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Last spring, I watched my niece's fiance graduate from college. Standing before the camera while his name was read, he held up hand in what looked like a backwards "OK" sign.

Two thoughts flashed through my mind. 1) I knew the beautiful, heartbreaking reason why he did it. 2) People in the audience who didn't know could have made a terrible assumption about him based on that sign.

My soon-to-be-nephew had been a football player at the university. The previous year, the school's up-and-coming star quarterback, Tyler Hilinski, had taken his own life. The boys were friends, and Tyler's suicide was obviously a painful tragedy.


Tyler wore the number 3 on his jersey. That's what the three finger symbol was for—a tribute to honor a friend.

But I also knew that sign could be misconstrued. I was aware of the recent history that has now prompted the Anti-Defamation League to declare the OK sign a hate symbol. I knew that some in the audience might see this big white dude flashing what looked like an OK sign at his graduation and think he was brazenly advertising a belief in white supremacy.

Nothing could be further from the truth—the guy is justice-minded and anti-racist—but a snapshot doesn't show that.

RELATED: A boy was told to give the nazi salute in class. When others followed suit, this girl spoke up.

Therein lies the problem with the OK sign being labeled a hate symbol. At the same time, this is where we are. Because it's 2019 and nothing makes a lick of sense anymore.

The OK sign as a symbol of white supremacy started out as a joke. Apparently, some basement-dwelling 4Chan dudes with a severe lack of purpose in life decided to "troll the liberals" by making people think that the OK sign—something super commonplace and innocuous—was a symbol of white supremacy. (Seriously, people. Get a life, please.)

Then, because white supremacists are stupid, they actually started flashing it during their pity party rallies and it actually did become a symbol. The symbolism was solidified when a photo of the mosque shooter in New Zealand flashing the sign became public. One can no longer argue that a sign is a joke when someone flashes it after having committed a white supremacist massacre.

Does that mean that no one should give the OK sign anymore? Does it mean that my soon-to-be-nephew was wrong to honor his friend by flashing his jersey number? Absolutely not.

Part of the reason the 4chan jerks chose the sign was because of its ubiquity. Divers use the OK sign to indicate that they are all right. They can't use a thumbs up because that already has a different meaning. Kids have a game where they make the OK sign and if they catch someone looking at it, they get a slug in the arm. That's been going on much longer than the white supremacist symbol controversy. In basketball, when a player makes a 3-pointer, they often hold up those three fingers. Obviously, that's not a white supremacist gesture.

And then there's, you know, the American Sign Language letter "F." Clearly people are not expected to stop making these signs altogether. That would be ridiculous.

RELATED: Most domestic terrorism comes from white supremacists, FBI tells lawmakers

The ADL has made it clear that context matters. This becomes even more obvious when you look at what else is on the list of hate symbols. The numbers "12" and "13" and "100%," for example. People use those numbers all the time and they don't mean anything other than what they mean. Same goes for the OK sign.

Basically, we just need to be aware of how these symbols are used by hate groups. Because the internet is what it is, we should probably let our kids know about it so that they aren't blindsided if someone misconstrues an innocent hand gesture. A group of white kids should know that if they all make the OK sign in a photo, there's a possibility that people will question whether they are advertising racism and choose their actions accordingly.

Is that fair? No. Is it reality? Yes. Will people blame the "PC police" for this? Yes. But let's put the blame where it belongs—on 4chan fools and white supremacist idiots for creating this ridiculous controversy in the first place.

Seriously, man. Get. A. Life.

Beth Cutlip, co-owner of Baltimore's Southside Tattoo parlor, was working one day when a man walked in with some unmistakeable ink.

A gang member in Los Angeles. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images.

The man's face was covered in gang tattoos, Cutlip says, and he was there to have them covered up. He got them as a teenager while running with a rough crowd, but he was a grown man now. Married. Kids. Trying to make an honest career as an electrician.


The tattoos, Cutlip recalls him saying, made people nervous when he came into their homes to do work. He needed them gone.

But they were just too big.

"As much as I wanted to help him, I had to refer him to have them removed. But I don't think he had the money," she says.

Later, when recounting the story to her husband and co-owner, Dave Cutlip, she knew there had to be a way to help people like that.

"I said, 'Dave, these people made a mistake, changed their life, and they need to get these tattoos covered up,'" she says. "He looked at me and said, 'Are you asking me to tattoo people for free?'"

Dave agreed to set aside time in the shop, once a week, for people to come in and have hateful or violent tattoos covered up, free of charge.

Beth posted a small announcement on the parlor's Facebook page, thinking a few hundred people might see it and think it was a good idea.

Instead, the post went massively viral.

Sometimes people make bad choices, and sometimes people change. We, at Southside Tattoo would like to make a difference....

Posted by Southside Tattoo on Monday, January 16, 2017

Soon, messages poured in from all over the country and world. There were thousands and thousands of people trying to get rid of permanent ink that didn't reflect who they were anymore.

This man's gang tattoo became a rose. Photo by Southside Tattoo, used with permission.

Southside Tattoo is now completely booked with cover-ups, and Beth has been working with other parlors around the country to help people outside the Baltimore area.

They've even begun setting up a nonprofit to help pay for the work. Beth says some of the funds they've raised go toward helping people in more remote areas travel to somewhere they can have the work done properly and safely.

His arms said "white" and "power." Beth and Dave covered up the "white." Photo by Southside Tattoo, used with permission.

Beth says everyone she works with has a different story, but they all have one thing in common: They're trying to build a better life.

Along with gang tattoos, "I am seeing so many swastikas, Aryan Brotherhood, things like that," Beth says. Some get inked up in prison to fit in, for safety. Others are just trying to leave their old ways behind.

Either way, Beth and her husband are happy to help.

"The beautiful thing is I know I did something good for somebody," she says. "And they're going to leave here and they're going to do something nice for somebody else."

Together, Beth and Dave are helping people prove it's never too late to change. And that's a message we all need to hear right now.

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America Ferrera's speech at the Women's March sends a powerful message against hate.

The 'Superstore' actress takes a stand for our country's core beliefs.

"We are America," actor America Ferrera told a crowd of thousands at Washington, D.C.'s Women's March.

The message, a rebuke of the idea that any one politician can truly represent the great diversity that makes the U.S. the country it is today, came just one day after President Donald Trump was sworn into office.

"It’s been a heart-wrenching time to be a woman and an immigrant in this country ― a platform of hate and division assumed power yesterday," Ferrera told the marchers. "But the president is not America. His cabinet is not America. Congress is not America. We are America."


Other speakers include Planned Parenthood's Cecile Richards, Angela Davis, Gloria Steinem, Janet Mock, Ashley Judd, Scarlett Johansson, Melissa Harris-Perry, and many more.

The daughter of Honduran immigrants, Ferrera holds an acute awareness of what some of Trump's policies would mean for people like her parents.

The United States is a nation of immigrants. Some more recent than others, but for the overwhelming majority of our population, that is our history. Trump's victory and the brand of nationalism that he's bringing along with it represents a challenge to our core identity as a nation of immigrants. Ferrera wasn't having it.

"We march today for the moral core of this nation against which our new president is waging a war," she said. "He would like us to forget the words 'Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free' and instead take up a credo of hate, fear, and suspicion of one another. But we are gathered here and across the country and around the world today to say, Mr. Trump, we refuse."

Protesters gather during the Women's March on Washington. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images.

Trump may be our president, but that does not mean he gets to dictate our country's values.

Ferrera spoke out against forms of division — some of which existed long before Trump's political rise — and urged the country to stand in solidarity with people of different races, ages, genders, sexualities, and countries of origin.

Human rights should not be a matter of debate, and we should not allow ourselves to lose those rights just because a politician says so. We cannot and should not go down without a fight. Ferrera's speech sends that message loud and clear.

It's on all of us to stand up for what we believe in. It's on all of us to model the positive change we want to see in the world.

To be sure, elections have consequences. The question remains, though, to what end? We must fight to affect the policy decisions our politicians — including Trump — make. We must push back on injustice. We must never forget who we are.

Watch a clip of Ferrera's speech below:

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Maggiano's donates $10K to Anti-Defamation League after hosting 'alt-right' dinner.

The restaurant made a donation after playing host to a white nationalist organization.

On Friday night, managers of a Washington, D.C., chain restaurant found themselves in an almost impossible situation.

The Maggiano's location in D.C.'s Friendship Heights neighborhood played host to a group of people in town for a conference of white nationalists called the National Policy Institute (NPI). The group, which has been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, espouses views that can only be described as racist and hateful.

Making matters worse, while at the restaurant, reality TV star Tila Tequila posted a picture to her Twitter account in which she and two friends did a Nazi salute. Tequila, whose Twitter account has since been suspended, has a history of anti-Semitic views and actions.


Screengrab from Twitter.

Where the NPI goes, protesters often follow — and understandably so.

NPI President Richard B. Spencer has called for "peaceful ethnic cleansing" of anyone who isn't white with European ancestry from the U.S. During the conference, held at the nearby Reagan Building, he recited Nazi propaganda in the original German and questioned whether Jews are people (spoiler alert: they are).

'Hail Trump!': Richard Spencer Speech Excerpts

“Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” is how Richard B. Spencer greeted an audience of more than 200 attendees of an alt-right conference Washington D.C. He was met with enthusiastic cheers and Nazi salutes.Read the full article: https://theatln.tc/2gxTlxG

Posted by The Atlantic on Monday, November 21, 2016

With a restaurant filled with white nationalists on the inside and a group of protesters on the outside, Maggiano's closed shop a bit early.

In a statement condemning the NPI's rhetoric, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum wrote:

"The Holocaust did not begin with killing; it began with words. The Museum calls on all American citizens, our religious and civic leaders, and the leadership of all branches of the government to confront racist thinking and divisive hateful speech."

Hateful rhetoric and action has no place in this country or in this world. While so much of what what we see and hear lately comes through partisan, politicized filters, standing up to hate shouldn't have to be.

People protest the appointment of Steve Bannon to be chief strategist of the White House by President-elect Donald Trump. Photo by David McNew/AFP/Getty Images.

Free speech is one thing, but allowing a space for hate speech is not the same thing. In fact, Maggiano's initial response was a less-than-stellar nod toward a "free speech" defense.

"If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them," philosopher Karl Popper wrote of the "tolerance paradox" back in his 1945 work "The Open Societies and Its Enemies."

For Maggiano's, there was the question of what to do with the money the restaurant made hosting the NPI dinner. On Monday, the restaurant announced a $10,000 donation to the Anti-Defamation League.

The Anti-Defamation League is a civil rights organization originally created to fight discrimination against Jews. While it has expanded in scope, that remains a core tenet of the group's work. On Monday, Maggiano's indicated that they would be donating that night's profits to the ADL.

On Friday night, Maggiano’s in Friendship Heights was the inadvertent site of a protest that caused us to close our...

Posted by Maggiano's Little Italy Chevy Chase on Monday, November 21, 2016

What happened at Maggiano's serves as a blueprint for how businesses can respond to modern hate: denounce and donate.

The world is full of good people with good ideas. The world has a lot of love in it. Understandably, some people feel helpless in the election's wake, but in truth there are things you can do to push back against bad things that are happening around us. Whether it's donating to a civil rights organization or volunteering, there are still important things to be done to ensure that hateful ideas and actions are not simply accepted as a political "other side" but, rather, an unacceptable element of society.

A "love rally" march in New York on Nov. 11, 2016. Photo by Bryan R. Smith/AFP/Getty Images.

This is a new, unprecedented era in America, and it's likely we might all find ourselves accidentally involved in things or connected to things we don't endorse. Now more than ever, it's important to take steps to say "no" to hate.