News Literacy Should Be a Mandatory Part of Education

In the 2016 United States presidential election false news took center stage in a completely unprecedented fashion. Falsified news stories and propaganda have existed since the beginning of the printing press, and likely even before that, but what became new was the ability for bad actors to publish outright lies, then use tools build by social media conglomerates (intended to sell you just the right thing) to plant misinformation on a highly targeted and distributed fashion.

The same tools that allowed brands like Warby Parker and Glossier to target the exact demographic of purchasers they think will most likely buy their goods (young urbanites with newly disposable income) allowed foreign governments, white nationalists, and disingenuous political actors to target who they thought would most likely carry out their strategies.

A recent survey conducted by Statista states that 41% of adults in the United States get their news from Facebook and social media, daily. According to the same source, 52% also believe that online news sites regularly report false stories regularly, and that 64% believe that false news causes a great deal of confusion. By Facebook’s own numbers, 126 million American Facebook users were exposed to Russian propaganda in the 2016 election.

To combat the deeply toxic nature of false news, platforms need to take an editorial stand, like Facebook did earlier this week by banning white nationalist and separatist content off of their platforms. Even further, we need to harden ourselves from false news, through the education system, and better teach our students news literacy.

News literacy, as defined by the Center for News Literacy, is “designed to help students develop critical thinking skills in order to judge the reliability and credibility of information, whether it comes via print, television or the Internet. This is a particularly important skill in the Digital Age, as everyone struggles to deal with information overload and the difficulty in determining the authenticity of reports.”

If schools were to incorporate lessons of news literacy into their curriculum, it would equip their graduates with the ability to think critically about the information that they receive, and where it’s coming from. In an increasingly digitized world where remote working and freelancing are becoming standards of practice, being able to give a critical eye to what you are being told gives one the ability to discern between potential propaganda and actual fact.

In our current distributed, internet, information overload-scape that we live in, even non-political actors are incentivized to create inauthentic news stories. This might sound less scary than what we see when content is made maliciously, but if counted is incentivized to be made solely for what gets clicks and not what is accurate, then what is at stake is an information landscape where fact and fiction are completely indiscernible.

In the book Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts by Jill Abramson, we are introduced to a case study as to how false news stories can be produced solely for the purposes of profit, and how they can have real world outcomes. “Across the world, in the small Macedonian town of Veles, a legion of young adult online marketers have developed a vibrant local industry of pro-Trump fake news websites with thriving audiences that they had built on Facebook into lucrative ventures.”

The book goes on to tell us that, “Silverman would later visit Veles and meet the internet marketing guru who had instructed the kids. He told the Buzzfeed reporter that these were his stand out students and that he was proud of them. He had not taught them to explicitly publish fake news, but rather to do what works… Some of their post were getting nearly half a million interactions on Facebook, meaning they had appeared in the News Feeds of millions of users.”

The point of the excerpt concludes with, “‘The beautiful thing about the Macedonians,’ Silverman explained, ‘is that they are the perfect expression of the social media publishing economy.’ Teenagers concocting fake news stories could make as much as $10,000 a month from the advertising they attracted. The Macedonians were succeeding because they gauged the desires of their readership and addressed them directly.”

Even if platforms like Google and Facebook were able to clean up the worst kinds of false news stories, there will still be a market for people who need a paycheck to create websites that publish content that is at the very least click-baity, or at the very worse toxic and intentionally divisive. Because these types of disingenuous stories will likely continue to exist, we need to better prepare how to spot and ignore them.

There are nonprofits and organizations working on this solution now, but as with everything, progress only goes as fast as it can be funded. Recently, the News Literacy Project received a $5 million grant from the Knight Foundation to help the organization expand its efforts. The organization’s programs have reached 122,000 students nationally. Google and Facebook have both announced plans to spend $300 million to support journalism. The problem, however, is that tech companies like Google and Facebook have damaged journalism to the tune of billions of dollars, not millions. If the false news and news illiteracy problem is really going to get solved, those numbers are going to have to swell.

On some level, YouTube is getting ahead of this problem by providing informational context below videos about climate change (a hotbed for false news) hosted on its site by pointing viewers towards Wikipedia. On the other end, the site is mired in its own controversy surrounding algorithmic rabbit holes recommending conspiracy theory videos to users, causing some to believe them as fact. The problem of news illiteracy is a massive undertaking that we as a society will be reckoning with for the foreseeable future, but if our education system could pick up where tech companies lack, we will at least be able to defend ourselves.

Questlove and Grimes Are Worried About Climate Change

Recently the joint frontman, drummer, and multi-Grammy winner with the critically acclaimed band, The Roots, announced a partnership with the startup meat replacement company, Impossible Foods. The two announced that they are partnering to bring Philadelphia Phillies Fans vegetarian Philly Cheesesteaks branded as, “Questlove’s Cheesesteak.”

Source:  NBC

Source: NBC

Earlier this week, Grimes, who depending on the angularity of your haircut, may either know as Elon Musk’s former romance who almost helped tweet Tesla out of existence— or as the Juno award winning musician who’s last full length was released in 2015, announced that her next full length, Miss_Anthropocene, is going to be inspired by climate change.

While both of these artists enjoy a smaller spotlight than an International pop-star, with freedom to explore their own creative pursuits, they are still artists who are recognized and active in the mainstream. Questlove’s band, The Roots, gets airtime every night that the mainstream pinnacle, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, is on. Grimes, despite curated ‘indie’ roots, has gone on to collaborate with Janelle Monáe, tour with Lana del Rey, go to the Met Gala with Elon Musk, etc. These are artists that definitely have mainstream pull.

What’s inspiring and hopeful about these projects (even if you don’t live in Philly or won’t likely stream Miss_Anthropocene) is that mainstream, or mainstream adjacent artists are now head on tackling ideas of climate change. The environment has always been a topic amongst creatives, but amongst mainstream culture, there hasn’t been a distinct reckoning the climate crisis that face us.

“Each song will be a different embodiment of human extinction as depicted through a Pop star Demonology,” Grimes told us in her album announcement, then continued, “Climate change is something I’m only ever confronted with in a sad/ guilty way…. Reading news and what not… so my goal is to make climate change fun (lol..??)…. “ This could inspire her contemporaries to follow suit, and start to consider their place in a society that is in the middle of a climate crisis.

If we are going to reduce carbon emissions, a part of what we are going to have to do is reduce (or eliminate) our consumption of meat, especially red meat. According to the Guardian, “beef cattle raised on deforested land result in 12 times more greenhouse gases and use 50 times more land than those grazing rich natural pasture.” Questlove’s Philly Cheesesteak could serve as a testing ground to see how new consumers will react to vegetarian options. The average demographic of a professional sporting game is generally not going to be the same demographic of vegans who are worried about climate, so offering a meat substitute (branded by a hometown hero) is a perfect way to potentially save some future carbon emissions.

While these are two extremely, very, small examples of climate action in the grand aggregate, these are still two very influential people lending their names and reputations to climate action. Impossible Foods isn’t likely paying Questlove a fortune, especially not the amount of money he could probably get from a less admirable brand. Grimes’ new album could totally flop. The great thing is, it doesn’t matter too much, because these will likely serve as catalysts to get more creatives thinking about what they can do to advert climate change.

Rideshare Companies Should Offer an 'Electric Car Only' Option

In 2017 there were 159 million rideshare trips in New York City- with 66 million coming solely from Manhattan. In the same time period, globally, Uber facilitated four billion rides and created a $6 billion business with Uber Eats. This new influx of transport options has not gone without controversy, with rideshare companies being blamed for increased levels of traffic congestion in major cities, which leads to increases in pollution and carbon emissions and a decrease in public health.

Source:  Uber

Source: Uber

These companies aren’t going anywhere any time soon and have cemented themselves within the global infrastructure. Efforts to curtail the amounts of drivers able to work for rideshare companies, limitations on hours, and even so far as Lyft’s self imposed offer to purchase carbon offset credits, are all examples of efforts to reign in the new technology of on demand ride hailing. It is clear that technology has gotten ahead of regulation when it comes to ridesharing, and as these companies near their anniversary for a decade of existence, it is also clear that they are in deep need of an update to our current climate reality.

When Uber and Lyft were founded, they were considered upstarts challenging the status quo of the much entrenched taxi industry. There is absolutely no feasible way to consider these companies as upstarts anymore. They are both filed to go public, have more money available to them than potentially ever in the history of corporations, and have blown their local competition of taxi medallions out of the water. At some estimates, when both of these companies go public, there will be 10,000+ more millionaires in San Francisco— alone. These companies are the new status quo.

So how does all of this relate back to climate change?

Source:  Uber

Source: Uber

If these companies are the new status quo, then they should act like it. It is an unavoidable fact that extreme climate change is happening, and that global corporations are a monumental perpetuator of the existential crisis that is currently facing the entirety of Earth.

At least with Uber, this is a company that has had to spend untold amounts of money, undergo numerous executive departures, and even changed their logo to seem more friendly. While historically less cutthroat, Lyft is also a company that really, really, wants you to think that they’re just your friendly neighborhood cab— despite the fact that they’re suing New York City over the city’s decision to make rideshare companies pay a minimum wage.

This is all to say that these companies clearly care about their public image, and have (since their inception) garnered enough economic standing to make global economic decisions. Elon Musk recently mused that Tesla’s mere existence speeds up the transition to the ideal of sustainable transport by at least 10 years. This makes total sense, given that when Tesla started out, oil and gas companies were actively lobbying electric cars out of existence. If Uber and Lyft gave their riders an option to filter their trips in a way that they only took their rideshare trips in electric vehicles, this could incentivize a similar electric acceleration in the rideshare market.

Source:  Uber

Source: Uber

66% of global consumers, and an astonishing 73% of millenials have reported that they would spend more money on sustainable products in comparison to less eco-friendly products of the same type. While an ‘Electric Only’ option might not be necessarily more expensive, there’s a chance for it to be slower. This could be a stretch of the imagination, but since time is money (or as the idiom goes), rideshare passengers might not mind the extra few minutes at pick-up, it they know that their trips are lessening the burden on the environment.

Neigh-sayers will say that electric cars still need electricity from somewhere, and that the majority of that electricity comes from non-renewable resources. This is true in one sense, that both ends need to be renewable for an electric car to be fully sustainable, but it is also usually a disingenuous attack. As more and more renewable energy capacity comes online, that electricity needs to go somewhere, and if a global rideshare corporation was to set a goal of having more riders go electric, then it very much stands to reason that is we can incentivize a transition— we should.

In conclusion, the argument boils down to this: are global corporations going to step up and take the climate crisis head on? In the case of rideshare companies, they have a potential to expedite the shift to electric transport. They currently aren’t doing much about this gleaming opportunity, despite setting mountains of cash on fire subsidizing the actual trips that they sell. If these companies really want to consider themselves the companies of the future, then they should better realize the reality of climate change.

Diversity Becomes Her: The 2018 Midterm Candidates Bring Change

The 2018 midterm elections have already set a record number of female candidates, a result of women being driven to run for office after the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and within the context of the #MeToo movement whose roots took hold a little less than a year ago. As voters move to the polls on November 6 haunted by the recent testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and the narrow confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, more women stand to be elected in 2018 than in 1992’s “Year of the Woman,” where an unprecedented number of women were elected to Congress, buoyed by women energized to vote after witnessing Anita Hill’s testimony accusing Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. With a record-breaking 255 women contending for congressional seats as major party candidates, this year’s elections may see up to 40 new women entering the House -- nearly double the record set in 1992. This year’s midterm elections are not only historical in terms of the number of female candidates running, but also in terms of the diversity of the candidates, with the potential for Congress in 2019 to break diversity records. At a time when civil rights are threatened and racism pervades society under the Trump administration and as the #MeToo movement fosters an environment of supporting and empowering women, these trailblazing candidates of the midterm elections represent progress by providing an important voice for women and minorities at a particularly fraught period. Ultimately, through the diverse female candidates of the 2018 midterm elections, there is hope for those who have long been forced to stay silent to finally have a voice.

Already this year, certain history-making candidates are nearly guaranteed election after having won their primaries, now running unopposed in the midterms. Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American woman from Michigan, is set to become the first Muslim woman in Congress. She will be filling the vacancy left by John Conyers, the longest-serving Democratic House representative, who, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, resigned following accusations of sexual harassment. In a stunning upset victory, political superstar Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, toppled Joe Crowley, a 10-term incumbent and chair of the House Democratic Caucus, and now stands to become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Ayanna Pressley, after also beating 10-term incumbent Michael Capuano in another upset primary, will be the first African American woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts. Other noteworthy candidates include Sharice Davids, who, if elected, could become the first Native American woman elected to Congress as well as the the first LGBTQ representative for Kansas; Jahana Hayes, the recipient of the 2016 Teacher of the Year award who, if elected, will become the first black woman in Congress from Connecticut, and who is also running to fill the seat of Rep. Elizabeth Esty who decided not to seek re-election after it was revealed that she protected an abusive male staff member; and Lauren Underwood, who, at 31 years old, is the youngest black woman running for Congress, and, if she wins, will be the first African American as well as the first woman to represent her district. 

In terms of gubernatorial elections, a record number of female candidates from a major party was set this year, with twelve new women running for governor alongside four incumbents who are up for re-election, and with four out of eight of the Democratic candidates being women of color. As the highest executive office in the country after the presidency, the possibility of women of color filling the seat of governorship is important not only symbolically, but also in terms of the experiences they would bring to the table as members of marginalized parts of society, as well as their policies which would directly and specifically benefit women and minorities.

In Georgia, a state where all previous governors have been white men, Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams has already made history by being the first African American woman to run for governor. With a law degree from Yale, a master’s in public policy from the University of Texas at Austin, as well as having served as the minority leader of the House of Representatives of the Georgia General Assembly between 2011 and 2017, Abrams’ platform includes criminal justice reform, protection of abortion rights, and overcoming voter suppression and the disenfranchisement of minorities. The potential election of Abrams would be particularly symbolic in the Republican-leaning deep south state whose capital is known as the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement. 

The gubernatorial race in Texas has made history through Lupe Valdez, the first openly gay Latina candidate of a major party to run for governor of Texas. Valdez broke down barriers in 2004 when she was elected as sheriff of Dallas, becoming the country’s first openly gay Latina sheriff, and was subsequently re-elected three times before entering the race for governor. Open about her experiences overcoming discrimination as a lesbian and a woman of color, Valdez runs on a platform that seeks to protect immigrant and LGBTQ communities in a state where immigration and border security have been top concerns among voters and where discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is still legal.

In Vermont, Christine Hallquist is the country’s first openly transgender gubernatorial candidate of a major party. Formerly the CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative, Hallquist was driven to run for office after the election of Donald Trump and the “resurgence of racism and white supremacy.” Hallquist’s platform plans to increase supplies of renewable energy and tackle climate change as well as civil rights issues.

The 2018 midterm elections provide an opportunity to confront the ills of society that have crawled out of the woodwork under the Trump administration. As sexual aggressors are still being put in positions of power, as white supremacy is becoming normalized, and as the small gains in LGBTQ rights are actively being rolled back, it is important now more than ever to elect candidates that will best protect and advance civil rights, justice, and equality. The number of diverse female candidates who stand to be elected in November means there will be a better chance to address the issues and concerns faced by women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community; there will be a better chance of breaking down barriers enforced and perpetuated by the Washington political elite; and there will be a better chance of setting the stage to create positive and lasting change in the country. Already, some of the midterm candidates are setting precedents by simply running for office, normalizing for the future what is considered to be novel in the present, laboriously and courageously paving the path to greater tolerance and acceptance, with liberty and justice for all.

Have your say: vote in the midterm elections on November 6.

The Case for Reforming Money Bail: Race and Class Bias Persist

The racial and class stratification of this country and how judges allow personal bias to effect decision-making is pervasive, and money bail is no different. 

In 2017, the country’s leading civil rights organization the American Civil Liberties Union started a multi-year campaign to reform the justice system from sentencing and incarceration rates down to the unequal applications of cash bail. 

Source:  ACLU

Source: ACLU

The campaign cites wealth and racial disparities as reasoning for discontinuing money bail, which continues to be an exclusive way for people of relative wealth to cheat the criminal justice system. Black and brown people are doubly attacked by this egregious system because they are both disproportionately poor and face a social paradigm that collectively associates negative ideas with who they are as individuals.  

In a 2018 Harvard analysis of bail decisions in Miami and Philadelphia, researchers found several pieces of evidence that suggested discrimination on behest of black defendants. This evidence is most visible in part-time and inexperienced judges, both black and white, mostly due to an unfounded association of black defendants with high-risk releases. 

Experienced judges are less likely to stereotype black defendants, but the unequal treatment persists when compared to white defendants of similar status and charge. The implications of the study suggest that on-the-job training could have a pivotal role in decreasing these black and white disparities in pretrial detentions, but that only remedies a portion of the problem.

Stereotyping and the association of black people with crime, danger and aggression has been proliferated through the ethos of this country. This bias seeps into every institution. The criminal justice system is just the most materially consequential because a judge’s discretion can have far-reaching impact. 

Aside from racial inequalities, money bail also exacerbates a broken class system that finds economically disadvantaged people, regardless of race, at the crosshairs of a system already stacked against them. 

Source:  Twitter

Source: Twitter

The constitution guarantees equal access to justice, yet money bail bellies this founding principle by eschewing equality in favor of profit. The Prison Policy institute estimates that about 70 percent of jailed people have not been convicted. Their only crime? They can’t afford bail.

Poor people do not have equal access to justice and freedom in the same ways that their wealthier counterparts do. This is further illustrated by the correlation found between pretrial detention and conviction rates in a 2016 study conducted by Yale researchers.

People who are detained pretrial in local and county jails are more likely to be strapped down into a plea bargain and face conviction whereas their monetarily privileged counterparts can afford attorneys to fight their charges. 

This is a gross perversion of the judicial system. Money bail was originally set up as a surety measure, but now it does not access whether a person’s release is risky. It only accesses a person’s ability to fund a bail bondsman. For those who can’t, the trauma and criminogenic effects of detention takes their toll.

One needs to look no further than the Kalief Browder case. In 2010, at the age of 16, Browder was detained by police officers after being accused of stealing a backpack. He would later be indicted and charged by a grand jury despite a substantial lack of evidence. 

Since his family lacked the proper funds to post his $3,000 bail, Browder was booked in Rikers Island where he would stay for three years, the bulk of which was spent in solitary confinement, despite being legally innocent. His case was never, officially, heard by a judge as the prosecution continued to defer the trial until their main witness, a Mexican immigrant, returned to his home country. Browder’s case was dropped in 2013.

Source:  ACLU

Source: ACLU

After two years of freedom, Browder committed suicide outside his mother’s house. He cited his jail time as a trauma he could not overcome; writing extensively about the abuse he suffered at the hands of other inmates and correctional officers. 

The American criminal justice system currently detains about 536,000 people in local jails who have yet to be convicted of a crime. Much like Browder, these people are thrown into a traumatic environment that can have mental and emotional effects that persist long after their release. America’s legally innocent detainees are more than the entire prison population of every developed nation save for China, Brazil and Russia. 

Unlawful pretrial detentions even cost legally innocent people their lives. An investigation by The Huffington Post reviewed every city and local jail in the country and found that the overwhelming majority of jail deaths were people who were legally innocent. People who stayed incarcerated simply because they didn’t have the funds to post bail for offenses they were not even convicted of. 

A justice system that punishes a benighted class is not serving justice, its promulgating inequity.  Effectively, considering people too poor for freedom. A society that makes freedom not only conditional but contingent upon personal wealth denies equal protection to a large subsect of the population who do not enjoy the luxury of disposable income. 

The median bail amount levied at a felony defendant is approximately $10,000, according to a Council of Economic Advisers brief. Meanwhile, a survey by Bankrate finds that 57 percent of Americans do not even have enough money to cover an unexpected $500 expense. Money bail serves as a penalty for being poor.  


Now, it’s imperative that the discussion not only focuses on the problems of money bail but also the solutions that can be implemented to reform the system. Approaches based on something other than a person’s ability to pay the price for freedom are already in practice in certain jurisdictions. 

Currently, four states have banned for-profit bail: Kentucky, Oregon, Wisconsin and Illinois. These states access pretrial release based on risk and the assuredness of greater public safety based on the specifics of the jurisdiction and the defendant. After the assessment is complete, a release recommendation is suggested, and a multitude of options are presented. 

For example, one county in Oregon, Multnomah County, has four release options that can be recommended after risk is properly assessed. If risk is considered excessively low a person is released on their own recognizance with a promise to return to court later. For those with moderate risk, they are referred to a Pretrial Supervision Program that supervises potential defendants on a case-by-case basis. People with high risk who are referred to a Close Street Supervision program. All people, from low to high risk, are monitored through a combination of home and work visits and phone contact. 

Evidence suggests this system works. The state of Kentucky utilizes a similar system to Multnomah County, and the results have been promising. Court appearance rates rose from 89 percent to 90 percent after Kentucky did away with for-profit money bail; rates of re-arrest also decreased by a percentage point. While this is not a great benefit, it illustrates that money bail is not needed to maintain a system of responsibility and surety. In fact, it might have a small detrimental effect on both. 

The ACLU’s Smart Justice campaign is expanding its bail reform and abolition efforts on both a federal and state level. The company’s integrated campaign effort includes litigation procedures, legislative advocacy and communication measures. The nonprofit hopes highlighting these injustices and the multinational corporations that profit at the expense of a person’s freedom will help reverse the ubiquity of money bail.

This country has long steered away from this idyllic view of being the city atop a hill for other societies to emulate. No, instead America has become that city’s duplicitous neighbor. One who forgoes the material well-being of a body politic to prioritize the profit margins of industry. In the words of Donald Glover, “this is America.” And we’d be wise to not let this injustice system catch us slipping: lest we be detained unlawfully. 

You can learn more or donate to the ACLU on their website

A Child of 9/11 and the Father She Never Knew

Julia Welty was one month old when her father was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She never knew him but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t tried to honor his memory since that tragic day 17 years ago. “I think about it every day,” the senior at Rye Neck High School in Mamaroneck, New York says. “But it has made me think about how I can help people. I want to be somebody and do something I love.”

Timothy was a firefighter with squad 288 in Queens.

Timothy was active and enjoyed water skiing and hockey.

Julia’s father, Timothy Matthew Welty, was one of the 2,996 people who died on 9/11. A firefighter with squad 288 in Queens, Timothy was only 34 when he died, leaving behind his widow, Delia, his mother, Adele, his father, William (Bill), three siblings and his two young children, Julia and Jake who was three years old at the time.

Jake may have faint memories of his father whereas Julia relies on other people’s recollections. From their stories and experiences, she knows he was a good man. “He always wanted to help people,” she says. “He loved his family and wanted to save people.”

Julia says on the day of the attacks her dad was supposed to pick her brother up from school. And even though Julia and her family’s lives would change forever when her dad decided to go help, she’s still proud of him. “If he were here, I would tell him I’m proud of him,” she says. “It changed my life, but I understand why he made the choice he did.”

As Julia understands it, her dad didn’t necessarily plan on becoming a firefighter, but it was a noble profession that allowed him to help others, which is what he always wanted to do.

Timothy Welty pictured with his son Jake (top right and second left) and Julia and Jake (second right).

Timothy, who had always been extremely athletic, became a firefighter in his late 20s. He loved sports, especially water skiing and hockey, and although Julia didn’t inherit her father’s athleticism, when she watches a hockey game, she always thinks of her dad. He was also very smart, which was apparent to family members at a young age.

According to the New York Times, when Timothy was 15, he bought a junk car and fixed the brakes by taking them apart and putting them back together. “I go into the garage and he’s got the car up on jacks and all the pieces lying around,” his father says. “He had a kind of intelligence that I don’t have.”

And his widow, Delia, says that he was a philosopher who was always looking at things from a different perspective — especially when it came to couples having disagreements. “We’d hear the guy’s side but not the girl’s and I’d form an opinion,’’ she says. “Tim would always say, ‘Well, wait, we should hear the other side.’ He taught me to see everything from a different angle.”

As I talk to Julia on the eve before her last first day of high school, she tells me there are “so many more things” that remind her of him. “My brother and I look just like him,” she says. “We have the same smile.” But even aside from her physical features, she says just thinking about what he would say or do has also become a huge part of her decision making, especially now as she thinks about college and her future, because he would always do the right thing.

“Every day I think about what I can do to make him proud of me,” she says. “I know I’m not perfect but going into senior year, I’m focused on what I want to do with my life. I don’t want to be in an environment where I’m not happy, so I know that whatever I do, I want to make him proud.”

Julia and her mother, Delia, in August 2017.

Julia is still narrowing down her university options. She’s looking at Delaware, Maryland, Boston University, Syracuse and Penn State as possible colleges.

While she doesn’t know right now what school colors she will be wearing this time next year, she knows she wants to be a criminal psychologist so she can look at people’s lives before they commit a crime — a dream that she says was “definitely” impacted by her dad’s death in 9/11.

The biggest impact of growing up without her biological father is the compassion she feels for others — part of this stemming from her time spent at America’s Camp, a camp for children who lost a parent or sibling on 9/11. Julia attended the camp from ages seven to 12. “There were other kids there who were going through the same pain,” she says. “It was a large support group and I still have strong relationships from my time there.”

Julia and her family, which now includes a stepdad and a little brother from her mom’s second marriage, also have a strong relationship with other members of her dad’s firehouse. Every year, for the anniversary of 9/11, they visit the Queens firehouse with two or three other families and share stories and catch up.

Julia and her boyfriend Colin Kelley in June of this year.

These stories have helped Julia fill in the gaps, create her own memories and develop her own opinions. In the context of today’s political landscape, Julia defines patriotism as an inclusionary tasks and mission. “Patriotism is wanting to keep people safe — not just your country or your family but everyone.”

Julia misses her father, but realizes the loss brings a greater sense of appreciation and gratitude for her family — never taking the people she loves for granted. “I make sure my family knows I love them,” she says. “People have regrets, that’s not to say I don’t have any, but you never know the last time you may see someone.”

Most importantly, Julia tries not to focus on the negative of a life gone too soon from an event that changed the course of history and changed countless lives, like Julia’s personally. “I think about how different my life would have been if he didn’t die. I wouldn’t have my little brother,” she says. “I think about the good things that came out of it. He did what he thought he had to do and people’s lives were saved.”

Julia knows she wouldn’t be where she is today if things had gone differently. “Anger and sadness come from feelings of abandonment. He wasn’t on duty so it didn’t have to happen but it’s okay because everything happens for a reason,” she says. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today, and I like who I am.”

And Julia thinks her dad would too. “If he were here, he would tell me he’s proud of me and don’t be afraid to leave home and go to school,” she says. “He would tell me to embrace new things and new opportunities that are coming. Do what I love and push through the challenges. He would tell me to make myself happy, but make other people happy too.”

All photos courtesy of Julia Welty. 

To read more from Chloe Castleberry, you can follow her on Twitter.

Planned Parenthood's Latest Campaign Is Unstoppable

Throughout history, women taking charge of themselves, their bodies, careers and life choices, has seemingly been deemed revolutionary, sometimes rebellious, but without those powerful strides, who’s to say where women would be. There is an endless list of things that women would lack without the movements that took and are currently taking place. Certainly, facilities such as Planned Parenthood wouldn’t exist and while that may seem smaller-scale in a big picture for some, it’s nothing small for those who utilize their services.

Founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, shared her knowledge, activism and strong-will with the world when she began studying and educating women on birth control methods. Her knowledge was seen as threatening and brought on time in jail for her sister Ethel Byrne, an activist Fania Mindell and herself — the crimes charged were all related to sharing and educating others on birth control methods. 

The first Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau was opened in 1923, in Manhattan which provided birth control devices to women. The bureau also collected information and statistics about the safety of the devices on hand and the overall, long-term effects of it. This start lead to the legalization of birth control, bringing forth an entirely new era for women. Despite the reservations had when it came to Planned Parenthood, they remained strong for over 100 years after its original inception in 1913. Today there have been 650 clinics opened and Planned Parenthood isn’t stopping there — a new campaign has risen to ensure that Planned Parenthood remains “the nation’s leading sexual and reproductive health care provider, educator and advocate,” according to the Unstoppable website

Unstoppable is a Planned Parenthood powered campaign to continue fighting for the right to ensure everyone is able to have full control of their bodies to achieve true freedom and equality. The plan is also tackling other issues that many Americans face — needing support as a parent or caregiver, LGBTQ+ rights, health care, equal pay, proper care and prevention for sexual assault and harassment and of course, reproductive rights. 


Unstoppable’s user-friendly website shares a surplus of facts as well as ways in which to help the movement forward. Their mission for parents and caregivers is to provide family leave for those who have had babies and ensure that the proper maternity care is provided for women. The site makes note of the rising childcare costs in a nation, the only developed one at that, that does not guarantee paid family leave. Single parents are found paying 36% of their earned income to provide their children with adequate care while they head back to work. For married parents, the cost is 10% of their earned income. 

Women of color find themselves in a tougher situation seeing that, statistically, they’re paid less, which makes childcare much more expensive. American Progress reports that 50% of monthly income is spent on childcare for low-income families. According to the Census Bureau American Community Survey, the low-income, working families make up 10.4 million of the nation’s population, earning roughly $45,000 per year. Planned Parenthood is patterned with National Partnership for Women and FamiliesMomsRising and SisterSong  —several organizations that are hoping to inform, educate and change the current state of family leave.

Planned Parenthood is also partnered with National LGBTQ Task Force and National Center for Transgender Equality to continue ensuring that everyone is comfortable in their bodies and sexuality without fearing discrimination. The Unstoppable campaign hopes to dismantle the work that the Trump-Pence administration is doing to devalue the lives of the LGBTQ+ community. The Trump-Pence administration has tried to reestablish a ban that prohibits trans people from joining the military, changing rules that protect trans people in their place of employment and even supporting court cases by making anti-gay discrimination legal. 


Unstoppable believes that healthcare for the LGBTQ+ community should be high-quality, affordable and informative while providing the freedom to make their own decisions when it comes to their bodies, health and lives without the worry of feeling misunderstood, discriminated against or judged. 

Planned Parenthood has been offering affordable services for the last 100 years and they’re hoping to move forward with affordable care. Unstoppable shares that The Affordable Care Act or ACA managed to help 20 million Americans get coverage while making insurance more affordable which ended the discrimination many experiences when being refused coverage due to preexisting conditions or overcharging women for insurance. 

Despite the Affordable Care Act, health care remains costly for many Americans. With health care prices through the roof and the trickle down effects of systematic racism, women and people of color — women of color, especially — find themselves running into financial blockade when it comes to paying for care and insurance.  The LGBTQ+ community also find it hard to find adequate care due to their needs, but adding the barriers of medical discrimination and bias, doesn’t help one bit. 


The Trump-Pence administration is also trying to change laws that will cause millions of people to lose their insurance coverage and their premium will cost even more than it already does. The administration is also making its way to destroy the Medicaid program which could result in 1 of every 5 Americans — majority women — to lose access to and benefits from the program. Unstoppable is working hard to change the number of people in the nation who still don’t have health insurance, which according to Vox, is still around 28 million. 

The campaign is also working towards eliminating sexual assault, harassment and any and every other form of sexual violence. While anyone can experience sexual violence, Unstoppable notes that women, people of color, those with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ community are more prone to experiencing sexual violence. The campaign defines sexual assault as “a use of force, coercion or an imbalance of power to make a person engage in sexual activity.” While rape is a form of sexual assault, it can take other forms such as forced and non-consented kissing, groping or touching. These forced actions are often done to degrade, humiliate, exude power over someone. There are certain people who shouldn’t be making these kinds of sexual advantages or forcing these actions on you — those people include family members, teachers, mentors, bosses or anyone who, under any circumstance, has more power over you. 

Last up on the campaign’s mission is equal pay and equal opportunity for women. Women make up a major contribution to the workforce with 74 million women in the United States who work outside of the home. Of the 74 million, two out of every three mothers are either the primary or co-breadwinner in their homes. Despite the numbers, women are still fighting to be paid fairly, let alone equally, to their male counterparts. 


The pay gap also affects women of color to a different extent — black women earn 63 cents to every dollar that a white or a non-hispanic man earns, Latinas earn around 54 cents to the dollar and white women earn 78 cents. While these cents may seem small, when the figures stack up, women lose around $10,000 annually, according to NWLC

Unstoppable has several ways to help all of the aforementioned causes — signing the manifesto, spreading the word, posting a story to your Instagram, purchasing an Unstoppable tee-shirt or by making a donation. With gathered help, dedication and persistence, change is possible and Unstoppable is working hard to make it happen.

To learn more about Unstoppable, you can visit their website. You can also follow Planned Parenthood on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram or make a donation to them on their website.

You can also follow Adelfa Marr on Twitter, or find her at her personal website.

NFL Protests: We Should All Be Kneeling

America is known as the land of the free and the home of the brave. But for African-Americans and other people of color, the fight for equality remains a never-ending struggle.

NFL players who kneel or raise their fists during the national anthem are protesting police brutality and racial inequality. The countless murders of unarmed black men by police officers and a criminal justice system riddled with racial disparities are Jim Crow-era issues. These silent, peaceful and non-violent protests should be commended, not vilified.

People of color have been the targets of police brutality throughout American history. In the 1960s, the FBI often sent undercover agents to infiltrate Civil Rights groups with a goal to cause chaos. Black Panther members Mark Clark and Fred Hampton were assassinated in an early morning raid by the Chicago police in 1969. Although their deaths were ruled as a justifiable homicide, large settlements were awarded to their families and other plaintiffs in 1982.

While African Americans comprise about 12 percent of the total population, they represent 33 percent of the federal and state prison population. And, 27 percent of all people placed under arrest in the United States in 2016 were African-Americans. Unfortunately, the disparities do not end there.

An eye-opening 33 percent of individuals that are killed by police officers every year are African American. Even more concerning, a whopping 69 percent of police brutality victims in 2015 were unarmed African-Americans. To make matters worse, only three percent of police brutality cases that were monitored that same year resulted in an officer being held accountable for a crime. This is not just shameful. It’s legalized assault and murder.

After the Civil War, most African American veterans risked mistreatment and murder by simply wearing their uniforms. Nothing changed after the first World War when many veterans of color were denied the benefits and disability pay they had been pledged. Yet even with these miscarriages of trust, more than a million African American men signed up for World War II to fight for their country.

African American veterans who survived the war were shafted again once they returned home. The G.I. Bill had been purposely written in a way that most of its benefits — college tuition, housing assistance and business loans — were not made available to these brave patriots.

It has become customary for small groups of NFL players to meet at midfield after each game to form prayer circles. Should we vilify these players for exercising their first amendment rights because some atheists feel offended, or should we respect their freedom of speech? Unlike tariffs, when it comes to the constitution, we cannot pick winners and losers.

The double standard that exists in America today reaps of hypocrisy. A baker who is not willing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple is applauded for his discrimination on religious grounds. But NFL players who hold silent protests during national anthems in a country that oppresses African-Americans and people of color are booed and called traitors.

Source: Crosscut

The right to protest does not come with rules and restrictions. To say that the national anthem or a football game is off limits for protestors is ridiculous. I understand the frustrations of drivers when protesters block highways and disrupt traffic. However, protest methods are not negotiable. Dissent, by nature, is not politically correct.

The American Revolutionary War began as a result of protests and civil disobedience. Demonstrators who illegally boarded a ship and tossed an entire shipment of tea into the Boston Harbor started a resistance movement that changed history. The Colonists fought oppression from the British Parliament and refused to abide by the Tea Act, which most felt violated their rights of no taxation without representation.

The Boston Tea Party was defended by Samuel Adams as an organized protest that was the only option for the Colonists to protect their constitutional rights. More than two centuries later, another Tea Party was formed in 2009 and organized protests that opposed the administration of America’s first black president, Barack Obama. Besides reducing spending, waste, and taxation, the main goal of the movement was to ensure the government adherence to the Constitution.

African American athletes have a long history of highlighting social injustice by protesting the national anthem. Track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos cemented their place in history when they raised their black-gloved fists at the 1968 Summer Olympics. Four years later in Germany, Vince Matthews and Wayne Collett were barred from the Olympic Games. Why? The duo stood on the podium but refused to face the flag during the national anthem.

Source: CNN

The first documented instance of African Americans protesting the national anthem is believed to have started in 1892 after three black men, who were in police custody, were lynched by a white mob. Nearly 1,000 angry people attending a meeting were urged to sing the de facto national anthem at the time, “My Country, ’Tis of Thee.” However, the crowd was in no mood to sing the song with one person saying, “I don’t want to sing that song until this country is what it claims to be, ‘sweet land of liberty.’”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was known as Lew Alcindor while attending UCLA, also did not stand during the national anthem. To rectify the problem before the Bruins matchup against the Washington Huskies, the national anthem was played while the teams were still in the locker room. In 1971, when five African American basketball players at Florida State University refused to stand for the anthem, the song was played before the players came onto the court.

When Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was suspended in 1996 by the NBA for not standing during the national anthem, the controversy was not about patriotism or being disrespectful to the flag. It was the fact that the league was undermining democratic values by attempting to force its players to participate in a patriotic exercise.

Unlike citizens in some third world nations who are mandated to attend flag-raising ceremonies every morning, Americans are not forced by any laws to stand for the national anthem. The same constitution that guarantees citizens the right to bear arms also provides Americans the freedom to choose to participate in voluntary exercises.

NFL players like Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid have proven that America is still the home of the brave. However, until police officers are held accountable for their actions and the criminal justice system is reformed, America will never be the land of the free for people of color.