I woke up this morning and, like I do every day, stumbled out of bed, shuffled into the living room, turned on the morning news, and poured myself a cup of coffee. The opening jingle of CBS This Morning helped pull me into consciousness and I waited for Charlie Rose, Norah O’Donnell, and Gayle King to tell me what’s going on in the world.
And of course, I was barraged with news that a nearly eradicated disease was making a comeback because idiots with no medical training decide that they know better than medical doctors and not only abstain from vaccinating their children (which, should be considered child abuse), but spread their idiocy and convince other sheeple to hop on the bandwagon. And then you have presidential hopefuls like Rand Paul and Chris Christie making matters worse by ignoring science and turning this whole thing into some political debate about big bad government taking away your personal liberties (seriously, these guys want to be in the White House??? And have access to the nuclear launch codes???).
Then the next story was about more beheadings and violence in ISIS controlled territory. And I thought about the Koch brothers recent announcement that they plan to spend $900 million on the 2016 presidential race, and I began pondering the definition of democracy and oligarchy and then I began spiraling into the dark abyss of misanthropy. It took everything I had to not crawl back into bed and try to start over.
So, I decided to look up some GOOD NEWS in order to combat the urge to get “I HATE PEOPLE” tattooed on my forehead.
If you’re like me and needing some hope for humanity, here are a couple of stories that will lift your spirits!
1) Nineteen Year Old Invents Affordable Prosthetic Limbs:
Easton LaChappelle was always interested in robotics. When he was just 14, he built a robotic hand from Legos and a few rudimentary electrical components. When he was 17, he earned an internship at NASA. He once met a girl who was born without an arm and when he learned that her prosthetic arm cost $80,000, he knew that he could make a better one for a fraction of the cost. LaChappelle recently unveiled the 3rd generation of his prosthetic arm: It’s fully robotic and can do many things a human arm can do, with a full range of motion and agile fingers….Oh, and you can control it with your mind! God, if those old plastic stumps cost 80 grand, this robotic arm must require a second mortgage, right? Nope; it costs $350. That’s pretty much the cost of three college science textbooks. And the really cool thing? LaChappelle, who’s now 19, made the design open to the public, free of charge. So, he won’t become a bajillionaire off his invention, but he hopes that having the plans out there for the world to use will result in someone improving his design to create an even better prosthetic. “No one person can change the world,” LaChappelle says in the video. “It takes multiple people, so if I can develop technology in a way so other people can take what I’ve done and grow from it and do something more with it, someone could take that and keep impacting someone else’s life and eventually try and rule out a lot of the bad in the world by giving back to our own kind.” (Read a 2013 article about LaChappelle on engineering.com here and a 2015 article on Huffington Post here.)
Hear LaChappelle talk about his invention in his own words:
Another video here:
2) The Humans of New York (HONY) Fundraiser for Mott Hall Bridges Academy in the Bronx, NY:
If you haven’t been following this story, you should. I absolutely love Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York photography project (really, by now, it’s more than a project – it’s more of a combination of commentary on human life, social movement, and window into the soul) – and I’m not the only fan; he has over 12 million followers on Facebook.
Back on January 19th, he posted a random picture of a boy named Vidal. Stanton asked Vidal who influenced him the most in life. Vidal’s answer: “My principal, Ms. Lopez…When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.”
Vidal, photo from HONY, January 19, 2015 (www.facebook.com/humansofnewyork)
Stanton was intrigued and went to meet Ms. Lopez at Mott Hall Bridges Academy, a middle school in the Bronx. He soon fell in love with Ms. Lopez and the whole school, and I can see why. HONY started doing a profile on the school, highlighting the teaching philosophy and the many wonderful teachers there.
According to Ms. Lopez: “This is a neighborhood that doesn’t necessarily expect much from our children, so at Mott Hall Bridges Academy we set our expectations very high. We don’t call the children ‘students,’ we call them ‘scholars.’ Our color is purple. Our scholars wear purple and so do our staff. Because purple is the color of royalty. I want my scholars to know that even if they live in a housing project, they are part of a royal lineage going back to great African kings and queens. They belong to a group of individuals who invented astronomy and math. And they belong to a group of individuals who have endured so much history and still overcome. When you tell people you’re from Brownsville, their face cringes up. But there are children here that need to know that they are expected to succeed.”
Feeling the compassion of the teachers and administration at the school, Stanton asked what they would do for the school if money wasn’t an option. At a meeting, Ms. Lopez and the school’s Director of Programs Ms. Achu came up with an idea of how the HONY community could help the school (on the HONY Facebook page, Stanton points out that it was Ms. Achu’s idea, and he and Ms Lopez whole-heartedly agreed): They wanted to take the scholars on a trip, to show them that there was a world beyond their neighborhood. And not just a trip to anywhere, but to Harvard University to show the scholars that anything was possible for them.
So, at noon on January 22, Stanton launched an online fundraiser, hoping to raise $100,000 for the field trip. Within 3 hours, they had raised $185,000. Within 24 hours, $365,000 worth of donations had piled in. Within 4 days, HONY and Mott Hall Bridges Academy supporters had raised $700,000. Two days later, the total had jumped to $1 million. As of today, the total raised has reached $1.2 million!
And the cool thing? If you scroll through the donations, you’ll see that it’s from people donating anywhere from $2 to $50 – with the average seeming to be somewhere around $15. After scrolling through for several pages, the highest donation I saw as for one hundred dollars. So, this is the result of many, many people validating the importance of the work that these educators and world-changers at Mott Hall Bridges Academy are doing.
HONY and the school officials have already announced that $700,000 is enough money to make the Harvard field trip a permanent part of the school for its students. All money raised in excess of $700,000 will go into a scholarship fund for MHBA graduates. The fund will be called the Vidal Scholarship, and the first recipient will be Vidal himself.
This story has rightly gotten a lot of press in the past 10 days. Here, you can find articles on CBS, CNN, and the Huffington Post as just a sample. And here’s a video of Brandon Stanton, Vidal, and Ms Lopez on the Ellen DeGeneres Show yesterday. (Target decided to make a surprise donation to the academy and to schools in the surrounding neighborhood, too!)
If you’d like to donate to the fundraiser, you can do so here. The last day is tomorrow, February 5, 2015.
Hopefully, those stories filled you with a little more compassion and idealism.
It’s easy to get disheartened and overwhelmed with negativity, so let’s take these stories as motivation to get out and make the world a better place,
one small act of kindness at a time.