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This immigrant wanted Americans to talk openly about politics. So he made a space for it.

Busboys and Poets serves up delicious food with a side of activism.

This immigrant wanted Americans to talk openly about politics. So he made a space for it.

When Busboys and Poets first opened in Washington, D.C., in 2005, restaurant-goers had no idea how much the establishment would shape the city.

All photos courtesy of Busboys and Poets unless noted otherwise.

Home to a bookstore filled with literature from writers of color alongside Middle Eastern and soul food, this restaurant-bookstore-spoken-word-activist-safe space-cafe hybrid is anything but ordinary. And for D.C. residents, it totally works.


"I think food and eating and breaking bread ... is a sacred human experience at some level," says restaurant owner Anas "Andy" Shallal. "You know, people just want to put something into their body. There's some spirituality in that. I think many cultures in the world see food as something more than just nutrients for the body. And I think that's the case in D.C. too."

A beacon of activism and politics, Busboys and Poets has hosted numerous readings, events, and speaking engagements.

The events have been hosted by powerhouse figures like Angela Davis, Common, Danny Glover, Ellen Page, and one of Shallal's personal favorite guests, Barack Obama.

"When [Obama] came, it was pretty much that moment that I think took my and most people's breath away, which was really kind of weird because I'm not that easily starstruck," Shallal says. "But someone like him with all his spirit coming into the space? The place went crazy. I mean, people gave him a standing ovation that lasted I don't even know how long, but there was a sense of awe, that sense of reverence to him, which was really quite amazing."

The inception of Busboys and Poets began when Shallal was living and working in D.C. The Iraqi-American restaurant owner immigrated to the U.S. with his family in the 1960s. Ever a connoisseur of the arts and activism, Shallal felt at home in Washington, D.C., the center of the U.S. federal government and the site of numerous movement beginnings and political marches.

While Shallal found comfort in the nation's capital, he was still unsatisfied with how little politics were discussed outside of activist circles.

"I'm an activist," he says. "I've always been an activist, and [I] always wanted to find a space that I would feel comfortable going to."

Having come from a culture that embraced political discussions instead of deflecting from them, Shallal found America's ambivalence to political conversations disheartening. The restaurant owner grew increasingly frustrated with Americans' inability to talk about real issues in social settings.

"I remember when I first voted ... I saw a person in front of me and said, 'So, who are you going to vote for?'" he says. "And it was like I just asked her the most personal intimate question! She gave me that look — 'How dare you?' Like, 'that's not what we do in America.' And I thought, 'That's odd. Shouldn't you be public about who you voted for?'"

Shallal continued to face similar interactions whenever he'd try to discuss voting, politics, or other politically charged topics. An early public opponent of the Iraq War, Shallal was not one to shy away from the world's most pressing issues.

So, how does an ambitious guy who's spent his adult life reading the works of people like Zora Neale Hurston and Malcolm X get Americans to feel more comfortable talking about war, community policing, and women's rights?

Through food, of course.

"I think the food is the trick," Shallal says. "That's how you catch fish. I think once people are sitting together, they realize that they need to be able to have a conversation, and it's not a bad thing and it doesn't hurt. Somebody's not going to bite you. And there's a sense of, 'OK, this can happen, this is possible.' And I think that's the beauty of it."

However, it's not just the incredibly diverse meal offerings that makes Busboys and Poets such an atmospheric place.

Dishes like shrimp and chicken chorizo pasta and baba ganoush are amazing, but it's the paintings featuring black American heroes, political figures, scholars, and artists that set this place apart.

In each of the restaurant's six locations, patrons will find paintings of people like Langston Hughes (the original busboy and poet), Zora Neale Hurston, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Barack Obama.

In contrast to the bland stock photos lining the walls of many restaurants, Busboys and Poets explicitly aims to normalize images of black people by showcasing them in an artistic and humanizing light.

"We have to normalize this imagery," Shallal says. "We have to think of this in terms of 'America' as opposed to 'black America' because I think we oftentimes think 'white America' is 'America.' In order for us to change that, you have to change the imagery and change the perception of what America is. You have to accept black culture in American culture just like white culture was accepted."

Shallal's dedication to black and immigrant art has been a pervasive component in his career pursuits.

This is evidenced in his public artwork, a mayoral campaign, and other public good initiatives around the city.

His ideology hasn't gone unnoticed by community members. In fact, it's made him famous in activist circles around the nation. "I think being a non-white person helps me understand the whole idea of justice and injustice a little differently," Shallal says.

Photo by Alison Harbaugh/Flickr.

In stark contrast to many restaurant owners, Shallal places race and politics at the forefront of his restaurant's mission rather than making it a topic to avoid at all costs. This is, in large part, due his knowledge of the history of segregation in U.S. restaurants and its persistence in subtle, but problematic, ways.

"Having grown up in this country, I've seen the segregation that happens in restaurants — at one point, legal segregation; and later, of course, is self-segregation," Shallal says. "I've always thought that's not a healthy way for society to grow and find common ground."

Shallal's understanding of restaurants' segregationist past is accurate.  

Historically, restaurants have been some of the most segregated places in the nation. In the civil rights era, black Americans were often refused service when they were not being attacked or facing brutal treatment by the police. In the present day, some restaurant owners still do everything they can to keep black patrons from frequenting their restaurants, including ignoring them, calling the police on them, kicking them out, and just making them uncomfortable.

Shallal counters this pervasive narrative by recognizing the importance of not being colorblind to patrons, and he makes sure his staff knows it too, saying, "There are very subtle messages [in the food industry], and if you were just being colorblind, you're going to create tough situations."

The commitment to bridging the gaps between culture, food, and history has made Busboys and Poets even more significant in today's political volatility.

Since the restaurant first opened, five more locations have opened in the area. Shallal also opened another soul food restaurant called Eatonville, and he's made public calls for greener institutions.

All Busboys and Poets locations still host well-known speakers and also host open-mic nights for high school and college students.

Shallal, ever the activist, is increasingly aware of just how important the space is in such turbulent times. True to his nature, he welcomes hard conversations and hopes they help to move society forward in a positive way.

"I think [the current state of affairs is] really unfortunate, and I think it's really putting a lot of stress on families and on relationships," he notes. "It's just stupid and makes me really upset. But we're still [Busboys and Poets], and people know where we stand and that's not going to change."

With six locations, a seventh in the works, and ambitious plans to continue growing, Shallal has a lot on his hands. But social justice and helping to move progress forward comes first.

To do that, he says, you just have to act: "I always firmly believed that I want to go at the heart of social justice and create a space that speaks to that issue — this is where I need to begin."

From what I can tell, Shallal is just getting started.

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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 Jeopardy!

Kelly Donohue ended a three-game "Jeopardy!" winning streak Tuesday night, leaving him with an impressive $80,601 in cash. But his performances have set off a social media firestorm because of two instances that some claimed were racist signals.

The situation inspired an open letter addressing the issue signed by over 500 former "Jeopardy!" contestants.

Throughout Donoahue's brief run on the show, he signaled the number of games he won through hand gestures. After his first win last Friday, he held up one finger and after his Monday victory, he held up two. That was all fine and good. But it was after his third victory that things got complicated.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.