What is the 'digital divide'? Zendaya grew up in it. And she wants it closed.

For Amanda Acevedo, getting on the honor roll meant fighting through a lot of physical pain.

The 10-year-old from East Harlem, New York, didn't have a reliable computer at home or school to complete her assignments in the evening. In order to keep up in class, she was often left with no choice but to write out entire essays using her thumbs on her mother's cell phone.

Can you imagine?


GIF via "Without a Net: The Digital Divide In America."

Rory Kennedy couldn't — until she witnessed it herself.

“[Acevedo] would sit there and you would hear her thumbs crack and she would talk about it being painful," explains a dumbfounded Kennedy, director of the film, "Without a Net: The Digital Divide in America," which features Acevedo's story.

I'm speaking with Kennedy at the documentary's New York Film Festival premiere on Oct. 3, where a number of the film's supporters — most notably, "Spider-Man: Homecoming" star Zendaya — rallied behind its cause. "I thought, my God," Kennedy continues, as we chat a few minutes before her film debuts to a full house. "We are making it physically painful for poor kids to learn in this country.”

"Without a Net" shines a light on the discrepancies between the haves and have-nots when it comes to technology in our public schools.

The film paints a startling picture.

In wealthier districts, students tend to have far more tech resources at their disposal than students in poorer ones. A Pennsylvania high school in "Without a Net," for instance, boasts a popular, well-funded robotics course, but just a few miles away, another school struggles to integrate even a few basic computers into its curriculum. The money's just not there.

It's a "digital divide" that'll cost us in more ways than one if we don't act. By 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates 77% of all jobs will require computer skills — a figure that will only increase throughout the following decades. This issue isn't just about equality, it's about long-term economic security too. If future generations don't have the necessary skills for 21st-century jobs, we'll all be left behind.  

For Zendaya, the "digital divide" hits particularly close to home.

Zendaya at the screening of "Without A Net: The Digital Divide in America." Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Verizon Foundation.

The Hollywood star, who eagerly threw her support behind Kennedy's documentary, is an ambassador to the #WeNeedMore campaign by Verizon — an effort to make tech more accessible in underfunded schools. The telecom giant co-produced the film.

Stories like Acevedo's, Zendaya says, hit close to home.

"I grew up in [the digital divide]," she explains, dressed in a glittery gown on the red carpet — worlds away from the working class Oakland, California, community where she was raised. "It’s something that I’ve lived firsthand." As a child, Zendaya attended a well-resourced private school where her dad worked and had the privilege of benefiting from financial aid. But her mom taught at a struggling school in the area's public school system; the stark contrast left a lasting impression on the actor.

"How do you have a school where kids are able to experiment with coding and build robots and then you have schools that don’t even have Wi-Fi?" Zendaya continued. "What are you telling those children?"

As Zendaya notes, pointing to her learnings from the film, the solution isn't to go out and buy a bunch of iPads either. It's more complicated than that.

"Without a Net" dove into the three major barriers keeping tech inaccessible for millions of students:

  1. There's a lack of tech products in schools. Thousands of schools simply don't have the funds to buy every student a laptop or create classes like coding and robotics.
  2. There's a lack of internet connection in schools. Particularly in poorer, rural areas of the country, connecting to high-speed internet is surprisingly difficult and astonishingly expensive. Despite progress in recent years, 23% of school districts still don't have sufficient bandwidth to meet the needs for digital learning, according to the Education SuperHighway.
  3. There's a lack of tech-trained teachers in schools. Even if products are available and the internet's up and running, training teachers on how to use the products in their classrooms is quite costly. In fact, 60% of teachers feel they haven't been adequately trained on using technology in the classroom, a 2015 survey by Samsung found.

"The things my mom had to do just to get computers in the classroom or just to get Wi-Fi or just get arts education," Zendaya said, shaking her head in frustration. She may have blossomed into a Hollywood movie star, but she's clearly still agitated by the injustice undermining her hometown. "[My mom] worked too hard to do something that should just be there."

One thing those three major barriers have in common? Yep, you spotted it: They all cost money. Lots of it. And inner-city schools, like Acevedo's in New York City, as well as a good number of rural districts simply do not have that funding.

School funding is largely contingent — and arguably overly dependent — on local property taxes.

In affluent communities, where businesses are flourishing and property values are high, public schools reap the benefits in their bank accounts. In districts where business is scarce and property values are lower, the local tax pool schools dependent on is significantly reduced. As the film noted, this massive inequality — seen in metropolitan areas like Detroit, Philadelphia, and Chicago — means some schools have the funds for more and better qualified teachers, nutritious lunches, innovative art programs, and classroom technologies, while others barely make ends meet.

A Chicago student protests cuts to public school funding in 2013. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

We desperately need change. And you can be part of it.

Kennedy is encouraging viewers to hold public screenings of her film — which is free to view on YouTube, as seen below — to raise public awareness of the issues at play and push for change at the grassroots level.

But students can play a role in making a difference too. Zendaya hopes underserved kids who see the film feel inspired to speak out in their own communities and challenge the status quo. Their futures are worth it, after all.

"Your voice is powerful, your voice is strong," she says. "It’s OK to go ahead and ask for what you think you deserve."

Watch "Without a Net: The Digital Divide in America," below and learn more at DigitalDivide.com.

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Should a man lose his home because the grass in his yard grew higher than 10 inches? The city of Dunedin, Florida seems to think so.

According to the Institute of Justice, which is representing Jim Ficken, he had a very good reason for not mowing his lawn – and tried to rectify the situation as best he could.

In 2014, Jim's mom became ill and he visited her often in South Carolina to help her out. When he was away, his grass grew too long and he was cited by a code office; he cut the grass and wasn't fined.

France has started forcing supermarkets to donate food instead of throwing it away.

But several years later, this one infraction would come back to haunt him after he left to take care of him's mom's affairs after she died. The arrangements he made to have his grass cut fell through (his friend who he asked to help him out passed away unexpectedly) and that set off a chain reaction that may result in him losing his home.

The 69-year-old retiree now faces a $29,833.50 fine plus interest. Watch the video to find out just what Jim is having to deal with.

Mow Your Lawn or Lose Your House! www.youtube.com

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The world officially loves Michelle Obama.

The former first lady has overtaken the number one spot in a poll of the world's most admired women. Conducted by online research firm YouGov, the study uses international polling tools to survey people in countries around the world about who they most admire.

In the men's category, Bill Gates took the top spot, followed by Barack Obama and Jackie Chan.

In the women's category, Michelle Obama came first, followed by Oprah Winfrey and Angelina Jolie. Obama pushed Jolie out of the number one spot she claimed last year.

Unsurprising, really, because what's not to love about Michelle Obama? She is smart, kind, funny, accomplished, a great dancer, a devoted wife and mother, and an all-around, genuinely good person.

She has remained dignified and strong in the face of rabid masses of so-called Americans who spent eight years and beyond insisting that she's a man disguised as a woman. She's endured non-stop racist memes and terrifying threats to her family. She has received far more than her fair share of cruelty, and always takes the high road. She's the one who coined, "When they go low, we go high," after all.

She came from humble beginnings and remains down to earth despite becoming a familiar face around the world. She's not much older than me, but I still want to be like Michelle Obama when I grow up.

Her memoir, Becoming, may end up being the best-selling memoir of all time, having already sold 10 million copies—a clear sign that people can't get enough Michelle, because there's no such thing as too much Michelle.

Don't like Michelle Obama? Don't care. Those of us who love her will fly our MO flags high and without apology, paying no mind to folks with cold, dead hearts who don't know a gem of a human being when they see one. There is nothing any hater can say or do to make us admire this undeniably admirable woman any less.

When it seems like the world has lost its mind—which is how it feels most days these days—I'm just going to keep coming back to this study as evidence that hope for humanity is not lost.

Here. Enjoy some real-life Michelle on Jimmy Kimmel. (GAH. WHY IS SHE SO CUTE AND AWESOME. I can't even handle it.)

Michelle & Barack Obama are Boring Now www.youtube.com

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What will future generations never believe that we tolerated in 2019?

Dolphin and orca captivity, for sure. They'll probably shake their heads at how people died because they couldn't afford healthcare. And, they'll be completely mystified at the amount of food some people waste while others go starving.

According to Biological Diversity, "An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing households, businesses and farms about $218 billion annually."

There are so many things wrong with this.

First of all it's a waste of money for the households who throw out good food. Second, it's a waste of all of the resources that went into growing the food, including the animals who gave their lives for the meal. Third, there's something very wrong with throwing out food when one in eight Americans struggle with hunger.

Supermarkets are just as guilty of this unnecessary waste as consumers. About 10% of all food waste are supermarket products thrown out before they've reached their expiration date.

Three years ago, France took big steps to combat food waste by making a law that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food.According to the new ordinance, stores can be fined for up to $4,500 for each infraction.

Previously, the French threw out 7.1 million tons of food. Sixty-seven percent of which was tossed by consumers, 15% by restaurants, and 11% by grocery stores.

This has created a network of over 5,000 charities that accept the food from supermarkets and donate them to charity. The law also struck down agreements between supermarkets and manufacturers that prohibited the stores from donating food to charities.

"There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away," Jacques Bailet, head of the French network of food banks known as Banques Alimentaires, told NPR.

It's expected that similar laws may spread through Europe, but people are a lot less confident at it happening in the United States. The USDA believes that the biggest barrier to such a program would be cost to the charities and or supermarkets.

"The logistics of getting safe, wholesome, edible food from anywhere to people that can use it is really difficult," the organization said according to Gizmodo. "If you're having to set up a really expensive system to recover marginal amounts of food, that's not good for anybody."

Plus, the idea may seem a little too "socialist" for the average American's appetite.

"The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you're providing a way where they [supermarkets] have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment, but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill," Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, told NPR.

However, just because something may be socialist doesn't mean it's wrong. The greater wrong is the insane waste of money, damage to the environment, and devastation caused by hunger that can easily be avoided.

Planet

The world is dark and full of terrors, but every once in a while it graces us with something to warm our icy-cold hearts. And that is what we have today, with a single dad who went viral on Twitter after his daughter posted the photos he sent her when trying to pick out and outfit for his date. You love to see it.




After seeing these heartwarming pics, people on Twitter started suggesting this adorable man date their moms. It was essentially a mom and date matchmaking frenzy.

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