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L'Oréal Paris Women of Worth

Kaitlin Roig-Debellis had never felt more terrified than she did on December 14, 2012.

All photos courtesy of L'Oreal Paris.

At 9:30 a.m., she was leading her first-grade class in their morning meeting at Sandy Hook Elementary  when she heard gunshots. "There was not a moment of pause or hesitation," says Roig-Debellis. "I knew it was a weapon and I knew it was coming into our school."


Roig-Debellis herded all of her students into the classroom's minuscule bathroom.  She used a storage cabinet to barricade the door.  She recalls worrying that not all of the children would fit, and that she wouldn't be able to save all of the children that had been entrusted to her care.

"I felt absolutely helpless," she says.

Thankfully, Roig-Debellis's class was rescued by a SWAT team 45 minutes later. While she and her students were physically unharmed, many others at Sandy Hook were that day, and the event completely changed the teacher's outlook on life. It robbed her of the person she'd been before the tragedy.

"My sense of safety and security were gone," she says.

When she looked in the mirror in the weeks and months following the shooting, she couldn't find the intensely independent person she'd been. She'd become afraid of everything.

"I realized that wasn't a way to live," she says.

As an educator, Roig-Debellis knew what she had to do. In order to help herself and her students heal, she had to turn tragedy into a teachable moment.

After the shooting, people all around the world began sending the students and teachers of Sandy Hook letters and presents to show their support and offer condolences.  

The gifts, Roig-Debellis remembers, were an inspiration. They helped her realize how many people cared and how important it was to foster connections — not just in her own community but with the rest of the world.

Roig-Debellis is a staunch supporter of stricter gun laws, but she also recognizes that policy is only part of preventing violence. She believes that kindness and compassion are also essential to help ensure safety in schools and beyond. And she knows that helping kids understand that they're part of a global community is an important part of making that a reality.

So, a year after Sandy Hook, Roig-Debellis launched Classes4Classes — a non-profit that's bringing social-emotional learning to the forefront of the primary school curriculum.

Classes4Classes is a social network that allows classrooms all around the country to connect with each other and show off the work they've been doing — giving students a chance to see how students across the country are both like them and different.

More importantly, the network allows classrooms to support each other by giving gifts that improve students' ability to learn. Teachers post what they need on the site and other classrooms help raise awareness in order to inspire donors to help fund these gifts. Then, the class receiving the gifts pays it forward (or 4ward in Classes4Classes parlance) by raising awareness and funds for another school in need. The lesson? That we're all stronger together and kindness is a bond that's not easily broken.

"We try to inspire and encourage children that kindness is the right choice," Roig-Debellis says. "What you put out you get back."

For Roig-Debellis the success of her non-profit is a clear sign that she has to keep pushing forward, spreading her message of kindness and compassion throughout the world.

Since the site went live, Classes4Classes has helped raise thousands of dollars for schools nationwide. Roig-Debellis, who heads the organization, has also had great success. She's written a book, is a popular speaker and had been named a L'Oreal Paris Woman of Worth for her bravery and transformative work. The prestigious honor has been awarded to 10 women annually since 2005 who've demonstrated both a fierce passion and dedication to their community.

For the educator, though, what's most important is the impact she's had on children. Making the world a kinder, safer, more connected place is what gave her her life back. Teaching kids that they're worth it every single day is what keeps her going.  

"What happened on that day was so full of hate and, in my opinion, so full of loneliness," she says. "For me, connecting kids to care about one another is the greatest thing I can do."

To learn more about Kaitlin Roig-Debellis and Classes4Classes, check out the video below.

All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

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Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

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