Why a criminal history shouldn't stop students from getting their life back on track.

Keri Blakinger is a felon. She's also an Ivy League graduate.

After graduating from Cornell University in 2014, Blakinger found a good job and moved on with her life. But she watched too many women she spent time with behind bars — women who were equally motivated to put their pasts behind them — struggle to find their footing after prison.

"I was incredibly lucky," Blakinger, who was convicted of a drug-related crime in 2010, wrote in The Washington Post last year.


Photo by Jay Paul/Getty Images.

Right now, receiving a diploma — a key factor that helped Blakinger get on the right track — is out of reach for many people with criminal histories.

While colleges don't outright bar people with criminal backgrounds from applying, it's certainly a weighted consideration during the admissions process. What's more, if you're an ex-con, simply knowing you have to disclose your criminal history on the application might deter you from even applying (because, what's the point if you know it'll greatly weaken your chances?).

Fortunately, that tide seems to be changing for the better.

On June 10, 2016, the White House asked U.S. colleges and universities to stop considering an applicant's criminal history during the admissions process.

"This is about persuading institutions to do the right thing with respect to how they admit their students," Secretary of Education John King told The Atlantic. “This effort is about removing arbitrary obstacles.”

Photo by Olivier Douliery, Pool/Getty Images.

The announcement is part of the White House's Fair Chance Pledge — an effort to encourage both businesses and higher ed institutions to consider retooling their hiring practices and to press student admissions to give people with criminal histories a chance at bettering their lives.

The pledge makes sense for people like Blakinger. Not only has past research suggested there's no empirical evidence suggesting screening students for criminal histories makes campuses safer, but doing so also can actually exacerbate existing problems, like grappling with our massive prison population — a group that's disproportionately people of color.

The White House's new effort is a big win in more ways than one.

The decision not to consider criminal histories — a move several schools, including Columbia University, Arizona State University, and Blakinger's alma mater, Cornell, have already enacted — benefits marginalized groups and can help keep people out of prison.

Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images.

Seeing as our prison population is disproportionately nonwhite, allowing more former inmates to access education after serving their sentences (an effort that has been known to curb recidivism) would mean more black and Hispanic Americans choosing school, rather than relapsing into criminal behavior.

There's already been significant progress on this front too. Earlier this year, the Department of Education worked with the creators of the "Common App" — a standardized college application used by about 700 schools across the country — to change the wording of the question that asks applicants about their criminal history.

Considering that question often keeps many people from applying, the tweak is expected to encourage more students with criminal backgrounds to take the leap and go to school.

Obama hasn't just talked the talk on this issue, either — last November, he walked the walk when it comes to the federal government's hiring practices.

The president issued an executive order that ended the requirement of applicants to federal positions to disclose if they've been convicted of a crime. The order essentially "banned the box" that ex-cons would be forced to "check" on applications revealing their criminal history.

"We can't dismiss people out of hand simply because of a mistake they made in the past," Obama said in a speech addressing the order.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

To Blakinger, who's used her platform to fight for change, giving people like her a second chance is a no-brainer.

"If we want to lower the crime rate, we need to make education accessible to former inmates," she wrote. "Banning the box on college applications not only gives people a chance to rehabilitate their lives, it also makes our communities safer."

Blakinger shouldn't be one of the "lucky" ones: Everyone deserves a fair shot at getting on the right track.

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Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


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Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


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Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.