The most important part of 'Rogue One' was an unexpected and subtle one.

Stop me if this sounds familiar.

Women are usually objectified and sexualized in major motion pictures.

People of color are usually the villains, terrorists, drug dealers, and criminals in major motion pictures.


Films usually consist of white men making all the decisions.

Historically, in movies it’s been the white guy calling the shots, faltering briefly, recognizing his wrongs, and eventually saving the day while teasing a sequel dependent on box office returns. Or sometimes, if there's a female lead, she’ll need strong males to help her see the way.

J.J. Abrams was happy to break this trend in last year's "Star Wars" installment, “The Force Awakens."

John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Oscar Isaac. Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images.

In an interview at Comic-Con last year, when asked about the diversity in "The Force Awakens," Abrams said, "It’s important that fans see people who look like themselves in films."

Legendary franchises like “Ghostbusters” and “Star Wars” have taken huge steps forward not just in gender-neutral and colorblind casting, but in offering the spotlight to women and people of color.

That breaks barriers in Hollywood and proves it’s OK to not follow the homogenous checklist that has permeated Hollywood for decades.

“Rogue One” broke further from this tired formula and gave us new hope.

Slight spoiler alert. There's a moment in the film when the main cast of “good guys” is traveling, at hyperspace, in a beat-up ship that just barely made it out unscathed after witnessing a catastrophic event. As they barrel their way to an imperial base on Planet Eadu, the camera slowly pans across to show the newly formed team. The face of the resistance is not unlike the face of those struggling for equality today. The richness of the diversity is a palpable jolt of hope for all minorities everywhere.

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

A main cast of people of color and a woman leading the way is a powerful scene to see.

Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, leads the whole movement, with a team consisting of Cassian Andor (played by Mexican actor Diego Luna), Chirrut Imwe, the blind warrior (played by Chinese legend Donnie Yen), Bodhi Rook (played by Riz Ahmed, who is of Pakistani and Indian descent), and Baze Malbus (played by Chinese actor Jiang Wen) after leaving a meeting with another main character, Saw Gerrera (played by African-American Forest Whitaker).

There's no sexual tension to exploit. There are no stereotypes, drug deals, racist themes, religious tropes, or anything else that we’ve come to expect from Hollywood over the last 100 years since “Birth of a Nation” came out.  

Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera. Image courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

But why is this important?

It’s important because like the "Ghostbusters" casting inspiring little girls, it does innumerable wonders for children of color. They see their races and ethnicities finally represented in Hollywood, and not in a negative light.

It's important because it shows we belong, even despite the adversity that women and minorities face.

Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso. Image courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

It’s important because it shows that a woman doesn’t need to be placed in a metal bikini to appeal to a target demographic, spawning thousands of horrid Halloween costumes.

The diverse cast in "Rogue One" shows that despite the challenges women and minorities face on the regular — and, as of Jan. 20, 2017, are likely to face even more often — that we can make strides and show the world, as we’ve tried to do since the beginning of recorded time, that we belong, and that we can also do what the typical white hero has done on the silver screen.

It shows that we’re on the right path but still have a ways to go.

Jiang Wen and Donnie Yen. Image courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

There's progress being made outside film franchises too. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (the U.K.'s version of the Oscars) recently announced that as of 2019, films will not be eligible for any awards unless they're diverse and inclusive in front of and behind the camera. It may not be progress at the speed of light, but that clunky, beat-up ship will get there eventually.

"Rogue One" is billed as the prequel to "A New Hope,"  but for millions of minorities watching it on the big screen, this is their new hope — not just on the big screen, but in the real world we're living in.

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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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