This 6-year-old from New York just offered a Syrian boy a spot in his family.

Dazed, disoriented, and covered in dust, 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh became the face of the Syrian conflict in August 2016.

A photo emerged showing the young boy sitting stunned in the back of an ambulance, injured in an attack on his neighborhood of al-Qaterji. The sobering image grabbed the world's attention as we recoiled in horror, sadness, and, most of all, humanity.  

Just a month later, debate around refugees has returned to a political calculation. It seems as though humanity has all but forgotten the plight of Omran, his family, and countless others in their home country.


A new video released by the White House shows just how deeply Omran's story resonated — and that even when the rest of the world seemed to move on, his story wasn't lost forever.

The video features Alex, a 6-year-old boy from New York, who recently wrote a letter to President Obama — a letter we could all learn from.

See, Alex didn't forget Omran. Alex thinks about Omran, worries about Omran, and above all, wants to help Omran. His powerful letter to the president offers up his home, his toys, and his friendship to the young boy half a world away.

Image by the White House.

"Remember the boy who was picked up in the ambulance in Syria?" writes Alex.

GIF from The White House/YouTube.

"Remember the boy who was picked up by the ambulance in Syria? Can you please go get him and bring him to [my home]? Park in the driveway or on the street and we will be waiting for you guys with flags, flowers, and balloons. We will give him a family and he will be our brother. Catherine, my little sister, will be collecting butterflies and fireflies for him. In my school, I have a friend from Syria, Omar, and I will introduce him to Omar. We can all play together. We can invite him to birthday parties and he will teach us another language. We can teach him English too, just like my friend Aoto from Japan."

"Please tell him that his brother will be Alex who is a very kind boy, just like him."

GIF from The White House/YouTube.

"Please tell him that his brother will be Alex who is a very kind boy, just like him. Since he won't bring toys and doesn't have toys Catherine will share her big blue stripy white bunny. And I will share my bike and I will teach him how to ride it. I will teach him additions and subtractions in math. And he [can] smell Catherine's lip gloss penguin which is green. She doesn't let anyone touch it."

Impressed with the raw humanity and compassion of Alex's letter, President Obama read it aloud at the United Nations.

GIF from The White House/YouTube.

"The humanity that a young child can display, who hasn’t learned to be cynical, or suspicious, or fearful of other people because of where they’re from, or how they look, or how they pray, and who just understands the notion of treating somebody that is like him with compassion, with kindness — we can all learn from Alex," added President Obama after reading Alex's letter.

Once we get beyond political grandstanding on things like human rights and refugees, it becomes so simple and clear what the right thing is to do.

There are an estimated 21.3 million refugees in the world; half of them are under age 18. Before coming to the U.S., refugees undergo a thorough vetting process that can last months. The odds of a U.S. citizen dying at the hands of a terrorist attack carried out by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion a year.

Those who make arguments against helping people like Omran have typically relied on scare tactics about refugees being unvetted and unsafe. They've cited dubious statistics of crime in other countries as a warning for our own safety.

GIF from Fox News/YouTube.

They are wrong, and they are starting to change their tune accordingly, appealing to our "quality of life" rather than our safety. As part of his latest stump speech, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is now making the argument that we should reject refugees for this reason. From a moral standpoint, from a human standpoint, and from an empathetic standpoint, that method of persuasion rings hollow.

Because of boys like Omran. Because of boys like Alex.

GIF from The White House/YouTube.

You can watch Alex read his heartwarming letter in the video below.

When he saw the image of the 5-year-old boy in Aleppo, Syria, 6-year-old Alex wrote a letter worth sharing with the whole world. (via President Obama)

Posted by Upworthy on Thursday, September 22, 2016
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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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