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Ex-offender Roger Bruesewitz Leaves Legacy of Escape

For most of his early adult life, Roger Bruesewitz was in and out of the Wisconsin state prison system. The ex-offender served time for dealing heroin, robbery, illegal gambling, and assault. It was while he was in prison that Bruesewitz started to dream of a way out of that cycle. He joined a study release program and graduated with a degree in 1975, several years before his final term in jail.

“Somewhere there was a seed that he wanted to have a different life,” said Mary Rouse of Bruesewitz. Rouse was his friend for decades, after they met during his time as a student.

After Bruesewitz served his time, he genuinely made good. He worked as a copy editor for UW-Madison, where he’d attended classes. He bought a waterfront house, and his family grew to call him a ‘straight shooter.’ And according to Rouse, he wanted to give that opportunity to other people caught in the cycle of crime and prison.

Bruesewitz left everything to Rouse, for a purpose. Since his passing in 2019, she has doled out the estate in donations to organizations that support any other ex-offender or veteran seeking to move forward, as well as journalists. That amount was not staggering, but it was substantial.

“I have given away all of his money,” Rouse said. “In my mind, he left his estate to me not for me personally to buy a better car or anything, but … to see that it would do some good. I feel that I’ve been able to honor his memory and what he was all about.”

Of the approximately $160,000 Rouse was left to disburse, $25,000 has been put into a scholarship for ex-offenders. Over a quarter of all ex-offenders have no diploma or degree at all, and less than half have anything more than a high school diploma or GED. Only 4 percent have any college degree, and their unemployment rate is 5 times that of the general public. The goal of the scholarship is to offer them the same chance Roger Bruesewitz had, to move past their criminal record, so often a barrier to many.

Image: Shutterstock

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Xiao Zhen Xie: Don’t Submit to Racism

On March 17, while waiting for a traffic light on foot, Xiao Zhen Xie was punched in the face by Steven Jenkins in San Francisco. It was Jenkin’s second assault on an Asian senior citizen in a matter of minutes – first, he punched 83-year-old Ngoc Pham, then 75-year-old Xie. She was badly hurt, but she managed to grab a board and smack her attacker in the mouth, who was then restrained by security guards until the police arrived.

Xiao Zhen Xie, who is a grandmother, a diabetic, and a cancer survivor, was left with two black eyes that swelled shut and a facial wound that bled uncontrollably. Her grandson, John Chen, opened a fundraiser to cover her medical expenses. When news of the attack and Xie’s fighting back went viral, the GoFundMe surged past its $50k goal, raising nearly a million dollars in a matter of days. Tens of thousands of people donated. In a separate fundraiser, 9,400 people donated just over $280,000 to Pham, whose injuries may require surgery.

Xie, however, refuses to keep the money. Instead, she’ll be donating it to organizations that will help defuse racism against the Asian American community.

“She insists on making this decision saying this issue is bigger than her,” said Chen, adding that she insists people not “submit” to racism.

The attack on Xiao Zhen Xie and Ngoc Pham came less than a full day after six women of Asian descent were murdered in a spree killing in Atlanta, Georgia. Advocates attribute the increase in violence against Asians to the racist rhetoric surrounding COVID-19 that was a strong part of former President Trump’s response to the pandemic. Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition tracking violence and harassment against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, said they’ve received nearly 3,800 reports of hate incidents since March 2020.

According to Xie’s daughter, Dong-Mei Li, her mother is “traditional and hardworking” and resistant to the idea that “a fuss” should be made about her.

Image: Shutterstock

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Ben Navarro Donates $1.25 Million to the College of Charleston

Ben Navarro turned a well-connected family and a bachelor’s degree in finance into a $3 billion nest egg in just over 30 years. Formerly a vice president of Citigroup, he left the investment bank to found his own, Sherman Financial Group, which currently owns Credit One Bank. Ben Navarro also owns two tennis clubs, and tried to purchase the Carolina Panthers, North Carolina’s NFL team, but lost it in auction. Today, he and his family live in Charleston, South Carolina.

As a philanthropist, Navarro’s priorities are plain – healthy, well-educated minds. In recent years, he has founded a small string of private schools, a scholarship fund for low-income Charleston County high school students, and a mental health wellness center targeting anxiety and depression.

On March 15, College of Charleston President Andrew Hsu announced that a large donation from Navarro was being given to the college’s teacher education program for the purpose of educating more teachers to work in underserved communities.

“The gift really recognizes our commitment to excellence in public education at all levels,” Hsu said. “It will help us create and support a national signature program.

“As a public institution, we have the responsibility of helping the state to narrow the educational gap,” he continued. “It is our duty to help the underserved communities, or help prepare teachers for the underserved communities.”

South Carolina is currently weathering a heavy teacher shortage, one exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic. As of February, five months into the school year, the state was still short more than 500 teachers in all grades. The College of Charleston is working on a plan to attract more students passionate about education, and Ben Navarro’s generous donation will help them recruit those students.

“We already have a lot of strength in terms of faculty and programmatic offerings around teacher education for students coming from underrepresented populations,” said Suzanne Austin, provost and executive vice president of student affairs. “So we already do that work but we’re excited about doing more.”

Editorial credit: Katherine Welles / Shutterstock.com

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Eric Schwam Honors Le Chambon-sur-Lignon’s History of Generosity

In 1943, Eric Schwam, his parents, and his grandmother arrived in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, a very small town in south-east France, as refugees.

Originally from Vienna, the Jewish family were removed from Austria by the Nazis and held in an internment camp in Rivesaltes until 1942. They, along with hundreds of other Jewish refugees, were sheltered by the town’s citizens through the rest of WWII, hidden in the village’s school. Only 11 when he arrived, Schwam left the village after the war as an adult—though he remained in France, married, became a doctor, and lived the rest of his life in Lyon.

Schwam passed away on Christmas Day 2020, at the age of 90. In early January, a notary contacted Le Chambon-sur-Lignon with surprising news: Schwam’s estate included an exceptionally large bequest to the town. The number is being held in confidence until things are final, but it is at least $2.4 million.

“He was a very discreet gentleman and he didn’t want a lot of publicity about his gesture,” said Denise Vallat, culture and communication assistant at Le Chambon-sur-Lignon.

Jean-Michel Eyraud, Mayor of the village, said that the money will be used to fund youth initiatives and education. Hopefully, it will keep people aware and proud of the massive generosity that is at the heart of the town.

WWII was not the first time Le Chambon-sur-Lignon has opened its gates to those fleeing lethal persecution. In the 17th century, the town sheltered Huguenots (Protestants) from laws requiring their execution. In WWII, it was two Protestant pastors—the spiritual descendants of those refugees—who organized the citizens to shelter between 3000 and 5000 Jewish refugees, transporting many across the border to Switzerland and safety. And today, the village shelters refugees from war zones in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

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Anonymous Edmonton ‘Santa’ Gives Out Poem and $250 Gift Card

It’s become trite and overplayed to point out that 2020 was hard on everyone, but it was. It was catastrophically hard on many, whether they lost lives close to them or the livelihoods that support their families. When Christmas came, many found the holiday more burden than celebration.

Edmonton, Alberta in December was looking at nearly 12 percent unemployment, after losing between 11,000 and 21,000 jobs per month from March onwards, making it one of the hardest-hit cities, economically, in Canada. So many felt very far distanced from the season of giving.

For almost 400 families, though, Santa Claus visited in the night over Christmas. Scores of households woke up to an envelope on their doorsteps. Inside was a poem, and a $250 gift card to Walmart.

“the whole world ain’t as dark as it sometimes seems / there’s light if you look for it, if you know what I mean,” says the poem, and it ends with a message exhorting that the generosity continue. “don’t need this? Please pass the baton / for that is the way, hope carries on.”

The poem were unsigned, though an email address was included. So far, the owner has not reached back to any attempts at contact, except to answer a query about why:

“I decided to do it because I know that lots of people have had a really touch year and I had the means to help out,” “Santa” answered CBC news. “I hope the gifts give people a sense that the world is good and there is a brighter future not far ahead.”

There can’t be many people capable of casually donating $100,000 to their fellow citizens. And fewer who would do so. 

“To have something like this, I mean, that’s a month of groceries for us,” said Elisha Tennant, one recipient of an envelope. Tennant was laid off in 2020 due to the pandemic. “It was just very heartwarming and touching that someone would do that.”

Source: Good News Network

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Man Raises $30,000 from Beer Made in Honor of Wife who Died of Cancer

Darcel Fahy was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer in 2010. She was young, just a few years out of high school. With her diagnosis, her doctor gave her odds just under 40 percent of making it five years. But she chased heroic measures and squeezed 7 and a half years out of that before she passed away at home in 2017.

“I always feel one of the big injustices was that I knew her longer with cancer than without it, you know, and that’s a shame,” said Mike Fahy, Darcel’s husband. They married just two years before her diagnosis.

Mike was at Darcel’s side as she pursued aggressive treatment, including a medical trial of a new chemotherapy protocol at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.

“It was pretty tough on her physically, but she always found a will and a way to do it. She never complained, no matter what, no matter what they threw at her, she didn’t complain,” said Mike.

Due to that trial and Darcel, that protocol has become the standard of care for ovarian cancer care at Magee. It has helped other women live past their odds as she did. And Mike chose to honor her by helping those women in another way.

With the help of his former place of work, Whitehouse Brewery, Mike raised $30,000 by selling a signature beer brewed in Darcel’s honor. They donated the proceeds to ovarian cancer research at Magee, the same research that helped her.

“It’s monies like these that allow us to do that initial work that engages the interest of the funder, and without these funds, we wouldn’t have successful grants,” said Dr. Robert Edwards, OB/GYN Chair at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital. This way, the money donated in Darcel’s name can generate much more money, extending the reach of her memory to potentially thousands of patients.

Source: CBS Pittsburgh

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Walmart to Give $14.3 Million in Grants to Address Systemic Racism

In June, while the firestorm of protests sparked by the extra-judicial police killing of George Floyd was burning across the United States, Walmart was one of many companies who spoke out against the general weight of racism that still holds this country down. In an interview with CNBC at the time, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said the company would look for ways they could use their resources to address racial inequality, including a promise that Walmart would invest $100 million in the cause of racial justice.

Walmart is the largest employer in the United States and by a large margin, with an estimated 1.5 million employees in the States (and 700,000 more worldwide). They’re also a major employer of black Americans, who make up more than one-fifth of their workforce. According to their own reporting, however, that percentage decreases significantly in higher positions – about 12 percent of management positions are filled by back employees, and fewer than 7 percent of company officers, the highest tier. According to Kirstie Sims, leader of Walmart’s Center for Racial Equality, the company is making tangible efforts within their own walls to improve those numbers.

McMillon had no details on that $100 million pledge in June, and they’ve been sparse in the months since, but on Monday, February 1, the Walmart Foundation announced that they would be disbursing $14.3 million to 16 nonprofits around the country, in the form of grants. Those grants are being given to groups who are addressing race and class inequality in a variety of ways, including health education for communities of color, debt relief for students at historically black colleges, and improving internet and technology access to children who are still attending school remotely.

“Progress sometimes is slow, but with the work and the power and the commitment behind it, we’re going to make change,” said Sims, who originally went to work herself at Walmart to pay off student debt, over twenty years ago.

Source: CNBC

Editorial credit: Jonathan Weiss / Shutterstock.com

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Bernie Sanders Turns Viral Moment into $1.5M for Charity

The inauguration of President Joe Biden on January 20th was a chilly affair. There weren’t many present, but those in attendance endured a windy 35° Fahrenheit (1.7° Celsius). Senator Bernie Sanders is from Vermont and used to the cold, but he’s also 79 years old. So no one can blame him for bundling up to watch the event in a warm coat, and handmade woolen mittens. He should have had a hat too, honestly. 

Brendan Smialowski, a freelance photojournalist, captured the image of Sanders sitting in a folding chair waiting for the inauguration to start, arms and legs crossed and a gritty expression in his eyes above his properly-worn mask. He posted it immediately to his photo feed and before the inauguration was even over, the image went viral. Something about the combination of expression, the oversized and very cozy-looking gloves, and Sander’s isolation at the center of the shot caught the collective imagination of the internet. Everyone and their brother immediately began cropping Sanders into every imaginable context – film scenes, classic paintings, sports events, you name it.

Bernie Sanders, who knows full well how the internet works, didn’t sleep on his fifteen minutes of spare fame. Immediately, he acquired the rights to the photograph and had his image put on a black, USA-made sweatshirt, and sold them for $45. All proceeds, every cent, went to Vermont’s Meals on Wheels programs, a collection of programs which support nutrition and outreach to low-income senior citizens. T-shirts were $27. Both sold out in a just five days, and his quick thinking raised $1.8 million.

“Jane (Sander’s wife) and I were amazed by all the creativity shown by so many people over the last week, and we’re glad we can use my internet fame to help Vermonters in need,” said Sanders, who finds the popularity of the frankly grumpy image hilarious. He says he was just trying to keep warm.

“But even this amount of money is no substitute for action by Congress,” Sanders pointedly added. He is a staunch advocate for government safety nets over personal charity.

The famous mittens, it should be noted, were made specifically for Sanders by Vermont school teacher Jen Ellis from repurposed wool and fleece.

Source: CNBC

Editorial credit: Kari Bjorn / Shutterstock.com

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Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical Raises Funds With Disney’s Blessing

With very little advertising, a new live musical was staged on Friday, January 1. Yes, right in the middle of the latest pandemic spike. But don’t worry, it didn’t pack any theatre halls. No, Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical was performed entirely on TikTok’s TodayTix live platform. Approximately 350,000 people bought tickets to the digital event, and all proceeds went to benefit the Actors Fund.

The Actors Fund, founded in 1882, is a human services organization targeted to support entertainers, providing emergency financial and housing assistance, health care, and career development. Never has it been more needed than now, with the entire entertainment industry derailed by rolling bans on in-person gathering.

Performed by actors, singers, musicians and TikTokers under the unusually permissive blessing of Disney Theatrics, the musical is an assemblage of dozens of short video clips based on the 2007 animated film under a fan-sung score and the performances of the Broadway Sinfonietta orchestra.

“When Greg Nobile first approached us with the idea to produce a benefit event surrounding Ratatouille, never did we imagine that it would blossom into such an amazing outpouring of love and support for The Actors Fund,” said Thomas Schumacher, President and Producer of Disney Theatrical Productions. “What we all saw New Year’s day was a celebration of art and craft that was as charming as it was moving. It’s thrilling to see how the theatre-makers on TikTok and the Broadway community came together to provide aid to so many in need during this unprecedented time.”

The Disney Corporation is not known for giving their permission to fan-run projects involving their intellectual property like this, even for fundraising purposes, so perhaps this is a new leaf for them. It’s certainly a good look. The Ratatouille: TikTok Musical took less than a month to put together, starred Tituss Burgess as Remy and André De Shields as Ego, and raised just over $2 million for the Actors Fund.

Source: Digital Music News

Editorial credit: XanderSt / Shutterstock.com

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Jack Dorsey Donates Another $15M to Mayors for a Guaranteed Income

“I’m now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective – the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.” – Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.

Inspired directly by the words of MLK, and by the struggles of his own youth and community, Mayor Michael D Tubbs of Stockton, California worked with the Economic Security Project to found Mayors for a Guaranteed Income in June, 2020. During the first crush of the pandemic, while 10 million Americans were suddenly without income or safety net, 30 mayors from all over the country began working together to establish guaranteed income programs in their cities.

“So many of our constituents were in food lines for Thanksgiving,” said Tubbs.

“Covid-19 has made it very, very clear to build back better we have to make sure everyone has an income floor,” he said. “We’re all taking considerable political risk in doing this, but we understand that the biggest risk is nothing changes.”

For Tubbs, the risk was almost certainly a factor in his defeat this November by Republican opponent Kevin Lincoln. However, leaving the mayoral office in January will not stop his participation in this program or his platform of guaranteed income.

At the debut of the program, Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and Square, donated $3 million to help launch its efforts. Now as the program gains structure and momentum, he has donated another $15 million, to be divided evenly among the 30 pilot cities ($500,000 each.) Each city will then decide how to allocate those funds. For instance, Stockton will be providing $500 per month to participants. Dorsey’s donation will cover a thousand of those payments.

“Thank you Mayor [Tubbs] and to all the Mayors of @mayorsforagi for these universal basic income pilots! I hope they inform federal policy in the future,” tweeted Dorsey on Tuesday.

Source: CNBC