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Category: heroes
  • Ruth Coker Burks cared for over 1,000 people during the height of the AIDS epidemic, most of whom had been rejected by their families.

    In 1984, Ruth Coker Burks' discovery of a hospital room door with a "big, red bag" over it and her encounter with the dying young man inside changed her life — and led her to becoming the final caregiver for hundreds of people dying of AIDS, most of them young gay men who had been abandoned by their families. When Burks, then 26 years old, learned how many young men were being left to die alone and often were not even being claimed for burial, she recalls thinking, "Who knew there’d come a time when people didn’t want to bury their children?” Over the next ten years, Burks estimates that she helped care for over 1,000 people dying of AIDS and even dug the graves for 40 of them herself in her family's cemetery. In recognition of today's World AIDS Day, we're sharing her inspiring story — and the powerful and timeless lesson it teaches about the power of compassion to overcome fear and prejudice. Continue reading Continue reading

  • Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will assume office, alongside President-elect Joe Biden, on January 20, 2021.

    In a historic first, Kamala Harris will become the first female vice president in America's 244-year history! Harris will assume office, alongside president-elect Joe Biden, on January 20, 2021. When he announced Harris' historic selection in August, Biden praised Harris as a “fearless fighter for the little guy, and one of the country’s finest public servants.” The daughter of an immigrant mother from India and an immigrant father from Jamaica, Harris will be the first African American and first South Asian American vice president in history. Harris has said that she hopes to be the first of many capable women in her new role: "My mother would look at me and she’d say, 'Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last. That’s why breaking those barriers is worth it. As much as anything else, it is also to create that path for those who will come after us." Continue reading Continue reading

  • After witnessing the violent round-up of Jewish children by the Nazis, Marion Pritchard became an active resister who helped save the lives of 150 Dutch Jews.

    While riding her bicycle to class at her university in Amsterdam in 1942, Marion Pritchard chanced upon a group of Nazi soldiers liquidating a Jewish children's home and watched helplessly as they violently threw young children into a truck. This encounter transformed the life of the young Dutch woman forever, leading her to become an active resister to the Nazi regime and ultimately save the lives of 150 Jewish children during World War II. Over three years, she risked her life numerous times by hiding Jewish refugees, arranging falsified identification papers, finding non-Jewish homes to take in Jewish children, and performing what was known as the "mission of disgrace" by falsely registering herself as the unwed mother of newborn babies to conceal their Jewish identity. "Most of us were brought up to tell [the] truth, to obey the secular law and the Ten Commandments," Pritchard reflected in 1996 during a lecture about her wartime experience. "By 1945, I had lied, stolen, cheated, deceived and even killed." Continue reading Continue reading

  • Dr. Patricia Bath was an early pioneer of laser eye surgery whose cataract-removal invention has saved the vision of millions of people around the world.

    A Renaissance woman in the world of vision, the pioneering ophthalmologist Dr. Patricia Bath not only founded the discipline of community ophthalmology to help underserved populations  have better access to vision care, she invented a device that quickly and easily dissolves cataracts, becoming the first African American female physician to receive a medical patent. Her invention of the Laserphaco Probe was recognized by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2014 as "one of the most important developments in the field of ophthalmology" for having "helped restore or improve vision to millions of patients worldwide." A trailblazer for both women and African Americans in medicine, Bath always considered the people she helped her greatest accomplishment, asserting that "the ability to restore vision is the ultimate reward." Continue reading Continue reading

  • Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts of the U.S. in 1912. Today, the organization has 2.5 million members and it has been a part of the lives of over 50 million adult women.

     Juliette Gordon Low excitedly called her cousin after she returned from a trip to England in 1912. "Come right over!" she exclaimed. "I've got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world, and we're going to start it tonight!" Low had been inspired by Robert Baden-Powell's Scouting Movement to create a similar organization dedicated to girls: the Girl Scouts. Today, the Girl Scouts of the United States has over 2.5 million members, 1.7 million girls and 750,000 adult volunteers. More than 50 million adult women enjoyed Girl Scouting in their childhood, many of whom say the organization helped shape them into the confident, capable women they are today. As Low famously said, "Scouting rises within you and inspires you to put forth your best." Continue reading Continue reading

  • After surviving thirty years of domestic violence, Grandma Gatewood became a record-setting hiking pioneer who helped to save the Appalachian Trail from ruin.

    In 1955, at the age of 67, Emma Rowena Gatewood became the first woman to solo hike the entire 2,168 mile (3,489 km) Appalachian Trail — wearing Keds sneakers and carrying an army blanket, a raincoat, a shower curtain, and a change of clothes in a homemade bag which she slung over one shoulder. For food, she foraged for wild plants, as well as carried dried meat, cheese, nuts, and dried fruit. The mother of 11 and grandmother of 23, Gatewood is now considered a pioneer of ultra-light hiking and one of the first high-profile ambassadors of the Appalachian Trail (AT). Her resilience and determination have inspired generations of hikers, whether they're walking a local state trail or tackling the full AT. "I would never have started this trip if I had known how tough it was," Gatewood observed after her hike, "but I couldn’t and I wouldn’t quit."  Continue reading Continue reading

  • The Nobel committee praised Glück "for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal."

    The acclaimed American poet and essayist Louise Glück has been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize for Literature! The Nobel committee praised Glück "for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal." The 77-year-old Yale professor is best known for lyric poems focused on intense personal experiences, such as those involving loss, rejection, desire, and healing. She has been honored with a Pulitzer Prize for The Wild Iris and a National Book Award for Faithful and Virtuous Night, as well as serving as the Poet Laureate of the United States for 2003 to 2004. In announcing the award, the Nobel Prize committee chair Anders Olsson, praised Glück's unique voice, observing: "It is candid and uncompromising, and it signals that this poet wants to be understood — but it is also a voice full of humor and biting wit.” Continue reading Continue reading

  • Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier and Dr. Jennifer A. Doudna's development of a groundbreaking method for editing DNA which is widely considered the greatest breakthrough in the biological sciences since DNA was first discovered!

    Emmanuelle Charpentier, left, and Jennifer A. Doudna after receiving the Japan Prize for "outstanding achievements in science and technology" in 2017.

    Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier and Dr. Jennifer A. Doudna were awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize for Chemistry this week for their development of a groundbreaking method for editing DNA which is widely considered the greatest breakthrough in the biological sciences since DNA was first discovered! Doudna, an American biochemist and professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and Charpentier, a French microbiologist and the director of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Berlin, Germany, discovered the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors, a tool that allows scientists to "snip" the DNA of organisms, allowing for easy and precise genetic modifications. The pair are the first women to jointly win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and represent the sixth and seventh women in history to win the chemistry prize. "This technology has utterly transformed the way we do research in basic science," asserts Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. "I am thrilled to see Crispr-Cas getting the recognition we have all been waiting for, and seeing two women being recognized as Nobel Laureates." Continue reading Continue reading

  • Dr. Andrea Ghez became the fourth woman in history to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for her discovery of a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.

    Dr. Andrea Ghez was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics this week for her discovery of a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy! The astrophysicist, who is the Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine Professor of Astrophysics at UCLA, shares half of the prize with Reinhard Genzel of UC Berkeley; the other half recognizes Roger Penrose, a professor at the University of Oxford who proved that black holes must be a physical reality. Ghez was delighted to receive the award, particularly because she is only the fourth woman in history to receive a Nobel Prize in Physics. "I'm thrilled to receive the prize and I take very seriously the responsibility associated with being... the fourth woman to win," Ghez said after the announcement. "[And] I think today I feel more passionate about the teaching side of my job than I have ever. Because it's so important to convince the younger generation that their ability to question, and their ability to think, is just crucial to the future of the world." Continue reading Continue reading

  • Julie Andrews, star of beloved classics "The Sound of Music" and "Mary Poppins," celebrates her 85th birthday!

    Whether you first met her on stage at the West End in London or Broadway in New York; on the screen as Mary Poppins, Maria von Trapp, or Queen Clarisse Renaldi; or as the author of a beloved children's book like Mandy or The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles; or her memoirs Home and Home Work, chances are good you've been charmed by Julie Andrews! The legendary English performer and author is celebrating her 85th birthday today, and she's still touching the hearts of people around the world. Andrews is also quick to point out that her success over the years was far from smooth, however, providing an inspiring model of resilience for her fans young and old: "Perseverance," she says, "is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th." Continue reading Continue reading

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