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What White People Can Do About the Killing of Black Men in America

Wed, 2014-08-13 15:18
'Can we switch for just one day?' my friend Sean jokingly asked me as we were working out at the gym. 'No, way' I said firmly. You see, Sean is black and I am white and Sean was suggesting that we swap races. In his plea, Sean was none-too-subtly commenting that living life as a white man might be easier than living as a black man. In my unwillingness to switch, I acknowledged the privilege -- and safety -- that comes with being a white person in 21st century America.

There are a lot of events vying to occupy the American mind these days such as Gaza, Iraq, Ukraine, the immigration crisis, hate crimes against Sikhs, Ebola, and Robin Williams' death. But in one way, the ability to switch among these traumas is a white person's 'luxury.' For Sean, and for many black Americans, the recent spate of black male deaths at the hands of police in America is forced to occupy the primary place.

There is an epidemic in this country and its victims are black men. Eric Garner died after being put in a stranglehold in Staten Island in New York City, Michael Brown, was an 18-year-old teenager killed in Ferguson, MO, and Ezell Ford was killed while reportedly lying down in the street in Los Angeles.

Black Americans are rightfully outraged, but it will require all Americans to be mobilized before the racism that undergirds these killings will end and the deaths along with it. White Americans like me have to stop channel surfing all the outrageously bad news from around the world and focus on the death that is happening in our own cities to our fellow Americans.

I spoke to Rev. Tony Lee who is an African-American pastor at Community of Hope AME Church in Prince George's County, Maryland. Rev. Tony and I went to seminary together and he has been a colleague I trust to speak the truth to me about race in America. He called the recent deaths 'disturbing but not surprising.'

"The reason people are responding so strongly is that these are examples of daily antagonisms felt by black people on the street. This is part of a wider school-to-prison pipeline and the ghettoization and de-humanization of black bodies. Social media gets the word out much quicker and people are responding to dead black men on the streets in LA, Ferguson and NYC by saying 'wait, that is going on in our streets too.'"

But social media is part of the problem according to Rev. Lee. "The challenge is for this to become a movement not just a moment. People are expressing outrage with hashtags but they are not organizing. Movements need organizing."

Given that we are both pastors, I asked Rev. Lee what the church should do and he offered some very practical steps, including becoming advocates for police training, holding police departments legally accountable for deaths, and connecting with the efforts at a community level. Rev. Lee also pointed out positive organizations that are doing great 'movement' work like Black Youth Project that churches should be supporting and partnering with.

Rev. Lee was quick to mention that his church has positive relations with the local policing because they have been proactive in creating encounters where police can meet the community and the community can meet police -- not only in crucial moments when tensions are high -- but also during normal times when the two can see the best of each other.

According to Lee, the church also needs to reclaim and proclaim the narrative about the worth of black lives in the face of the criminalized depiction of black people on TV, movies and in music. The wider church should be involved in the celebration of the breadth and richness of the black experience.

I asked Rev. John Vaughn, Vice-President of Auburn Seminary, what kind of response he would like to see from white Americans. Rev. Vaughn responded via email that he hoped his white friends would be vocal and articulate why these killings are not 'yet another isolated incident' and 'explore the premise that racism is not a thing of the past.' Perhaps most importantly: "Listen to your friends and colleagues of color about their experiences and analysis of racism in America."

I also pressed Rev. Lee on what he would like to tell white Americans on how to show solidarity. I was humbled by his response:

We need to lock arms amidst all of this. If the police feel they are above the law with any one group, they will feel they are above the law with others. We need to learn from the civil rights movement. It wasn't just black folks, it was everybody, because it wasn't a black problem it was a moral issue. We are remembering 40 years after the Freedom Summer. That wasn't just black people risking their lives, it was a community that went down to Mississippi because they knew that when any group within the nation is marginalized then we can't be the nation we want to be.

The way I translate Rev. Lee's generous invitation is 'show up.' White people need to get off the computer and get involved with our voices, feet, votes and resources to help make sure that this epidemic of black deaths in America ends. This is not a 'black problem it is an American problem and it will take all of us working together to solve it.

Are Bruce Rauner's political donations an attempt to buy Republican support?

Wed, 2014-08-13 14:10
Illinois Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner has worn his political-newcomer badge with pride, saying it makes him the right person to bring change to Springfield and that Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has been in government too long. Rauner didn't even donate much (relatively) to other campaigns from 1998 to 2011. The Better Government Association's Patrick McCraney points out that his donations to campaigns other than his own have more than doubled since 2011. Is Rauner trying to "buy" Republican support by giving money to organizations and campaigns he hopes will back his campaign?

McCraney also points out that Rauner's donations to Democrats (most notably, former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley) stopped in 2006, and that since the beginning of 2013, he has donated 119 times to 75 Republican organizations. Brian Krajewski, head of the Downers Grove Township Republican Organization, which received funds from Rauner, said sometimes candidates don't donate on a quid pro quo basis but sometimes do it in a general effort to gain support.

Rauner's campaign spokesman, Mike Schrimpf, said such donations were not an effort to buy support.

"[R]egardless of what happens in the governor's race, [Rauner] is committed to rebuilding the Republican Party. That includes helping not just the state and national party, but local" Republicans, Schrimpf wrote in an email.

With donations flying and the gubernatorial campaign heating up, Quinn has criticized Rauner for avoiding face-to-face debates. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Quinn told Rauner to "come out of the gopher hole" and sign onto the same schedule of debates to which Quinn has committed. But Quinn is also missing out on some discussion opportunities--he skipped the traditional Democratic rally during the Illinois State Fair's Governor's Day.

Proposed City of Chicago Ethanol Ordinance Would be a Step in the Right Direction

Wed, 2014-08-13 11:54
At Argonne National Laboratory, we work to discover and invent revolutionary green technologies that will build a new energy economy. But while we seek tomorrow's game-changing technologies, we also look for interim solutions that will help us to protect our environment today.

A proposed City of Chicago ordinance that would require most gas stations to offer E15 fuel - 15 percent ethanol, 85 percent gasoline - is one example of a smaller step we can take now to increase our use of renewable energy sources and limit greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change.

Ethanol is a biofuel, which means it is made from corn and other plants instead of from petroleum. Right now, the United States produces more than 13 billion gallons of ethanol a year - mostly from corn. That domestically produced ethanol now displaces more than 10 percent of our gasoline use. Soon, next-generation manufacturing facilities will begin producing ethanol using agricultural waste, such as corn stalks.

As compared with gasoline, burning ethanol substantially reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, the whole process of converting corn into ethanol and transporting it to city gas stations - going from field to wheels - consumes far less petroleum than refining and shipping gasoline.

Right now, the fuel we buy at Illinois gas stations contains up to 10% ethanol. By offering drivers the choice of a fuel containing 50 percent more ethanol, the City of Chicago could take a small - but significant - step toward making city cars more environmentally friendly.

Certainly, E15 is far from being the single "silver bullet" that can solve all our energy and environmental problems. But biofuels are an important option that can help reduce the greenhouse gases emitted by cars and trucks. And as a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory, Argonne is committed to examining every possible tactic to combat the threat of climate change.

With Argonne's GREET (Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Transportation) fuel cycle model , for example, we take a complete well-to-wheels view of the energy and environmental impacts of new types of fuel and advanced vehicle technologies. Through the GREET model, which is now used worldwide, we can consider the impacts, tradeoffs and benefits of every step involved in manufacturing new fuels, including biofuels, as well as the pollution emitted when vehicles burn those fuels.

We also work with automakers to find new ways to make cars and trucks more energy-efficient. We even have a Green Racing program, demonstrating advanced car technologies and alternative fuels that can be used in cars on high-speed racetracks. (In fact, a group of Argonne researchers have shown that a racing car engine using E85 - 85 percent ethanol and only 15 percent gasoline - actually outperforms the same engine with gasoline in both performance and efficiency.)

But our research indicates that, if the City of Chicago makes this higher-ethanol fuel available at gas stations, every person who opts for E15 will be making a small but real contribution toward our long-term goal of a clean energy future.

These Famous Athletes Rely On Sleep For Peak Performance

Wed, 2014-08-13 11:01
For professional athletes, exercise, diet and training are crucial to maximizing their abilities. But in recent years, more and more athletes have been opening up about another performance enhancer: sleep. For example,many NBA stars swear by the benefits of napping, both on game days and off days. In nearly every sport, sleep is now considered key to achieving peak performance. Here are some of the athletes who have spoken up about its performance-enhancing powers.

Email me at or ask me questions about anything sports-related at @Schultz_Report and follow me on Instagram @Schultz_Report. Also, be sure and catch my NBC Sports Radio show, Kup and Schultz, which airs Sunday mornings from 9-12 ET, right here.

Body Of Sheila Von Wiese-Mack Found In Suitcase In Bali

Wed, 2014-08-13 09:40

(Adds background on victim)

JAKARTA, Aug 13 (Reuters) - The body of an American tourist from Chicago has been found stuffed into a suitcase in Indonesia's resort island of Bali and the victim's daughter and her boyfriend have been arrested for what police suspect was a gruesome murder.

"There has been no confession yet but the couple are now being detained and interrogated," Hery Wiyanto, Bali police spokesman, told Reuters by phone, adding the killing took place on Tuesday.

Heather Louise Mack, 19, and Tommy Schaefer, 21, were arrested on Wednesday after a day-long chase.

Ida Bagus Putu Alit, a forensic expert at the hospital that conducted an autopsy, said Sheila von Wiese-Mack, 62, had been "hit by a blunt object and the blows were concentrated on the face and head."

"There were signs of a struggle by the victim as there were bruises on her arms and some fingers were broken," Alit added.

The Mack family lived for a number of years in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Illinois.

Oak Park spokesman David Powers said on Wednesday police responded to 86 calls from the Mack home due to incidents between mother and daughter from 2004 through June 2013.

No arrests were ever made from the calls, which were a combination of reports of domestic violence, theft, missing person and 911 hang-ups, Powers said.

Von Wiese-Mack more recently had moved to a condominium in Chicago. Her husband and the father of Heather Louise Mack, classical music composer James Mack, died in 2006.

Laura Voigt, a pianist in Oak Park and friend to James Mack, said she remembered seeing mother and daughter fight outside the local high school one morning.

"I was worried about Sheila," Voigt said.

Von Wiese-Mack had worked as an editor for famed oral historian Studs Terkel and later studied with writer Saul Bellow at the University of Chicago.

Georgia Parchem, a neighbor and friend in Oak Park, said von Wiese-Mack was a "lovely, charming woman" and the Macks often held parties involving "artists and friends from all over the city."

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the department is aware of the reports of a U.S. citizen's death in Bali and the arrests of two people in connection with the case. She declined to give details due to privacy considerations.

"Obviously we are monitoring it and will provide any consular access as appropriate," Harf said. (Reporting by Chris Nusatya in Jakarta, Mark Guarino in Chicago and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Andrew Roche and Eric Beech)

Commander Evans: #1 in Chicago for Excessive Force

Wed, 2014-08-13 09:22

Why it is so hard for Superintendent McCarthy to take away Commander Glenn Evans police powers after the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) recommended that he be stripped of his duties as a police official? Commander Evans was accused of shoving a gun down the throat of Rickey Williams and threatening to kill him and the DNA evidence was found to back this story up. Supt. McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel declined to comment at this time. Commander Evans made the number one on the list for police with excessive force complaints.

Some people have said that Commander Evans did a great job reducing violence but what about all of the people he abused that we do not know about? Commander Evans also had a run in with Alderman Jason Ervin. Obviously, this commander does not have any respect for people in the African American community since all of his complaints occurred in the African American community. What's the difference between a gang banger trying to do well in the community in the day time but at night the same gang banger terrorizes the community? This is same type of behavior that this Gang Banging Police Commander Evans is displaying without any real consequences for his actions. Supt. McCarthy would love to improve relationships with the community at large but he continues to go against the recommendations of the IPRA. Maybe nobody cares about this serious matter with Commander Evans but all of the victims and their families really care about what happens to their loved ones.

This is definitely a step in the wrong direction for the Chicago Police Department. There should never be a time when a police official should remain on his post without any real consequences with over 40 excessive force complaints. State's Attorney Anita Alvarez should file charges against this rogue gang banging commander as soon as possible. There is no excuse for this type of behavior and we expect the police to protect and serve. This sends a clear message that it's okay to use excessive force in the African American community because the African American community is already plagued by high levels of violence.

Commander Evans represents the worst that the Chicago Police Department has to offer and if this matter is not taken care immediately then others from the Chicago Police Department will follow in his footsteps. Violence is a learned behavior passed down from one generation to another. Police brutality falls under the same category as a learned behavior.

9 Powerful Photos That Show Ferguson Is Pretty Much Being Treated Like A War Zone

Wed, 2014-08-13 09:02
Since the fatal shooting of unarmed, black teen Michael Brown at the hands of a local police officer, the town of Ferguson, Missouri, has erupted in unrest as citizens have taken to the streets in outrage for more than three days.

Police have fired tear gas at protesters and the Federal Aviation Administration banned flight travel under 3,000 feet in the airspace over the town to "provide a safe environment for law enforcement activities" from Aug. 12 to Aug. 18. This news coupled with these powerful images from the St. Louis suburb paint a troubling picture that the town is being treated like a war zone.

Police wearing riot gear try to disperse a crowd Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. The FBI opened an investigation Monday into the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who police said was shot multiple times Saturday after being confronted by an officer in Ferguson. Authorities in Ferguson used tear gas and rubber bullets to try to disperse a large crowd Monday night that had gathered at the site of a burned-out convenience store damaged a night earlier, when many businesses in the area were looted. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 12: Demonstrators protest the killing of teenager Michael Brown on August 12, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was shot and killed by a police officer on Saturday in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. Ferguson has experienced two days of violent protests since the killing but, tonight's protest was peaceful. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 11: Police guard a Quick Trip gas station that was burned yesterday when protests over the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown turned to riots and looting on August 11, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets as residents and their supporters protested the shooting by police of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown who was killed Saturday in this suburban St. Louis community. Yesterday 32 arrests were made after protests turned into rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Protestors confront police during an impromptu rally, Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014 to protest the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo., Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014. Police said Brown, who was unarmed, was fatally shot Saturday in a scuffle with an officer. (AP Photo/Sid Hastings)

FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 11: Protesters are forced by police from the business district into nearby neighborhoods on August 11, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets as residents and their supporters protested the shooting by police of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown who was killed Saturday in this suburban St. Louis community. Yesterday 32 arrests were made after protests turned into rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 11: Tear gas hangs in the air as police force protestors from the business district into nearby neighborhoods on August 11, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets as residents and their supporters protested the shooting by police of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown who was killed Saturday in this suburban St. Louis community. Yesterday 32 arrests were made after protests turned into rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 11: Tirezz Walker, a resident of Ferguson speaks to Missouri Highway Patrol offers in riot gear during a protest of the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer, outside Ferguson Police Department Headquarters August 11, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Civil unrest broke out as a result of the shooting of the unarmed black man as crowds looted and burned stores, vandalized vehicles and taunted police officers. Dozens were arrested for various infractions including assault, burglary and theft. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 11: People view a memorial in the street where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot by police on Saturday on August 11, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets as residents and their supporters protested the shooting by police of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown who was killed Saturday in this suburban St. Louis community. Yesterday 32 arrests were made after protests turned into rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 11: Police force protestors from the business district into nearby neighborhoods on August 11, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets as residents and their supporters protested the shooting by police of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown who was killed Saturday in this suburban St. Louis community. Yesterday 32 arrests were made after protests turned into rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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96 Bodies You Won't See On Billboards -- But Should

Wed, 2014-08-13 09:01
Only 5 percent of women have the type of body we see on billboards and in TV commercials.

The "Expose" project wants you to see the remaining 95 percent.

(Some images below may be considered NSFW.)

Blogger and activist Jes Baker teamed up with photographer Liora K to showcase women's bodies just as they are -- unfiltered, un-Photoshopped, and totally amazing.

"When was the last time you opened up your browser and saw a beautiful image of a body shape that looked just like yours?" Baker asked in a blog post introducing the series.

Ninety-six women, recruited on Facebook, gathered in Tucson, Arizona to disrobe in front of total strangers in the name of body love. This is the second time Baker and K have shot images for this project.

In a blog post about the shoot, photographer Liora K explained how she stressed the beauty and uniqueness of every participant during the process:
What I really wanted the women to get out of our time (how ever brief) together was that they were IMPORTANT. That their bodies deserved to be seen, that what they perceive as faults are simply THEM, and are neither right nor wrong. That showing their bodies won’t innately cause them harm. That their breasts won’t cause damage to those around them, or their bellies or thighs either. That their nudity, while making them vulnerable, does not make them at fault. And that lastly, their bodies are their vehicles through life, and to treat them with kindness. I hope that came across.

Journalist Gillian Drummond, who wrote about participating in the shoot for 3 Story Magazine, wrote: "The few hours I spent there were electric and empowering and funny and sincere and loving and sore and very, very emotional."

Drummond also described her joy at the variety of body types represented at the shoot:
I tell my daughter all the time: "People come in all shapes and sizes." And I wish she had been there to witness how true this statement was that summer afternoon in Tucson. There were big boobs, little boobs, hardly any boobs, pregnant boobs. Pregnant bellies, Caesarean scars, other scars. Briefs, thongs, boy shorts, high-waisted Spanx affairs, and some undies removed altogether.

See more beautiful images from the "Expose" project below, and check out the full series here.

Man Receives Diploma 55 Years After Being Denied Graduation For Refusing To Accept Racism

Wed, 2014-08-13 08:31
In 1959, Alva Earley was denied a diploma after taking a stand against segregation. Fifty-five years later, with a little help from some determined friends, he finally received what he should've gotten a long time ago.

More than five decades ago, Earley, a then-high school senior at Galesburg High School in Illinois, attended a picnic at Lake Storey Park, according to the Register Mail. Earley, who is black, went to the picnic with a group of friends. The group, which included other black and Hispanic people, decided to eat at a whites-only area of the park, despite having been told by a school counselor that doing so would result in serious repercussions.

"We were just trying to send a message that we are people, too," Earley told NPR. "We just had lunch."

After the gathering, Earley was notified by his school that he would not be allowed to graduate, nor would he receive his diploma. Last Friday, Earley, now 73, finally received that diploma.

"It's far beyond anything I've experienced to date," said Earley, who went on to attend Knox College despite the incident, according to the Chicago Tribune. "I wish I knew where to start. I wish I knew where to end."

Though more than 50 years late, the graduation was made possible by a few of Earley's former high school classmates, who say they were horrified when he revealed at a recent Knox College reunion that the high school had denied him of his degree, according to The Tribune.

"Well, we were thunderstruck," said Owen Muelder, who attended both high school and college with Earley, according to NPR. "Here's this community and college founded before the Civil War, that was a leader in the anti-slavery movement and here it was that a little over 100 years later something so outrageous could have occurred in our community."

Muelder and another former classmate approached the Galesburg superintendent, Bart Arthur, about giving Earley what was rightfully his, NPR reported.

"When they requested that I look it up, they were correct, he had enough credits to graduate, had his transcripts signed and everything," Arthur told KWQC. Arthur told the source that he was honored to be able to make things right.

Though the ceremony was a happy one, Earley says that he had been harboring pain over the incident for some time.

"The fact that I could not get a cap and gown on and march down the aisle with my classmates -- it meant the world to me. It hurt so bad," he told NPR.

Because he was unable to receive a diploma, two colleges that had already accepted him withdrew their offers, according to the Tribune. He went to Knox College after a classmate persuaded his father and then-president of Knox College to allow Earley to enroll.

Now, his other classmates are happy that they were able to correct a long-standing wrong.

"Alva deserved it. When people have been mistreated, we owe it to them to address the injustice," former classmate Lowell Peterson told the Tribune. "This is just a little chance to make something right."

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If Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown Were White, Would the Tea Party Declare Tyranny?

Wed, 2014-08-13 08:25

First and foremost, I believe most law enforcement officers in this country are good people who care about their families and the citizens they protect. Most want to make a positive impact in the community and enter the police force to guard people from the inevitable threats that exist in all societies. It takes courage to wake up every day knowing that you might not come home to your family and good cops are essential to any healthy society.

That being said, within law enforcement (as with all professions) there are certain people who bend the rules and perhaps even hide behind the bureaucratic and systemic evils that enable breaches of conduct. Research from Northwestern University states that, "More than 10,000 complaints of police abuse were filed with Chicago police between 2002 and 2004, but only 19 resulted in meaningful disciplinary action, a new study asserts." Also, before Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, police in Missouri were already grappling with the issue of racial profiling according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch on May 19, 2014:

Former Police Chief Tim Fitch recommended that UCLA's researchers visit county police after anonymous letters to the chief last year accused Lt. Patrick "Rick" Hayes of ordering his officers to target blacks at the South County shopping areas. Hayes was fired last May after nine officers said they heard him issuing profiling orders laced with racial slurs. Hayes' appeal to the police board is still pending...

Undoubtedly, the fact that most complaints against police abuse go unpunished contributes directly to the prevalence of such abuse. However, when both the American public and police departments are aware of the problem, why have the deaths of unarmed black citizens like Eric Garner and Michael Brown become a horrifyingly commonplace news story?

Before any analysis of the legal or political system that fosters a man like Rep. Mo Brooks to claim President Obama has waged "a war on whites," a closer look at racial bias must be examined from a human perspective. Research by Harvard University's Jennifer L. Hochschild in The Skin Color Paradox investigates the inherent bias against dark skinned individuals within the U.S. and how this bias manifests itself within the judicial system and society:

Dark-skinned Blacks in the United States have lower socioeconomic status, more punitive relationships with the criminal justice system, diminished prestige, and less likelihood of holding elective office compared with their lighter counterparts.

... Consider criminal justice: among 66,927 male felons incarcerated for their first offense in Georgia from 1995 through 2002, the dark-skinned received longer prison sentences. Whites' sentences averaged 2,689 days, and Blacks' were longer by 378 days. Within the Black group, those with the lightest skin received prison sentences averaging three and a half months longer than did Whites; medium-skinned Blacks received the average for Blacks and a year more than Whites; and the dark-skinned got hit with 3,250 days -a year and a half longer than Whites.

... Dark skin evokes fears of criminality or sharper memories of a purportedly criminal face. Even Black first graders are better able to remember stories in which light-skinned individuals are portrayed positively (or dark-skinned people portrayed negatively) than the reverse.

If Travyon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown were white, Harvard research shows that they might have fared better without the "fears of criminality" and "the criminal face" associated with being black. The startling fact that black first graders recalled stories of light skinned individuals in a more positive light emphasizes the profound issue of racial bias in our country. Also, when Harvard research finds that blacks serve 378 days longer in Georgia's prison system and the variation in skin color actually affected prison sentences, the issue of race is still a real dilemma in American society.

Even with America's first black president in the Oval Office, there exists systemic racial bias in the U.S. and this fact is exemplified by the economic, social, and legal disparities found between white and black citizens. According to The Wall Street Journal, "Prison sentences of black men were nearly 20% longer than those of white men for similar crimes in recent years, an analysis by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found." In terms of capital punishment, David C. Baldus found that people accused of killing white victims were four times as likely to be sentenced to death as those accused of killing black victims. This statistic correlates to a Duke University study finding that, "In cases with no blacks in the jury pool, blacks were convicted 81 percent of the time, and whites were convicted 66 percent of the time... The findings imply that the application of criminal justice is 'highly uneven.'" Also, the Brookings Institution found that "There is nearly a 70 percent chance that an African American man without a high school diploma will be imprisoned by his mid-thirties."

If the Tea Party ever feared a "war on whites," they should realize that blacks are losing this imaginary war. As for what happens to those who kill blacks in the name of self defense, the jury is tilted in one direction. Research in a PBS Frontline report indicates that, "the killings of black people by whites were more likely to be considered justified than the killings of white people by blacks... In non-Stand Your Ground states, whites are 250 percent more likely to be found justified in killing a black person than a white person who kills another white person; in Stand Your Ground states, that number jumps to 354 percent."

Regarding job opportunities, research compiled by Princeton's Devah Pager and summarized in Harvard Magazine states that "a black man without a criminal record had about the same chance of being called after applying for a job as a white man with a criminal record." When a citizen with a criminal record has the same chance of employment as another citizen without a criminal record, race can't be disregarded as an obsolete part of our history, regardless of claims by Tea Party conservatives. In terms of economic standing, data from the Pew Research Center correlates directly to Princeton's Devah Peager's findings and shows that African-Americans in the U.S. suffer from severe inequality in wealth:

The black unemployment rate also has consistently been about double that of whites since the 1950s...

Since the 1960s the difference in black and white incomes grew from about $19,000 in 1967 to roughly $27,000 in 2011...

The median household income2 for whites was $67,175 in 2011, as reported in the Census Bureau's March 2012 Current Population Survey. For blacks, it was $39,760; for Asians, $68,521; and Hispanics $40,007...

Black Americans are nearly three times as likely as white Americans to live in poverty, according to the 2012 March Current Population Survey...

In 2011, the typical white household had a net worth of $91,405, compared with $6,446 for black households, $7,843 for Hispanic households and $91,203 for Asian households...

Of all the disparities, the Pew findings that net worth of $91,405 for white households compared to $6,446 for black households speak volumes, especially since the wealth gap actually grew from 1960 to 2011. Yes, this data matters when analyzing the recent cases of unarmed blacks being killed by police officers, especially when combined with the psychological and judicial biases faced by African-Americans. Furthermore, when people like Paul Ryan make reference to a culture of not working within inner cities, they conveniently fail to mention that blacks have faced double the unemployment rate of whites since 1950.

The sad reality is that if the unarmed black victims in the news today were white and faced the economic, judicial, and social disparities experienced by African-Americans, we'd be hearing calls similar to Sharon Angle's "Second amendment remedies." While conservatives have deemed a health care act they disagree with as tyranny and bemoaned a "war on whites," if the tables were turned and white Americans had double the unemployment rate of black Americans, or were more likely to be incarcerated for the same crime, the Tea Party would undoubtedly have a new definition of the word "tyranny." In reality, it is the tyranny of vast economic, judicial, and social discrepancies still affecting large portions of the African-American community that have fostered a world where unarmed black citizens can be killed with the great likelihood that their deaths will be justified in court.

It's Kitten Season, And These 127 Totally Cool Cats Need Homes

Wed, 2014-08-13 07:47
The 2,845 cats that have wound up at the Austin Animal Center in Texas since May 1 are incredibly lucky. "We have either found fosters, rescue groups or adopted out all of these cats and kittens," AAC representative Kasey Spain says.

But summer isn't usually so good for homeless cats.

Sure, "kitten season," the months in late spring through early fall when cats are giving birth, sounds adorable -- like, really, really adorable -- but it means shelters and rescue groups are flooded with felines. And a lot of them won't make it out alive.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that 41 percent of cats that enter the shelter system are euthanized.

To try to bring that number down, cat adoption specials are being offered all across the country. For example, the Washington Humane Society, in the nation's capital, has lowered feline adoption fees to $5 for Saturday, and PAWS Chicago -- Chi-town's largest no-kill shelter -- is running a summer-long kitten challenge to get lots of its young purr-balls into homes.

"Every 20 minutes, a cat or kitten dies in a city shelter," Spain says. "If you are looking for a new pet, why not save a life at the same time?"

Lucky for you, we've rounded up 127 cats and kittens that need a home.

Pictures and information courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society in Salt Lake City; the Highland County Humane Society, the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria; King Street Cats; SPCA of Northern Virginia; Homeless Animals Rescue Team and Homeward Trails Animal Rescue in Virginia; the Washington Humane Society and the Washington Animal Rescue League, in D.C.; the Kauai Humane Society in Hawaii; Metro Animal Care and Control in Nashville, Tennessee; The Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe, California; Animal Care & Control of NYC; Pets for Seniors and PAWS Chicago in Illinois; PAWS Seattle; The Austin Animal Center, in Austin, Texas; The Baltimore Humane Society and Rude Ranch Animal Rescue, in Maryland.

Know a rescue group doing great work? Have an animal story to share? Get in touch at

An Unforgettable Marathon of Theater

Wed, 2014-08-13 06:39
Like most stage plays, All Our Tragic concludes with a final appearance by its cast. Just seeing all of those actors again -- and thinking back on the multiple roles each of them had played on that stage over the previous 12 hours -- was an unusually stirring experience on Sunday night. This was no ordinary curtain call. It felt more like watching runners crossing the finish line at the end of a marathon.

But it was more than that, more than just cheering for a feat of endurance (for the 23 actors and, to a lesser extent, for those of us in the audience). We had also just witnessed a devastating marathon of human folly. Adapted for the Hypocrites theatrical company by director Sean Graney from the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, this was billed as "32 Surviving Greek Tragedies Performed in One Epic Narrative."

Over the previous half-day inside the Den Theatre, we'd seen these actors playing characters who committed a seemingly endless string of atrocious deeds -- fratricide, matricide, patricide, infanticide, genocide, human sacrifice, incest and betrayal, to name a few -- and suffered mightily from the consequences. Seeing those actors gathered all together on the stage in the final moments of All Our Tragic was like coming across the mass grave left behind by all of this horror.

This had not been an unrelentingly grim affair, however. Far from it. It was often irreverent, as Graney and his cast played up the more absurd moments of these ancient Greek stories for laughs. This is a version of the classic tragedies filled with slangy modern dialogue and pop-culture references. All Our Tragic is not a perfect show -- it's hard to imagine any production this sprawling and ambitious, stretching on for nine hours of performance plus seven intermissions, coming off without a flaw. When All Our Tragic does falter, it's usually when some of the attempts at humor fall flat. But that's just a bit of nitpicking. Far more often, the daft comedy succeeds, which makes all of the tragedy considerably more bearable.

There's a tinge of black humor to the most violent moments --the sawing of a foot, the stomping of a baby, the many squirts and spurts of blood. And yet, the silliness rarely undermines the tragic. If anything, it sneakily pulls us into the performance, building our fondness for these characters (and the actors playing them). As the tragedy accumulates, piling higher and higher, we are reminded anew of human existence's cruelties, but also of its potential for peace, love and understanding -- a potential that is often squandered or thwarted, but a potential nevertheless.

You don't have to sit in the theater for 12 straight hours to experience All Our Tragic. The Hypocrites are selling separate tickets for the four parts of this epic, making it possible to see this cycle of stories spread out over a few days. But seeing it all at once (with breaks for lunch and dinner, plus shorter intermissions) is a remarkable experience. Binge-watch it if you can. Like the best long-form entertainment, it's richer and deeper because of the time we spend with it. And how often will you ever get the chance to see a 12-hour play? Just think of all the logistical challenges the Hypocrites are going through to schedule this show.

According to a press release for the Hypocrites, the idea is to "create a contemporary Festival of Dionysus, the ancient gatherings for which these tragedies were originally crafted -- to bring together a daily community to bond, eat food, drink wine and discuss complicated topics of society that we have been wrestling with since the creation of civilization."

All Our Tragic is an audacious concept and an astounding achievement. It feels destined to become a signature moment in the history of Chicago's theater scene. ("Remember that time when the Hypocrites performed all 32 Greek tragedies in one day? Can you believe that really happened?")

The show's end is the only time when the entire cast -- 17 actors with speaking parts and six others -- is on the stage at the same time. Most of the actors play three or four roles, and it won't be much a plot spoiler to reveal that most of these characters are dead by the time the drama finally draws to an end. When I clapped my hands at the climax, I wasn't just applauding the Hypocrites' actors. I was also saluting all of those ghosts I'd come to know.

All Our Tragic continues through Oct. 5 at the Den Theatre, 1329 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. For details, see

Happy 2nd Birthday, HuffPost Live!

Tue, 2014-08-12 23:40
Childhood development guides tell us that 2-year-olds traditionally begin to exhibit growing independence and openly defiant behavior. Well, HuffPost Live, which turns 2 years old today, has been defiantly independent since it launched.

To celebrate this milestone, we are launching a daily HuffPost Live newsletter that will give you a preview of each day's programming highlights and catch you up on the best moments you might have missed. Sign up here.

If you haven't made HuffPost Live a regular part of your HuffPost experience, don't wait any longer! Each weekday features a vibrant, ever-changing mix of smart, compelling conversations with newsmakers, politicians, celebrities and, just as important, members of the HuffPost community, sharing their personal experiences and discussing the issues that most impact their lives.

But instead of spending the rest of this post cataloguing all the things that make HuffPost Live so special, why don't we show you some of the reasons that it was recently awarded the Webby for Best News and Information Channel for the second year in a row, draws 22 million unique visitors a month and has generated 1.5 billion video views since it launched.

Here's a look at some of the actors, comics, athletes, and singers who've joined us on HuffPost Live:

This video offers a look at a number of the many HuffPost Live moments that ended up making headlines from The New York Times to The Daily Show to Good Morning America -- and everywhere in between:

This video features some of the 22,500 HuffPost community members who have joined us live, on-air -- and demonstrates why HuffPost Live is the most social video experience anywhere:

And, in case you missed it when it blew up last month, here's a very funky mashup of Snoop Dogg, The Roots, Wayne Brady and David Lee Roth rapping about The Huffington Post:

To make sure you don't miss more great HuffPost Live moments like the ones above, be sure to sign up for our new daily newsletter here.

Happy 2nd birthday, HuffPost Live! And thank you for not smearing cake all over your head.

P.S. HuffPost Live President and co-creator Roy Sekoff will be leading a discussion with our hosts about their favorite segments from the past year. You can watch it here live at 5 p.m. EDT or on demand anytime after that.

Coffee for Tea Lovers

Tue, 2014-08-12 22:38

For more food drink and travel videos visit

Coffee of any variety is usually a welcome sign in the morning, but for some tea drinkers the classic beverage is a bit too overpowering.

But it doesn't have to be the case! We went to Nobletree to get some advice on coffees that are light and bright enough to satisfy the average tea drinker. We look at which varietals work best and also discover which brewing method is most suited for getting the most complex flavors out of your coffee. And as a bonus we even learn how to make it iced.

So if you are a wary coffee drinker -- or just someone who wants to get a bit more subtlety in your morning cup of Joe -- make sure to watch the video above.

For more great food, drink and travel videos make sure to check out Potluck Video's website, head over to our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter

Feds Investigating Claim Of Civil Rights Violations In Schools On Chicago's South Side

Tue, 2014-08-12 17:47
The U.S. Department of Education has launched an investigation into alleged discrimination taking place at two public schools located on Chicago's South Side where course offerings have been slashed to the point where physical education is only available as an online class.

Students and parents at the two majority African-American public schools -- Dyett High and Mollison Elementary -- allege Title VI civil rights violations have taken place and that their families have been forced to "endure an education that is separate and unequal," according to a press release from the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, a participant in the community's call for a federal probe of conditions at the schools.

Speaking at a Tuesday press conference, Jeanette Wilson, a senior advisor to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, described the education department's pending probe as "a major first step" toward community activists' goal to stop the closure of the two schools, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

"The fact that they are going to look into it at all says that some of the practices that have been accepted as normal and appropriate are now being questioned," Wilson said, according to the paper.

Community activists have pointed out that students at Dyett have been forced to take their art, gym, music and Spanish classes online, rather than in a traditional classroom setting, and have also not been offered advanced placement or honors classes due to budget cuts.

Students at Mollison have been forced to deal with overcrowding and underfunding due to the closure of other nearby schools in the mass shutdown of 50 schools approved by the Mayor Rahm Emanuel-appointed school board in 2013.

The schools, activists say, were essentially set up by the district to fail.

"The students of Dyett deserve better than this," Dyett student Parrish Brown told HuffPost earlier this year. "We're fighting to keep the school open."

Activists have been pushing back against the planned closure of Dyett in 2015 since the struggling school's phaseout plan was announced in 2012. In May, the community filed a complaint with the education department, and last month, Jackson joined in the push to keep the school open.

“These students deserve equal and adequate protection under the law,” Jackson said last month, according to DNAinfo. “We deserve an equal playing field for our children, too.”

Activists have also said the closure of Dyett will create what they've dubbed a "school desert" in the South Side neighborhood, due to the absence of any other public high schools nearby, MSNBC previously noted.

While Chicago Public Schools officials have said they have met with the community activists and listened to their proposals for keeping Dyett open, there is currently no plan to change course on the closure.

Following the Tuesday press conference, community activists led an "accountability tour" of the offices of U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, a number of state lawmakers and city aldermen in an effort to garner their support for a thorough investigation into the allegations at Dyett and Mollison.

The Department of Education is also currently investigating civil rights complaints at schools in New Orleans and Newark, New Jersey.

Woman Who Helped Plan Robbery That Led To Grisly Double Murder Faces Charges

Tue, 2014-08-12 17:32

By Dawn Reiss

JOLIET, Ill., Aug 12 (Reuters) - An Illinois woman who helped plan a robbery that led to a double murder and who spent the stolen cash on cigarettes should be found guilty of murder, the prosecution said on Tuesday in closing arguments at a trial in the Chicago suburb of Joliet.

Bethany McKee, 20, is on trial for first-degree murder in the killings of Terrance Rankins and Eric Glover, both 22, who were robbed of $120 and strangled in a duplex in Joliet on Jan. 9, 2013.

During the six-day trial, Alisa Massaro, also 20 and a former friend of McKee, told the judge that both women were part of a plan to lure Rankins to a night of drinking and then rob him, but that they weren't in the room when the victims were killed.

Massaro is serving a 10-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to lesser charges of robbery and concealing a homicide.

Joshua Miner, 26, and Adam Landerman, 21, are also charged in the murders but will be tried separately.

The prosecution argued that McKee could be guilty of murder even if she wasn't present for the actual killing.

"She had about 120 seconds to try and stop Joshua Miner's plan but she squandered that opportunity for $20 in cigarettes and a few lines of cocaine," Assistant State's Attorney John Connor said in his closing argument.

Prosecutors said McKee saw Miner strike Rankins, that she was aware of what was happening, that she spent $20 of the stolen money on cigarettes, didn't call the police and later returned and contacted her father to help dispose of the bodies. Her father, Bill McKee, called the police to report the crime.

Defense lawyer Chuck Bretz argued that McKee made "horrible decisions" but was guilty of lesser crimes because there was no proof she intended the robbery to turn into a murder.

Will County Chief Judge Gerald Kinney said he would deliver a verdict by Aug. 29.

The defense did not call any witnesses in the trial, but did show a videotaped statement that Massaro made to police after she was arrested, which contradicted much of what she said on the witness stand in court. (Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Eric Walsh)

15 Things That Will Put A Smile On Your Face If You're Feeling Down

Tue, 2014-08-12 17:04
Can someone invent a quick-make-me-smile button? No? OK, the following are acceptable alternatives.

1. This bunny in a very stylish pancake hat, or is it a beret?

2. This happy hamster who clearly thinks he's hiding.

3. This guy who's here for you whenever you feel like trash.

4. This cat who won the award for "Best Smile."

5. This talented pig riding a surfboard.

6. This balancing baby who is so happy that she might have a future in the circus.

7. This man who is really proud of his giant onion.

8. These pandas who mastered the slide with style.

9. This kernel of corn -- and Winnie The Pooh impersonator -- that is ecstatic to be in this burrito.

10. This snuggly pig.

11. These fluffballs that are literally jumping for joy.

12. This kid who is just so excited that it's your birthday.

13. This dog who really can't believe he's getting a birthday steak.

14. This duck who decided to dance because she got a piece of bread.

15. And this dog who decided to throw all his problems to the wind.

Four Things You Have to Know Before Buying a House

Tue, 2014-08-12 15:13
Owning a home is the traditional cornerstone of the quintessential American dream and many people still see it as the crowning achievement of a stable adulthood. But the actual process of buying a home can feel like anything but stable. There's a lot of information to wade through and even small missteps can feel like big ones in such a high-stakes process. Every housing market is different, so we spoke with Emily Sachs Wong, the owner and broker of Emily Sachs Wong, Inc., within @Properties in Chicago, about the most important things to know when buying a house.

Here are four things you should know before you even think about starting the process of buying a house, according to Sachs Wong:

1. Compromise

"No matter what price you're in, everyone has to compromise somewhere," said Sachs Wong. She explained that it's very rare, if not impossible, to find a home that has everything you're looking for, whether that be the number of bedrooms or bathroom, size of a backyard or location. You can't cross everything off your list, even with unlimited funds, she said.

2. Real estate agent

Sachs Wong said the biggest thing to look for when choosing a real estate agent is whether or not you get along well, because you're "going to be spending a lot of time with them," she said. Plus, you want someone who understands you and what you want in a home. The realtor should be fully immersed in the area you're looking to move to and know what properties are going to be for sale before they hit the market.

"You want someone who knows what they're doing."

3. Red flags

Avoid homes with structural issues at all costs, Sachs Wong advised. A house with "inexpensive construction is my most feared sort of property," she said. "When the bones are not good, it will cost money later." Look for homes that are structurally sound, especially on the exterior of the property. Leaky faucets can be fixed easily, but inefficient insulation can cause lots of problems over the course of several years, costing time and money and causing headaches.

4. Cosmetics

Sachs Wong tells her clients that cosmetic issues always can be fixed. Buyers shouldn't base their decisions on decor, she said. At the same time, buyers should look out for houses that are not very nice cosmetically but are still structurally sound. They may be able to get a better house for a lower price and then make the small changes themselves later.

"It's amazing how much the decorating affects the price of a house," she said.

See three more important tips from Sachs Wong at Reboot Illinois, including advice on how to negotiate home prices and whether the Chicago real estate market is really recovering.

NEXT ARTICLE: What's the housing inventory in your county?
The average Illinois home price is very...average
A quick look at property taxes, home values by county in Illinois
These 25 counties have the highest average home values
Top 50 school district superintendents with the fattest Illinois pensions
Want to let your elected officials know what you think of the state of government in Illinois? Use our Sound Off tool.

Is Oprah's Favorite Celebrity Chef Also the Nicest?

Tue, 2014-08-12 14:04

Art Smith, Celebrity Chef

Take it from me, not smiling after a single chat with celebrity Chef Art Smith is a scientific impossibility. I dare anyone to try and keep a poker face in the presence of the telegenic 54-year-old Top Chef master. The fact that he also happens to be Oprah Winfrey's favorite chef, well, that's just gravy.

A few years ago, a dear friend and Hispanic television culinary superstar, Ingrid Hoffmann, asked me to join her in Miami at the Mandarin Oriental for an al fresco lunch to meet Art Smith and, to be honest, I was a little more than ambivalent about it. As a longtime, somewhat cynical, Manhattan-based editor in chief, the persona I had imagined Smith to be seemed, well, just a tad cloying. Boy, am I ever glad I went. The actual experience of being in Art Smith's presence is so intoxicating and silly-joyful you may as well have inhaled laughing gas at the dentist. Smith, with his hilarious tales from his extraordinary life, is simply the human form of the drug "ecstasy" (what Miley Cyrus musically refers to as "Molly" as she twerks with her tongue sticking out). In simpler terms, Chef Art Smith is flat-out awesome.

A graduate of Florida State University, Smith got his first big break preparing his Southern cuisine magic for former Florida governor and US Senator, Bob Graham. By the time the most powerful woman on the planet (you know who) discovered Smith in Chicago, he was already a James Beard Award-winning chef wowing the Windy City at his signature, can't-miss restaurant, Table Fifty-Two. But when the one and only Oprah locks in on you and declares your food simply amazing, well, let's just say Mr. Smith had overnight success decades in the making.

A fan favorite on numerous television cooking competition shows -- most notably Bravo's twin foodie ratings juggernauts, Top Chef and Top Chef Masters -- Smith is not only ridiculously talented in the kitchen as well as being a dedicated philanthropist, but it's his sense of humor, his perpetual cat-who-ate-the-canary smile, his let-me-tell-you-a-story enthusiasm for life that charms the cynicism right out of you the moment you first lay eyes on him. And that, friends, is something that can't be taught. Not even a little.

I recently caught up with the always-on-the-go Smith for the first time since he married his longtime partner, Jesus Salgueiro, and asked him a few questions I really wanted to know and, as usual, he didn't disappoint. I really think even Miley Cyrus may want to take a well-seasoned bite out of this particular happy celebrity chef. And, truth be told, who could blame her?

Was there a singular moment with Oprah that you thought, "My life is about to change?"

You know, Richard, from a little holiday party when a nice man complimented me on my cassoulet it all changed when not a month later I was catering a party for Senator Bob Graham -- my former boss -- and I got a voicemail telling me to go to Harpo Studios [Oprah Winfrey's company] and make lunch. I was so excited that I can't remember how I got home that night but I ended up making lunch over there for three months without ever meeting Oprah in person. Then one day she called and I was afraid I had been dismissed.

Instead, she asked me if I knew of a chef I could recommend to her and I said, "Yes, Ma'am--me!" At that moment, my life changed forever.

If you could create your own TV show...

I've competed on every food competition show in recent history all thanks to Bravo and [Top Chef producers] Magical Elves. My love for humanity and being such an advocate for necessary change would lead me to do a reality show called Turning America By Chef Art Smith. Believe me, things will get pretty on that show [Laughs].

If you had to eat the same meal every day...

I've dined all over the world, of course, but my mother's chicken and dumplings and Iris Davis' chicken noodle vegetable soup would be my clear choices. Not only do those foods comfort me, more importantly, they get dearer every time I have it.

Where is Art Smith in five years? Ten years?

I recently became a "Culinary Diplomat" with the US State Department America Chefs Corps. We traveled to Israel and Palestine before heading to Iraq and other places in the world that desperately need to see the light of humanity. These beautiful, enchanting historical places draw me in and redefine my role not only as a chef, but, more importantly, as an American. So that's where you'll find me going forward: Cooking good food and spreading humanity.


A Magazine Article Inspired This Couple To Quit The City And Reimagine Their Lives

Tue, 2014-08-12 13:26
Nine years ago, Nicolle Crist and Rich Gallagher decided they'd had enough of city life.

Both were born and raised in Philadelphia and until 2005, neither of them had ever considered leaving. But after returning home one afternoon from a failed attempt to attend a concert downtown, they wondered whether the benefits of city living justified the constant drain on their time, money and energy. These musings prompted the couple to take a trip through Middle America, where they discovered a pace and style of living that suited them far better than the frenetic metropolitan setting. Less than a year later, they left Pennsylvania for a small town in Tennessee and have since found the peace and security missing from their previous life.

The two met at a mutual friend's party in 2003. Nicolle was working as a marketing manager, and Rich was a prototype mechanic for a plastics company. Within a matter of months, they'd moved in together. But while they were able to cover rent and basic necessities, they felt squeezed by the high cost of living and their lack of job security.

"Even with two incomes and no children, we were still living paycheck to paycheck," Nicolle told The Huffington Post. "And even if we were getting good reviews on our job, you could still be laid off at any time."

Life outside of work added to the couple's uneasiness. Their rented loft was in an up-and-coming neighborhood, but the surrounding area was unsafe, and the vaunted perks of living in a city environment always seemed out of reach.

"Unless you're super-successful, you can't live in a safe neighborhood and pay rent and go out and do things," Nicolle said.

Their search for an affordable home wasn't encouraging either, as area prices would have forced them to "mortgage [their] lives away."

Rich in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art with the Benjamin Franklin Parkway behind him, where densely packed crowds gathered for the Live 8 concert in 2005.

In July 2005, a stark example of the city's challenges finally pushed them to explore other options. Nicolle and Rich had planned to attend an outdoor concert in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but when they encountered horrible traffic and "the general hassle of a billion people trying to get to the same place at the same time," as Nicolle put it, they turned around in defeat.

Back at home, Nicolle picked up a magazine to distract herself. As she flipped through the pages, an article on a small Kansas town caught her attention. The article got Nicolle and Rich talking about what life would be like in rural America. A few weeks later, the two embarked on a brief tour of Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

The trip proved transformative, as the two of them were able to experience firsthand a lifestyle dramatically different from the one they knew. Once back in Philadelphia, they began to seriously plan a move.

After several months of researching cities and properties, they settled on Dresden, Tennessee, a town of about 3,000 in the middle of the state. They packed up their belongings and moved almost 1,000 miles to their new home. Their cottage in Dresden was about half the size of their old loft, but it sat on 26 acres where Nicolle and Rich planned to start their own organic farm.

As Rich learned the ins and outs of farming, the couple drastically cut their spending and began working in earnest toward their goal of owning their home. Changing their consumption habits proved much easier in a small-town setting, away from the pressures and opportunities for frivolous spending that are only found in big cities. They passed on purchasing the latest phones and tablets, made do with a 15-year-old car, did less clothes shopping and started cooking at home more often.

"In Philly, you could basically spend money 24 hours a day," Nicolle said. "Now, it's really not as much of a temptation."

Rich picked up farming quickly, and the two are now the proud owners of Hidden Hill Farm, where they grow okra, squash, cucumbers, cabbage, garlic, tomatoes and more. They have a "good customer base," Nicolle said, and run a successful CSA, where customers purchase vegetables in advance through a subscription-style service. Nicolle and Rich married in 2010, and they've succeeded in becoming the full owners of their home.

Nicolle operating the water wheel planter on the couple's farm in Dresden.

Though it was a challenge at first to change their lifestyle, Nicolle says that in hindsight, the adjustments don't seem too drastic. And the payoff has been worth it.

"I feel completely liberated and empowered," she said. "Rich isn't 40 yet and he owns his home. We have a level of security that we never felt in Philadelphia."

After almost nine years, it's clear the Gallaghers have found a place where they belong.

"I like the space, the sounds, the stars ... I can see the curvature of the earth," Nicolle said. "I hear tree frogs and see birds that I never saw before, that I never knew existed. I can spend the rest of my life out here and never learn it all. We like to visit the city now, but I would never live there again unless I absolutely had to."

If you or someone you know is taking steps to live a life that's simpler, saner and more fulfilling, we want to hear about it. To submit a Letting Go nomination, email