Heroes

Would you buy a diamond that was grown in a lab?

There are a lot of reasons why you should.

Would you buy a diamond that was grown in a lab?

I'm going to show you four pictures of diamonds.

Some were formed naturally, miles below the surface of the Earth.

Some were grown in a lab.


Can you tell which are which?

(Answers at the bottom of the test. No peeking.)

#1:

Photo by Brilliant Earth.

#2:

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

#3:

Photo by Farrukh/Flickr.

#4:

Photo by Brilliant Earth.

ANSWERS: #1. Lab-grown. #2. Natural. #3. Natural. #4. Lab-grown.

It's pretty hard to tell, right?

It's so hard, in fact, that unless you are a machine, you were almost definitely just guessing.

Many in the diamond industry hope that soon it will be easier to spot the difference, according to a recent report in Popular Science.

"Synthetic diamonds are 30 to 40 percent cheaper, and can be produced in a matter of months. They're so indistinguishable to the naked eye that the diamond industry is in an arms race to produce machines that can discern lab-grown from natural ones, in order to keep the synthetics from flooding the market. 'If anyone tells you they can tell the difference without the machine, they're lying,' said Ariel Baruch, a jeweler at Diamonds by Israel Standard Inc., which sells lab-grown diamonds."

Currently, there are four major ways to tell lab-grown and natural diamonds apart. But they're complicated, and you need a machine if you want to be totally sure.

The diamond industry's theory is the one that makes it the most money: Customers prefer natural diamonds and think lab-grown diamonds are "cheap" and "synthetic."

If it's easy enough to tell synthetic and real diamonds apart, the industry believes that most people will go with the typically-more-expensive natural diamond the vast majority of the time.

But! Maybe — just maybe — the diamond companies are wrong.

"We are seeing some increase in interest [in lab-grown diamonds]," said Kathryn Edison Money, vice president of strategy and merchandising at Brilliant Earth, a California-based company that specializes in both lab-grown and ethically sourced jewelry, in a conversation with Upworthy.

"The customers who are interested in lab-grown diamonds are really drawn to the fact that they don't require any diamond mining."

The business of pulling diamonds out of the ground has a long, bloody history.

A diamond mine in Sierra Leone, 2003. Photo by Desirey Minkoh/Getty Images.

Progress in curbing the worst abuses of the diamond trade has been made the last decade but only so much. The primary system implemented by the U.N. in 2003 to halt the sale of conflict diamonds, called The Kimberley Process, has a pretty spotty track record.

Many of the people and organizations that were instrumental in establishing the process in the first place have since denounced it or ceased their involvement, claiming that it hasn't been effective at best and at worst enables exactly the sort of violence and exploitation it was enacted to prevent.

The bottom line? Even with more oversight processes in place, if you're wearing a natural diamond on your finger, it's still really, really hard to know with 100% certainty that no one was exploited, maimed, or killed to get it.

Lab-grown diamonds, on the other hand, hurt pretty much no one. And they are actually, really diamonds.

Lab-grown diamonds. Shiny. Photo by Brilliant Earth.

Not cubic zirconium. Not white sapphire. Not two middle-aged grifters in a diamond suit.

100% legit diamond.

Turns out, scientists are just as good at scrunching millions of carbon atoms together as the molten inferno of the Earth's mantle. And no one has to go down into a mine to get them. You can just ... put them in a box. Right there in the lab.

"You see the same type of sparkle and crystallization and fire as a natural diamond," Money said.

Not only are lab-grown diamonds conflict- and exploitation-free, they're often less expensive than their natural counterparts.

According to a New York Times report, man-made pink diamonds from one New York retailer range in price between $9,000 and $21,000. Meanwhile, their natural counterparts can sell for over $100,000.

This is despite the fact that the synthetic diamonds are actually, no-doubt-about-it just as diamond-y.

Maybe we should hope that it does become easier to tell the difference.

It's not hard to see why the diamond industry thinks it would be a major boon for them if customers are suddenly able to make the man-made/natural distinction more easily.

But come to think of it, people probably should know for sure whether they're buying a diamond that was pulled out of the Earth or one that is the same quality as the natural stuff but that won't finance wars and didn't require slaves working in giant, ecosystem-smashing mines to dig up.

Photo by Brilliant Earth.

'Cause if consumers know, they might not make the choice the big diamond companies expect.

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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."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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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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