism? I support the first amendment? I shared a true story? I don't believe that kneeling to protest racism and police brutality is disrespectful to our country or the people who fight for it?

It's truly mind boggling that so many folks still don't understand this.

Posted by George Takei on Tuesday, September 11, 2018

In that thread, I literally just explained exactly what happened. I didn't say anything about political leanings at all. And yet a decent percentage of the angry comments I received called me some version of evil liberal/leftist/Democrat.

And a fair percentage of people vehemently cheering me on made snide comments about rightwingers/conservatives/Republicans.

Unfortunately, that's to be expected in the comments section. But I received two e-mails I from two different people who said they couldn't tell whether I was liberal or conservative, but wanted to thank me for what I'd written anyway.

Why would you even need to know if I'm liberal or conservative? And why do I have to be one or the other? Most people don't fall neatly into left/right, blue/red, Democrat/Republican. I know I don't.

We have got to get out of this habit of splitting Americans into two distinct, opposing camps. It's weird, and it's not helpful at all in discussing nuanced, complex issues.

Some people don't seem to understand that we can consciously choose how we look at things.

The interesting thing about the anthem kneeling discussion is that so many people don't seem to recognize that each one of us has a choice in how we view it. Even if our initial gut reaction says, "That's disrespectful!" we can listen and hear the whole story and come to a different conclusion.

So many people are adamant that these protests are essentially spitting on veterans. But there is in no consensus among the military that kneeling during the anthem to protest racial injustice is disrespectful. I received just as many comments from veterans who support the players' protests as who don't. Some choose to see it as disrespectful, and some don't. But it's a choice either way, and people need to own that choice.

Some people really are open-minded enough to change their opinion when presented with new information.

The best thing to come out of this viral experience is the batch of comments, emails, and private messages I received saying, "Wow. My perspective on these protests has totally changed."

So often we assume that everyone is fixed in their opinion and there's no point in trying to reason with people who don't already agree with us. Yes, some people willfully remain unreachable no matter how many facts or how much logic you present them with, but there are plenty who simply need to have their view broadened a bit in order to choose to see something a different way.

These folks restore my faith in people.

So do the veterans who speak out in support of the players protesting and the police officers who support the call for reform in their ranks.

So do the commenters who can't get past their view of the flag and anthem as sacred and untouchable, but who engage in respectful discussion about it anyway.

And so do the countless activists who have these discussions all the time, somehow without draining themselves completely.

Conversations with reasonable people can and should drown out the name-callers and the trolls. When we focus on positive and productive interactions, we can find hope for humanity—even in the comments section.

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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."

via Walt Disney Television / Flickr and The Simpsons Wiki

Actor Hank Azaria's relationship with "The Simpsons" character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon holds a mirror up to how America has progressed as a society on the issue of race over the past three decades. Last year, he announced he'd no longer be performing the character, but that came after a long, slow journey of understanding.

"It's 1988, and somebody says to me, 'Hey, can you do an Indian accent?' It was, like, one line. I said, 'Yeah, I think so.' And Apu comes out. We're like 'OK, that was funny' and we all laugh. So that keeps going from there, and over the years it develops," he revealed on Dax Shepard and Monica Padman's "Armchair Expert" podcast.

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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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