Unimaginable trauma and cruelty didn't break them. Their letters will tell you why.
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Letters of Peace

When it comes to sending a message to someone you love, nothing lasts like a letter.

Notes that are written by hand, that we can hold in our own, are so powerful. We can feel the weight of the paper, the texture of the ink, and see the emotion carried through the pen from the hand of the person who wrote it. This is especially true with a message of peace.

Earlier this year, the Paper and Packaging — How Life UnfoldsTM campaign reached out to people across America who had endured unimaginable trauma and cruelty. They survived terrorist attacks, school shootings, and the horrors of human trafficking. One was bullied relentlessly for much of her young life. Another lost a family member to suicide. They faced devastating, life-altering challenges and somehow came out with their faith in humanity intact.


Each of these survivors was asked to handwrite a one-page letter to the world, sharing their story — and their message of peace.

Watch the powerful, emotional video here:

Hardly anyone grows up expecting to endure hardship and tragedy. Asia Graves never did.

From ages 16-18, she was sold in cities along the U.S. East Coast, a victim of human trafficking. Though she eventually escaped and worked with the FBI to bring some of her attackers to justice, the pain, anger, and trauma remained. "I always thought that no person on this planet would ever love me and that I was worthless in the eyes of everyone around me," she writes in her letter. "But when I started to love myself, flaws and all, I was able to recognize the love and compassion in others."

For years, Jodee Blanco was continuously bullied and ostracized by her classmates for being different.

Jodee Blanco. All images via Letters of Peace/YouTube.

Through forgiveness and reflection, she's learned to welcome those same people back into her life. "I learned the ability to forgive is the greatest gift you can give yourself and others," she writes. "If there's a painful memory you can't erase, instead of letting it consume you, turn your pain into purpose."

Cliff Molak, whose younger brother David committed suicide to escape cyberbullying, agrees.

"The only way to end suffering in this nation ... is not to highlight differences between groups of people, but to focus on the importance of accountability and character."

Anti-bullying activist Cliff Molak.

Heather Egeland, a survivor of the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, experienced grief and depression for years. Remembering that our world is interconnected helped bring her back.

"I believe that if we took the time to notice, we'd see we're infinitely more connected by our similarities than divided by our differences," she writes. "The truth is none of us are alone. All we have to do is take notice."

Patrick Downes was at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon when the first bomb exploded. He lost his leg as a result of the explosion, but not his faith in the world.

Boston Marathon bombing survivor Patrick Downes.

"Some might say that we in Boston were victims of violence, but I see us as ambassadors for peace," he writes. "The smallest and largest signs of peace send a message that peaceful and caring societies will always triumph over those who attempt to break us apart."

This year, especially, when so many dark moments seem to drown out the bright, sharing handwritten letters from the heart can make a difference.

If you are inspired by these stories, please share your own. Find a quiet corner, a fresh piece of paper, and a pen, and sit down to craft your own handwritten letter of peace to the world. Send it to one person or the world, sharing on social media with the hashtag #lettersofpeace.

As Patrick Downes powerfully ends his letter: "Hate will always fall victim to love. My town, family, wife and I choose love.”

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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