Fred Rogers

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Fred Rogers

Even in an increasingly noisy world, Fred Rogers proved you don't have to shout to make your voice heard. He demonstrated that you don’t have to be a president or a general or a Steve Jobs to improve the lives of others — for 30 years and 886 episodes! He made a difference to millions over the course of generations through his message that you are important just by being you.

Fred Rogers was a cultural pioneer. He recognized in the earliest days of television that it was going to have a major impact on the world. He wanted that impact to be positive. But he found that the first attempts at children's programming simply were not right: It was not age-appropriate. It was not respectful. It did not respond to children’s deepest fears nor answer their most pressing questions. He believed that young people were thoughtful people, too, who deserved the best programming possible.

Now, you may not recognize the name "Fred" Rogers, but most will have heard of "Mister" Rogers. And some of you reading this post may have had an intimate relationship with him and his neighborhood, as well as the neighborhood of Make-Believe.

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Rigoberta Menchú

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Rigoberta Menchú

In the summer of 1990, I blundered into a bloody civil war that few people outside of Guatemala knew or cared about. I was in the country to learn Spanish, but after finding the beautiful colonial town of Antigua choking with Anglophone gringos – not the cultural experience I had in mind – I made my way to the out-of-the-way hill-town of Huehuetenango, the last stop before the Mexican border. 

There, I found myself in the heart of the Guatemalan Highlands, home to indigenous Mayan villages, each one a different orgy of color thanks to the residents' traje, or local dress. In addition to its own homespun costume, each village had a unique agricultural tradition, whether harvesting salt to growing maize to managing livestock to cultivating garlic. They traded amongst each other on designated market days of mostly women and children – able-bodied men were notably few. I vowed to visit every village I could in the three months I would be living there. I wanted to learn everything about the indigenous Maya and their way of life.

What I learned, immediately, was that they were on the verge of extinction. For over 30 years, the indigenous people of Guatemala had suffered violence under a succession of repressive, dictatorial governments – all propped up and trained by the United States.

That’s also when I learned how today’s hero accidentally brought three decades of genocidal crimes against humanity to the attention of the international community. She was only three years older than me, but she'd already witnessed extremes that most of us can never even imagine.

Here’s her story, and the context in which her journey would eventually lead to the Nobel Peace Prize…

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Harvey Milk

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Harvey Milk

This is Gay Pride Week in London, where I currently reside. This coming Saturday, 7 June 2018, the city's ancient streets and notoriously gray skies will be awash in the light of thousands of rainbow flags. If you look at the Gay Pride Calendar -- as I just did -- you will see that celebrations of the LGBTQ community are happening all year round, all over the world, in cities both large and small. It's not possible to pin down a single day, week, or month when this community, and it's supporters, are not cheering their hard-earned rights to live their truth, openly and with acceptance from the general population. But it was not that long ago when discrimination and fear of homosexuality and bisexuality caused far too many people to retreat from their true identities to live unfulfilled, dishonest, but "acceptable" lives.

As I type this, I'm reminded of the line in the musical Hairspray when the main character, Tracy Turnblad, says, "Every day should be Negro day." Well, today's History Hero spent his life advocating that gay individuals be openly, publicly proud of their birthright. Sadly, he lost his life in the battle he waged for Gay Rights. But thanks to him everyday is Gay Pride day today.

Meet Harvey Milk...

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Survivors of the US Indian Boarding School System

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Survivors of the US Indian Boarding School System

From the vantage point of the 21st century, when we think or talk about “holocaust” – meaning slaughter on a mass scale – we think of Hitler’s extermination of 6 million Jews during World War II. But this was not history’s first genocide – and, sadly, it wasn't the last. In his book, Mein Kampf, Hitler states that he modeled his efforts on American’s treatment of slaves and native people. The approach hinged on breaking spirits by forcibly separating parents from children, rounding them up and making them live together in a concentrated way, and stripping them of the traditional signifiers of their culture and society.

Founding Father and US President, Thomas Jefferson, spoke of the need to “eliminate” or “extirpate” Native Americans. President Andrew Jackson promulgated the 1830 Indian Removal Act, resulting in the genocidal Trail of Tears. Civil War General, Philip Sheridan, was known for his slogan, “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” 

This is the story of the unknown, unsung, nameless thousands who confronted the savage approach of their self-styled "civilizers." They are heroes simply because they endured.

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The Statue of Liberty

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The Statue of Liberty

Some heroes can inspire through their mere existence, rather than by what they do. They are symbols, infused with a people's highest aspirations and most cherishes ideals.

That describes our hero today: Lady Liberty, the 225-ton statue that stands watch over New York harbour. She has greeted generations upon generations of despised and unwanted who made the New World their destination and who helped to build the America that many still revere today.

While she's now mainly a tourist attraction, Lady Liberty's biography harkens back to another battle over human rights that consumed the US for much of its history.

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Fred Korematsu

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Fred Korematsu

Fred Korematsu is a civil rights hero. He’s also an American, though his government attempted to suggest otherwise. He preceded Rosa Parks by 15 years but his actions failed to have the same seismic impact because he didn't have a whole movement ready to rally around him. Indeed, US civil-rights leaders at the time refused to touch his case.

He pursued justice on his own. Patiently. And he got it. But it took four decades. Here’s his little known story…

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Azucena Villaflor

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Azucena Villaflor

This is not the first time in history that a government with terribly misguided intentions has tried to enforce its policies by breaking up families. And, sadly, it isn't the first time this has happened in the United States: for over 100 years beginning in the 1860s, Native American children were taken from their families and adopted into white families or brought up in boarding schools with the express purpose of robbing them of the language and culture of their birthright. It's also not the first time that parents have stood up to such abuse against humanity and fought back, even at the risk of torture or death.

Meet Azucena Villaflor. Hers is a short story. But an important one.

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Dith Pran

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Dith Pran

You don’t start wanting to be a hero. But sometimes you become one just by sheer will. Dith Pran escaped one of history's worst genocides and dedicated much of the rest of his life to making sure its story was told.

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George Marshall

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George Marshall

Most know that this week marks the anniversary of the June 6 US-led invasion of Europe known as "D-Day," which turned the tide against Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany, bringing about the end of WWII. Many don’t know, however, that the first week of June is also remembered as the time when the post-war peace in Europe was established. This is all thanks to George Marshall.

Though a soldier in both the 1st and 2nd World Wars, George Marshall is best known to history as a man of peace. In fact, he's the only US soldier to have ever won the Nobel Peace Prize. Here's that story...

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Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

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Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

It's rare to identify a politician as a hero -- winning and keeping power always involves trade-offs, compromises, and confrontations that force the honest writer to balance shades of gray.

Which brings us to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Though she suffered more hardships that most people experience in a lifetime, she didn't just survive, she thrived, elevating a nation along with her. 

Sirleaf-Johnson overcame an abusive husband, exile from her homeland, imprisonment, two violent civil wars, and the ingrained sexism that has limited women's achievements for much of humankind to become Africa's first female Head of State as president of her native country, Liberia, a nation founded in the early 1800s by freed American slaves.

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Thurgood Marshall

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Thurgood Marshall

This hero had a single life's goal: to tear down the legal structures that enabled and supported racism in the United States. His work not only served to re-engineer society, it provided a roadmap for lawyers everywhere dedicated to fighting institutionalized injustice.

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Julia Wilbur

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Julia Wilbur

By Paula Tarnapol Whitacre

Between the U.S. Civil War’s battlefields and home front lay a middle place — the territory occupied by the northern, or Union, army that provided haven to escaped slaves. Julia Wilbur smoothed their transition to freedom.

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Queen Lili'uokalani

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Queen Lili'uokalani

Today we make history on the #HistoryHero BLAST!

Behold our first-ever student-authored #HistoryHero post, fulfilling our original goal that the #HistoryHero BLAST be not simply for -- but by -- young people from all over the globe.

Special thanks to Harper Katherine Lower, age 13, from The Lowell School, in Maryland, USA, for being our first youth author!

Take it away, Harper...

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Tom Wolfe

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Tom Wolfe

Without Tom Wolfe's literary innovations you probably wouldn't be reading this...

In the 1960s and 70s, Tom Wolfe was a pioneer of what was then called New Journalism but which today is known as journalism by some, narrative, creative, or literary non-fiction by others. Tom married an incredible eye for detail with an ear for voice to capture an era — or a moment. There's nothing new anymore about wedding traditional reporting with the flair of a novelist, but when Tom and like-minded writers, such as Joan Didion and Hunter S. Thompson, burst on the scene, it was revolutionary.

In the decades to come, Tom Wolfe's characters — both real and invented — will outlast him. But first, let's take a moment to recall the great writer who died just last week, 14 May 2018.

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Seyran Ates

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Seyran Ates

To say that Seyran Ateş defies stereotypes is an understatement. For starters, she is a female Imam-in-training, a rarity in the Muslim world. In addition, she founded the world’s first “liberal mosque,” which opened its doors in Berlin’s Moabit district on June 17, 2017. It welcomes followers from all interpretations of Islam, including long-time Sunni-Shia antagonists. It allows men and women to worship together, not separated as in traditional practice. It encourages the participation of members of LBGTQ communities, who are banned from prayer gatherings under conservative Islam. Moreover, Ateş insists that women remove their burqas and niqabs inside her mosque for she believes that "full-face veils have nothing to do with religion, but rather are a political statement.”

Named after a Muslim philosopher who defended Greek philosophy and a German writer fascinated by the poetry of the Middle East, the mission of the Ibn Rushd-Goethe mosque is to be a bridge-builder and peace-maker. Yet, it is under attack. So is Seyran Ateş.

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E.B. White

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E.B. White

E.B. White wrote three of the finest works of literature ever produced in the English language. That they were directed at young people only heightens the achievement since children's book authors rarely get their due. It could be said, in fact, that he put children's literature on the map as a genre in its own right. He certainly opened up the world of reading for many a young imagination, including mine.

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Ada Lovelace

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Ada Lovelace

At the age of 14, Ada Lovelace (née Byron) wrote a book on flying machines, called Flyology, and constructed a pair of mechanical wings to help her take off. This may not sound spectacular today but it happened nearly a century before the Wright Brothers managed to get Kitty Hawk into the air. And that wasn’t even her most important intellectual legacy!

The privileged daughter of a famous British poet and a countess, she also invented the algorithm. If Alan Turing was the father of computing, Ada Lovelace was most certainly its grandmother…

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Simone de Beauvoir

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Simone de Beauvoir

A writer, philosopher, and political activist, Simone de Beauvoir inspired a revolution regarding the role of women in society, making her the grandmother of 20th-century -- or second-wave -- feminism. 

Simone de Beauvoir was born in Paris, France, in 1908, the daughter of a buttoned-up, bourgeois, middle-class family, which lost its wealth during World War I. She was raised a conservative Catholic but rebelled against her parents' values as a teenager, turning from religion to philosophy and literature. Her father regarded philosophy as gibberish; her mother worried -- correctly it would turn out -- that it would cause Simone to lose her faith. But with no money left for a marriage dowry, Simone knew she would not make a good catch. So off she went to the Sorbonne to read philosophy and pursue a career instead.

Simone was a famously successful student. Though one of very few women to win a place at the prestigious French University, she rose to the top of her class and was the youngest women ever to complete qualification exams to enter the teaching profession. And on a Monday morning in June, 1929, Simone crossed paths with another Sorbonne philosophy major: an intense young man by the name of Jean-Paul Sartre. She would spend the next 50 years by his side, although the two never lived together, often took other lovers, and had no children. 

Theirs would have been looked upon as an unconventional relationship, even today:

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Carmen Yulín Cruz

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Carmen Yulín Cruz

It should have been the sitting president’s Hurricane Katrina. Like Bush before him, Trump should have been held accountable for his failure to act in the face of human tragedy. Fortunately, for the residents of Puerto Rico, they had a strong voice in Carmen Yulín Cruz.

On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. In roughly 30 hours, the category 5 hurricane tore the island apart. Some say it was the worst natural disaster in the history of the Caribbean. Others characterize it as a “catastrophic event,” more devastating by definition than a “disaster” as it lay to waste the infrastructure that once served its 3.4 million inhabitants.

Without warning, Maria left Puerto Ricans without power and water. Hospitals swelled with the wounded and dying. But weeks later, health practitioners were still forced to operate by the light of mobile phones. Puerto Rico was in crisis. It needed help. Fast. Yet, its nearest, richest, and most powerful neighbor, the United States of America failed to come to the rescue.

The indifference may not have been so shocking were it not for the fact that Puerto Rico is an official commonwealth of the US. It has been since the end of the Spanish-American War of 1898.  

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Helvi Sipilä

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Helvi Sipilä

If you believe that women hold up half the sky – at least – then you're going to love Helvi Sipilä. Little known outside her home country of Finland, she took her cues from past suffragette leaders as Frances Barker Gage and Sylvia Pankhurst and helped pave the way for the generation of female leadership typified by such powerhouses as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Michelle Obama.

In 1972, a new Assistant Secretary-General walked onto the floor of the United Nations. Unlike any other member of the UN senior management team up to that point, this Assistant Secretary-General wore a skirt and heels. Her name was Helvi Sipilä and she was the first female high-level UN official, ever. When she took the position, the UN management team was then 97% male.

Being a woman in local politics – nevermind in a global politics – was then considered an extraordinary accomplishment. But it was time for this to change. And Helvi was ready to lead the charge.

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