‘Obi-Wan’ Star Moses Ingram Speaks Out Over Racist ‘Star Wars’ Backlash: ‘I Question My Purpose’

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Obi-Wan Kenobi and Reva

By Samantha Bergeson, Indie Wire

Just days after “Obi-Wan Kenobi” debuted on Disney+ May 27, star Moses Ingram has already received countless hateful social media messages.

Ingram plays a Jedi hunter Inquisitor named Reva, who actively tracks down Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan. While Lucasfilm and “Obi-Wan Kenobi” director Deborah Chow anticipated fan hate toward a Black female character, Ingram addressed the onslaught of DMs and comments she has received thus far.

“Long story short, there are hundreds of those. Hundreds,” Ingram said in an Instagram video after screenshotting messages that threatened her and called her racial slurs. “And I also see those of you out there who put on a cape for me and that really does mean the world to me because, you know, there’s nothing anybody can do about this. There’s nothing anybody can do to stop this hate. And so I question my purposes even being here in front of you saying that this is happening.”

Ingram continued, “I don’t really know. I don’t really know. But I think the thing that bothers me is that like, sort of this feeling that I’ve had inside of myself. This feeling that no one has told me, but like I just got to shut up and take it. I just got to bury it. And I’m not built like that. So I really just wanted to come on, I think, and say thank you to the people who show up for me in the comments and the places I’m not going to put myself. And to the rest of y’all, y’all weird.”

Ingram’s Instagram Stories included threats saying her days were “numbered” and slamming her for not being the first Black person in “Star Wars” history.

“You suck, loser. You’re a diversity hire and you won’t be loved or remembered for this acting role,” one message read.

Another said, “How the f**k does an alien know eubonics?”

The “Queen’s Gambit” alum also included a soundbite from “The Read” podcast during which she said: “You know what’s really crazy, you would think sci-fi and fantasy would be the most welcoming, the most accepting genres because they are so often storylines that are ridiculous and made up of like, aliens and weird shit, comic book shit, and n***** having special powers and all that.”

The official “Star Wars” Twitter addressed the backlash to Ingram early Tuesday, posting, “We are proud to welcome Moses Ingram to the Star Wars family and excited for Reva’s story to unfold. If anyone intends to make her feel in any way unwelcome, we have only one thing to say: we resist.”

The “Star Wars” page continued, “There are more than 20 million sentient species in the Star Wars galaxy, don’t choose to be a racist.”

Ingram previously acknowledged that Lucasfilm “actually got in front” of the anticipated racism to her casting. “‘This is a thing that, unfortunately, likely will happen. But we are here to help you; you can let us know when it happens,’” Ingram said earlier this month. “Of course, there are always pockets of hate, but I have no problem with the block button.”

John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran formerly received racist fan harassment following their respective roles in the recent Skywalker trilogy, leading to Boyega having a “very honest, a very transparent conversation” with Disney executives to not sideline Black and POC characters in the franchise.

Click here to read the full article on Indie Wire.

Can Virtual Reality Help Autistic Children Navigate the Real World?
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Mr. Ravindran adjusts his son’s VR headset between lessons. “It was one of the first times I’d seen him do pretend play like that,” Mr. Ravindran said of the time when his son used Google Street View through a headset, then went into his playroom and acted out what he had experienced in VR. “It ended up being a light bulb moment.

By Gautham Nagesh, New York Times

This article is part of Upstart, a series on young companies harnessing new science and technology.

Vijay Ravindran has always been fascinated with technology. At Amazon, he oversaw the team that built and started Amazon Prime. Later, he joined the Washington Post as chief digital officer, where he advised Donald E. Graham on the sale of the newspaper to his former boss, Jeff Bezos, in 2013.

By late 2015, Mr. Ravindran was winding down his time at the renamed Graham Holdings Company. But his primary focus was his son, who was then 6 years old and undergoing therapy for autism.

“Then an amazing thing happened,” Mr. Ravindran said.

Mr. Ravindran was noodling around with a virtual reality headset when his son asked to try it out. After spending 30 minutes using the headset in Google Street View, the child went to his playroom and started acting out what he had done in virtual reality.

“It was one of the first times I’d seen him do pretend play like that,” Mr. Ravindran said. “It ended up being a light bulb moment.”

Like many autistic children, Mr. Ravindran’s son struggled with pretend play and other social skills. His son’s ability to translate his virtual reality experience to the real world sparked an idea. A year later, Mr. Ravindran started a company called Floreo, which is developing virtual reality lessons designed to help behavioral therapists, speech therapists, special educators and parents who work with autistic children.

The idea of using virtual reality to help autistic people has been around for some time, but Mr. Ravindran said the widespread availability of commercial virtual reality headsets since 2015 had enabled research and commercial deployment at much larger scale. Floreo has developed almost 200 virtual reality lessons that are designed to help children build social skills and train for real world experiences like crossing the street or choosing where to sit in the school cafeteria.

Last year, as the pandemic exploded demand for telehealth and remote learning services, the company delivered 17,000 lessons to customers in the United States. Experts in autism believe the company’s flexible platform could go global in the near future.

That’s because the demand for behavioral and speech therapy as well as other forms of intervention to address autism is so vast. Getting a diagnosis for autism can take months — crucial time in a child’s development when therapeutic intervention can be vital. And such therapy can be costly and require enormous investments of time and resources by parents.

The Floreo system requires an iPhone (version 7 or later) and a V.R. headset (a low-end model costs as little as $15 to $30), as well as an iPad, which can be used by a parent, teacher or coach in-person or remotely. The cost of the program is roughly $50 per month. (Floreo is currently working to enable insurance reimbursement, and has received Medicaid approval in four states.)

A child dons the headset and navigates the virtual reality lesson, while the coach — who can be a parent, teacher, therapist, counselor or personal aide — monitors and interacts with the child through the iPad.

The lessons cover a wide range of situations, such as visiting the aquarium or going to the grocery store. Many of the lessons involve teaching autistic children, who may struggle to interpret nonverbal cues, to interpret body language.

Autistic self-advocates note that behavioral therapy to treat autism is controversial among those with autism, arguing that it is not a disease to be cured and that therapy is often imposed on autistic children by their non-autistic parents or guardians. Behavioral therapy, they say, can harm or punish children for behaviors such as fidgeting. They argue that rather than conditioning autistic people to act like neurotypical individuals, society should be more welcoming of them and their different manner of experiencing the world.

“A lot of the mismatch between autistic people and society is not the fault of autistic people, but the fault of society,” said Zoe Gross, the director of advocacy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “People should be taught to interact with people who have different kinds of disabilities.”

Mr. Ravindran said Floreo respected all voices in the autistic community, where needs are diverse. He noted that while Floreo was used by many behavioral health providers, it had been deployed in a variety of contexts, including at schools and in the home.

“The Floreo system is designed to be positive and fun, while creating positive reinforcement to help build skills that help acclimate to the real world,” Mr. Ravindran said.

In 2017, Floreo secured a $2 million fast track grant from the National Institutes of Health. The company is first testing whether autistic children will tolerate headsets, then conducting a randomized control trial to test the method’s usefulness in helping autistic people interact with the police.

Early results have been promising: According to a study published in the Autism Research journal (Mr. Ravindran was one of the authors), 98 percent of the children completed their lessons, quelling concerns about autistic children with sensory sensitivities being resistant to the headsets.

Ms. Gross said she saw potential in virtual reality lessons that helped people rehearse unfamiliar situations, such as Floreo’s lesson on crossing the street. “There are parts of Floreo to get really excited about: the airport walk through, or trick or treating — a social story for something that doesn’t happen as frequently in someone’s life,” she said, adding that she would like to see a lesson for medical procedures.

However, she questioned a general emphasis by the behavioral therapy industry on using emerging technologies to teach autistic people social skills.

A second randomized control trial using telehealth, conducted by Floreo using another N.I.H. grant, is underway, in hopes of showing that Floreo’s approach is as effective as in-person coaching.

But it was those early successes that convinced Mr. Ravindran to commit fully to the project.

“There were just a lot of really excited people.,” he said. “When I started showing families what we had developed, people would just give me a big hug. They would start crying that there was someone working on such a high-tech solution for their kids.”

Clinicians who have used the Floreo system say the virtual reality environment makes it easier for children to focus on the skill being taught in the lessons, unlike in the real world where they might be overwhelmed by sensory stimuli.

Celebrate the Children, a nonprofit private school in Denville, N.J., for children with autism and related challenges, hosted one of the early pilots for Floreo; Monica Osgood, the school’s co-founder and executive director, said the school had continued to use the system.

Click here to read the full article on New York Times.

New ‘smart’ apartments give people with disabilities ability to live independently
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typical Lakewood apartment

By Homa Bash, News 5 Cleveland

On the outside, it looks like your typical Lakewood apartment.

Fourteen units close to shopping and restaurants, right in the heart of the city.

But on the inside, four apartments have been in the works for nearly two years.

They’re called TryTech – short for “try technology.”

A partnership between the nonprofit North Coast Community Homes and the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities.

Kelly Petty is the CEO at CCBDD.

“We might see people with cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome, a whole variety of disabilities that qualify for our services,” she explained.

And TryTech is the first of its kind in the country.

Smart apartments tricked out with the latest in technology to make independent living for those with developmental disabilities attainable.

Voice activated tech, smart fridges and doorbells, an iPad with access to a virtual support person at the touch of a button, just to name a few things.

Being in an integrated building sets it apart even more.

“People who come to live in the TryTech apartments will be living in the same building as people without disabilities and that is unique and very exciting,” Petty said.

Chris West is the CEO of North Coast Community Homes, which has helped build and design hundreds of homes for those with disabilities in Northeast Ohio. Their partnership with CCBDD stretches nearly four decades.

“This really allows them to be in a community that’s inclusive,” West said.

The apartments will be available to four individuals at a time, on a trial basis —they can test it out for a weekend or even up to a few weeks.

From there, they can decide which parts of the technology are most helpful, so that can be integrated in a more permanent home for them.

Grace Gorton was one of the first to test it out.

“It feels very empowering as a deaf person and deaf single woman,” Gorton said, adding that she’s proud of herself for getting out of her comfort zone. “I want to work on my self confidence and my ability to live on my own.”

“It really allow them to show everybody they can live on their own. We know that they can,” West said.

And this project lets them prove it — to themselves, to their families, and to their support systems.

Click here to read the full article on News 5 Cleveland.

How Latinas can navigate the tech industry
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woman in tech industry checking password on computer

By Eliot Olaya, Al Dia

Prospanica’s Philadelphia chapter held a panel about Latinas in tech, hosting three Latina women who have had years of experience within the industry.

The webinar hosted Edith Perez, the Senior Technical Product Manager at Comcast; Sól Vázquez, CISA and Senior IT Audit Manager at CVS Health; Shannon Morales, CEO and founder of Tribaja, a diversity focused tech recruitment agency; and was moderated by Carrie Ann Zayas Quintana, Enterprise Innovation, Manager of External Partnerships at PNC. Prospanica, an organization that hosts annual career and professional development seminars and aids Hispanics in networking, hosted the four of them to discuss their experiences, careers, and insights they could offer Latina’s entering the tech industry.

For some of these women, they didn’t start their careers in technology. For Vázquez, she began college pursuing a degree in accounting. But when she took an auditing course, she realized it suited her much better and changed her major. In a similar vein, Morales completed her degree in Finance before she moved into the tech sector.

For Morales, a background in Finance was not a barrier to overcome as she entered the tech industry. As she sought to boost other Hispanics’ networking opportunities, she sought to found her own company. With experience in business and financial matters, she was able to use her skills to create her company, Tribaja.

Click here to read the article on Al Dia.

Getting Girls Into STEM by Improving Education for Everyone
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Young girl in library reading textbook with the tree of knowledge growing out of the textbook with the caption

ByAsia A. Eaton, Psychology Today

Although women make up about half of the U.S. workforce, they have long been underrepresented in many STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Given that boys and girls perform similarly in STEM, this means a lot of STEM talent is being left untapped. Until we are successful at including diverse women and girls in STEM, we will be unable to address STEM labor shortages or stay globally competitive in research and development.

Our failure to include all available STEM talent in our workforce is even more dire for women of color. For example, Hispanic women represent 7 percent of the total U.S. workforce, but just 2 percent of STEM workers.

Various efforts have attempted to address these gender gaps in the last few decades, including the creation of STEM toys targeted at girls, large-scale research efforts, government funding, and afterschool programming. Despite this, the gaps haven’t narrowed as quickly as needed. In a 2022 review in the journal Social Issues and Policy Review, Drs. Sophie Kuchynka, Luis Rivera, and I explore (1) why these gaps persist and (2) ways to bridge them in K-12 education through policy and practice.

Why Do Gender Gaps in STEM Persist?
Features of the systems we live in and of our own social and psychological functioning serve to keep gender gaps in STEM alive.

1. Macrosystem influences.

Macrosystems, like our educational, economic, and justice systems, uphold gender stereotypes about the superiority of boys and men in STEM. STEM textbooks, for example, disproportionately portray male role models in STEM, sending the message that STEM is for boys. Further, system-justifying myths perpetuated in the media, such as the protestant work ethic and the myth of meritocracy, lead people to believe that the representation of men vs. women in STEM is just, and a result of differences in interest, aptitude, or hard work.

2. Microsystem influences.

The macrosystems we live in influence the smaller social systems closer to us (microsystems), like our families, schools, and peer groups. They also affect our individual psychology—how we see, interpret, and act on our social worlds.

Being raised in a world where STEM is associated with boys and men may implicitly lead parents to use less scientific language with daughters compared to sons, for example. It can also affect the amount of air time boys vs. girls get to work out their ideas in STEM classrooms. Eventually, these messages can be internalized by girls, negatively affecting their STEM self-image, interest, and participation.

How to Improve STEM Education for Everyone
Based on our review of macrosystem and microsystem factors that sustain gender-STEM inequities, we make several recommendations for K-12 STEM policy and practice to optimize success for all children.

In terms of practice, we recommend:

  • Classrooms be designed to promote relational and collaborative learning. Teachers should emphasize gender-inclusive classroom norms that promote positive working relations between girls and boys.
  • Classes should teach the history of gender inequality and bias so teachers and students can actively work to create equitable and inclusive STEM environments.
  • Teachers should encourage cooperation between children, and vary the roles students are assigned so they do not automatically adopt traditional gender roles in the classroom.
  • Teachers should promote active learning and growth mindset strategies. Cross-discipline evidence indicates that active learning, rooted in constructivist theories, is more beneficial in STEM education.
  • STEM should be reframed as helping students achieve communal goals through scientific collaboration. Emphasizing socially-meaningful aspects of STEM can help stimulate STEM interest in girls, because they tend to place more value on communal than dominance goals.
  • Classes can utilize near-peer mentorship programs, which pair students with similar mentors slightly more advanced than them. These near-peer mentors can be especially important for marginalized students who often feel isolated or excluded in STEM.
  • Schools should expand STEM evaluation metrics beyond traditional and standardized tests to include the assessment of skills like motivation, empathy, problem-solving, and adaptability, which are closely tied to positive educational outcomes.

Click here to read the full article on Psychology Today.

The latest video game controller isn’t plastic. It’s your face.
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Dunn playing “Minecraft” using voice commands on the Enabled Play controller, face expression controls via a phone and virtual buttons on Xbox's adaptive controller. (Courtesy of Enabled Play Game Controller)

By Amanda Florian, The Washington Post

Over decades, input devices in the video game industry have evolved from simple joysticks to sophisticated controllers that emit haptic feedback. But with Enabled Play, a new piece of assistive tech created by self-taught developer Alex Dunn, users are embracing a different kind of input: facial expressions.

While companies like Microsoft have sought to expand accessibility through adaptive controllers and accessories, Dunn’s new device takes those efforts even further, translating users’ head movements, facial expressions, real-time speech and other nontraditional input methods into mouse clicks, key strokes and thumbstick movements. The device has users raising eyebrows — quite literally.

“Enabled Play is a device that learns to work with you — not a device you have to learn to work with,” Dunn, who lives in Boston, said via Zoom.

Dunn, 26, created Enabled Play so that everyone — including his younger brother with a disability — can interface with technology in a natural and intuitive way. At the beginning of the pandemic, the only thing he and his New Hampshire-based brother could do together, while approximately 70 miles apart, was game.

“And that’s when I started to see firsthand some of the challenges that he had and the limitations that games had for people with really any type of disability,” he added.

At 17, Dunn dropped out of Worcester Polytechnic Institute to become a full-time software engineer. He began researching and developing Enabled Play two and a half years ago, which initially proved challenging, as most speech-recognition programs lagged in response time.

“I built some prototypes with voice commands, and then I started talking to people who were deaf and had a range of disabilities, and I found that voice commands didn’t cut it,” Dunn said.

That’s when he started thinking outside the box.

Having already built Suave Keys, a voice-powered program for gamers with disabilities, Dunn created Snap Keys — an extension that turns a user’s Snapchat lens into a controller when playing games like Call of Duty, “Fall Guys,” and “Dark Souls.” In 2020, he won two awards for his work at Snap Inc.’s Snap Kit Developer Challenge, a competition among third-party app creators to innovate Snapchat’s developer tool kit.

With Enabled Play, Dunn takes accessibility to the next level. With a wider variety of inputs, users can connect the assistive device — equipped with a robust CPU and 8 GB of RAM — to a computer, game console or other device to play games in whatever way works best for them.

Dunn also spent time making sure Enabled Play was accessible to people who are deaf, as well as people who want to use nonverbal audio input, like “ooh” or “aah,” to perform an action. Enabled Play’s vowel sound detection model is based on “The Vocal Joystick,” which engineers and linguistics experts at the University of Washington developed in 2006.

“Essentially, it looks to predict the word you are going to say based on what is in the profile, rather than trying to assume it could be any word in the dictionary,” Dunn said. “This helps cut through machine learning bias by learning more about how the individual speaks and applies it to their desired commands.”

Dunn’s AI-enabled controller takes into account a person’s natural tendencies. If a gamer wants to set up a jump command every time they open their mouth, Enabled Play would identify that person’s individual resting mouth position and set that as the baseline.

In January, Enabled Play officially launched in six countries — its user base extending from the U.S. to the U.K., Ghana and Austria. For Dunn, one of his primary goals was to fill a gap in accessibility and pricing compared to other assistive gaming devices.

“There are things like the Xbox Adaptive Controller. There are things like the HORI Flex [for Nintendo Switch]. There are things like Tobii, which does eye-tracking and stuff like that. But it still seemed like it wasn’t enough,” he said.

Compared to some devices that are only compatible with one gaming system or computer at a time, Dunn’s AI-enabled controller — priced at $249.99 — supports a combination of inputs and outputs. Speech therapists say that compared to augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices, which are medically essential for some with disabilities, Dunn’s device offers simplicity.

“This is just the start,” said Julia Franklin, a speech language pathologist at Community School of Davidson in Davidson, N.C. Franklin introduced students to Enabled Play this summer and feels it’s a better alternative to other AAC devices on the market that are often “expensive, bulky and limited” in usability. Many sophisticated AAC systems can range from $6,000 to $11,500 for high-tech devices, with low-end eye-trackers running in the thousands. A person may also download AAC apps on their mobile devices, which range from $49.99 to $299.99 for the app alone.

“For many people who have physical and cognitive differences, they often exhaust themselves to learn a complex AAC system that has limits,” she said. “The Enabled Play device allows individuals to leverage their strengths and movements that are already present.”

Internet users have applauded Dunn for his work, noting that asking for accessibility should not equate to asking for an “easy mode” — a misconception often cited by critics of making games more accessible.

“This is how you make gaming accessible,” one Reddit user wrote about Enabled Play. “Not by dumbing it down, but by creating mechanical solutions that allow users to have the same experience and accomplish the same feats as [people without disabilities].” Another user who said they regularly worked with young patients with cerebral palsy speculated that Enabled Play “would quite literally change their lives.”

Click here to read the full article on The Washington Post.

Your favourite Instagram face might not be a human. How AI is taking over influencer roles
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South Korean influencer Rozy has over 130,000 followers on Instagram.

By Mint

South Korean influencer Rozy has over 130,000 followers on Instagram. She posts photos of globetrotting adventures, she sings, dances and models. The interesting fact is, unlike most popular faces on the medium, Rozy is not a real human. However, this digitally rendered being looks so real that it’s often mistaken for flesh and blood.

How Rozy was designed?
Seoul-based company that created Rozy describes her as a blended personality – part human, part AI, and part robot. She is “able to do everything that humans cannot … in the most human-like form,” Sidus Studio X says on its website.

Sidus Studio X explains sometimes they create an image of Rozy from head to toe while other times it is just a superimposed photo where they put her head onto the body of a human model.

Rozy was launched in 2020 and since then, she pegged several brand deals and sponsorships, and participated in several virtual fashion shows and also released two singles.

And a CNN report claims, that Rozy is not alone, there are several others like her. Facebook and Instagram together have more than 200 virtual influencers on their platforms

The CGI (computer-generated imagery) technology behind Rozy isn’t new. It is ubiquitous in today’s entertainment industry, where artists use it to craft realistic nonhuman characters in movies, computer games and music videos. But it has only recently been used to make influencers, the report reads.

South Korean retail brand Lotte Home Shopping created its virtual influencer — Lucy, who now has 78,000 Instagram followers.

Lee Bo-hyun, Lotte representative, said that Lucy’s image is more than a pretty face. She studied industrial design, and works in car design. She posts about her job and interests, such as her love for animals and kimbap — rice rolls wrapped in seaweed.

There is a risk attached
However, there is always a risk attached to it. Facebook and Instagram’s parent company Meta has acknowledged the risks.

In a blog post, it said, “Like any disruptive technology, synthetic media has the potential for both good and harm. Issues of representation, cultural appropriation and expressive liberty are already a growing concern,” the company said in a blog post.

“To help brands navigate the ethical quandaries of this emerging medium and avoid potential hazards, (Meta) is working with partners to develop an ethical framework to guide the use of (virtual influencers).”

However, even though the elder generation is quite skeptical, the younger lot is comfortable communicating with virtual influencers.

Lee Na-kyoung, a 23-year-old living in Incheon, began following Rozy about two years ago thinking she was a real person. Rozy followed her back, sometimes commenting on her posts, and a virtual friendship blossomed — one that has endured even after Lee found out the truth, CNN report said.

“We communicated like friends and I felt comfortable with her — so I don’t think of her as an AI but a real friend,” Lee said.

Click here to read the full article on Mint.

Lack of women in hi-tech is a ‘vicious issue’ that must be solved – Female execs.
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diverse students looking at computer screen in a college classroom environment with female execs

By Zachy Hennessey, The Jerusalem Post

“Let’s start by establishing that hi-tech is really the best place for women,” began Dorit Dor, Chief Product Officer for Check Point, during a panel at Tuesday night’s first inaugural Women’s Entrepreneurship Summit from The Jerusalem Post and WE (Women’s Entrepreneurship). During the event, executives from throughout the hi-tech industry gathered to share their knowledge and experience with female entrepreneurs across the country.

Dor elaborated on the juxtaposition between the many good opportunities for women in hi-tech and the relative lack of their presence in the sector. “As well as learning technology, it’s the best opportunity for getting paid,” she said. “It’s the best opportunity for life balance because you could work from home in all the hi-tech industry, it’s the best for every reason you could think of to work in high tech – and still very few select this.”

“We have an issue,” she continued, and explained why she believes the current branding of hi-tech is repulsive for diverse groups of workers. “For example, in cyber, you wear a hoodie and drink a lot of coke, or the men doing it in high school are not socially acceptable,” she said. These impressions make women fearful that they wouldn’t be socially accepted if they were in the industry, Dor suggested.

Besides problematic branding, the hi-tech industry offers several other hurdles for women, explained Dor, including the requirement to “opt in” in order to achieve success and the need to loudly self-advocate for themselves. “Usually, women don’t do this very well,” she said.

In an effort to correct these issues, Check Point runs initiatives helping young kids choose hi-tech and mentoring women to speak up for themselves and pursue promotion. “In the end, if you had a whole list of [mid-level employees] that are women, maybe that would help as well,” she said.

“Cyber security is obviously one of the biggest trends in the Israeli eco-system, as attackers become more sophisticated, so will our solutions be more effective and comprehensive,” said Badian.

“Half of all engineers in Microsoft Israel R&D are focused on cyber security products and bring innovation to that field, so we can be prepared for the threats of the future,” she added.

“Another big trend we see on the rise is climate tech, I’m confident we will see the Israeli entrepreneurial spirit tackle this important issue and we hope to see more and more technological solutions for what might be one of the biggest challenges facing us all,” she concluded.

Investment in women isn’t doing well
Yifat Oron is the senior managing director at Blackstone, a hi-tech investment firm with $941 billion in assets under management. She elaborated on the current shortage of investment in female entrepreneurs, which isn’t doing gangbusters, to say the least.

“$330b. invested in tech by VCs last year – what’s the percentage invested in women entrepreneurs? Two percent,” Oron remarked. “A little less bad is the amount of money invested in companies that have women in the founding team: 16%. It’s still very bad.”

By means of explanation, Oron indicated that the lack of investment in women stems from a lack of female investors.

“The statistics are not glamorous at all. It’s [something like] 15% of general partners [GPs] are women,” she said, while acknowledging that even as little as 10 years ago, these numbers wouldn’t be as “high” – in this sense, some progress has been made. Regardless, she pointed out, “If we’re not going to have GPs that are women, we’re not going to have entrepreneurs that are women.”

To help female entrepreneurship along, Oron explained that “Blackstone – as did most older investment firms – had to do some work to elevate the number of women investors, because this is a very much a men-led business.”

As such, Blackstone has made an effort to train and hire women, launch mentorship programs and invest in hi-tech awareness in high schools. These efforts have been fairly effective.

“Half of our incoming class this year of new employees are women; hopefully most of them are going to stay throughout their careers with us,” Oron said. Last year, Blackstone invested $10b. in women-led companies.

These successes are not just happenstance, however.

“It’s not happening just because it’s happening,” noted Oron. “We’re doing a lot of work, and everybody here who is employing people needs to take charge and make sure they spend a lot of energy on that as well.”

She concluded with a note regarding the importance of female representation in the business hierarchy. “If you want to be able to do the right thing, you have to have a well-balanced leadership,” she said.

“Not necessarily just CEOs; you have to have a lot of women represented well across every single layer of the organization. Research has shown that heterogeneous leadership and boards perform better than homogeneous ones. It’s pretty simple.”

Click here to read the full article on The Jerusalem Post.

Six Flags Is Making Its Parks More Accessible for Visitors with Special Needs
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Six Flags

By Antonia DeBianchi, People

Six Flags has announced its expanding accessibility for park-goers with special needs.

On Thursday, the theme park company shared some new initiatives that are intended to make the amusement parks more inclusive. One of the new safety programs includes a special “restraint harness” for all Six Flags thrill rides for guests with some physical disabilities, per a release.

Six Flags, which has over 20 theme parks around the U.S., Canada and Mexico, notes that 98% of rides have an “individually designed harness.” The new innovation has multiple sizes to accommodate park-goers with “physical disabilities such as a missing limb or appendages starting at 54″ tall.”

“Six Flags is proud to be the industry leader on these innovative programs that allows our guests to enjoy the more thrilling rides that our parks have to offer,” Selim Bassoul, Six Flags President and CEO, said in a statement.

Along with the new harness, the amusement park company announced that all properties are now accredited as Certified Autism Centers in partnership with the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES). Park leadership will be trained in helping provide various support elements for guests with autism.

Included in this initiative are special guides to help visitors plan the day, highlighting sensory impacts of each attraction and ride.

Six Flags joins other major theme parks that are already Certified Autism Centers, including SeaWorld Orlando, Sesame Place San Diego and Legoland Florida Resort.

“This offering, coupled with the IBCCES certification at our parks, shows our unwavering commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Our company is truly dedicated to this initiative and making sure that encompasses our guests with abilities and disabilities,” Bassoul added.

Some more features that the parks will offer as Certified Autism Centers are “low sensory areas” to allow visitors who have sensory sensitivities to take a break in a calm environment. Trained team members will also be on hand to assist park-goers, according to the release.

Click here to read the full article on People.

Terrence Howard Claims He Invented ‘New Hydrogen Technology’ To Defend Uganda
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Terrence Howard on the red carpet for

By BET

Former Empire actor and red carpet scientist Terrence Howard is currently visiting Uganda as part of a government effort to draw investors from the African diaspora to the nation. He is claiming he has what it needs to change the world.

According to Vice, Howard made a lofty presentation on Wednesday, July 13, addressing officials and claiming to have developed a “new hydrogen technology.”

Famously, Howard argued in Rolling Stone that one times one equals two, and now he says his new system, The Lynchpin, would be able to clean the ocean and defend Uganda from exploitation via cutting-edge drone technology. The proprietary technology he announced in a 2021 press release is said to hold 86 patents.

“I was able to identify the grand unified field equation they’ve been looking for and put it into geometry,” he shared in front of an audience of Ugandan dignitaries. “We’re talking about unlimited bonding, unlimited predictable structures, supersymmetry.”

“The Lynchpins are now able to behave as a swarm, as a colony, that can defend a nation, that can harvest food, that can remove plastics from the ocean, that can give the children of Uganda and the people of Uganda an opportunity to spread this and sell these products throughout the world,” he added.

Howard, who briefly quit acting in 2019 only to come out of retirement in 2020, has seemingly made rewriting history a personal side hustle. According to Vice, he made nebulous claims that rapidly went viral on social media, saying, “I’ve made some discoveries in my own personal life with the science that, y’know, Pythagoras was searching for. I was able to open up the flower of life properly and find the real wave conjugations we’ve been looking for 10,000 years.”

While his latest claims have yet to be clarified, Howard was invited to speak by Frank Tumwebaze, the minister of agriculture, animal industries, and fishery.

Click here to read the full article on BET.

Wells Fargo Foundation Aims to Grow Diverse Housing Developers with $40 Million Donation
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Real estate developers Dr. Gina Merritt and Julissa Carielo join the Wells Fargo Foundation Growing Diverse Housing Developers program. (Photo: Wells Fargo)

By Businesswire

The roughly $175 billion U.S. housing development market is known for high barriers to entry — and today, real estate developers of color make up less than five percent of the industry. To help address this gap, the Wells Fargo Foundation announced Growing Diverse Housing Developers, a $40 million grant initiative focused on expanding the growth and success of real estate developers of color, including Black- and Latino-owned firms.

Launched in collaboration with Capital Impact Partners, Low Income Investment Fund, or LIIF, Raza Development Fund, or RDF, and Reinvestment Fund, Growing Diverse Housing Developers aims to increase the supply of homes that are affordable across the country. Working together, these four Community Development Financial Institutions, or CDFIs, have selected 39 developers of color to take part in the four-year program. Participants will have access to lower-cost, flexible capital, as well as the training, mentors and resources needed to accelerate the production of multifamily and mixed-use housing development projects.

“We want to increase racial equity in real estate development, ultimately creating a more inclusive housing ecosystem,” said Bill Daley, vice chairman of Public Affairs at Wells Fargo. “One stark reality is that people of color are significantly underfunded and underrepresented in the real estate industry. Through Growing Diverse Housing Developers, we can help strengthen diverse housing developers, enabling them to grow their businesses, and at the same time, offer communities more affordable options for renters and homeowners.”

“This program confronts the systemic barriers that have kept developers of color behind many of their peers — barriers that have also limited the ability for communities of color to thrive,” said Ellis Carr, president and CEO of Capital Impact Partners and CDC Small Business Finance. “We are proud to work with Wells Fargo, LIIF, Reinvestment Fund, and RDF to help both the people who will develop projects in communities across the United States and the community members who will further benefit from many of those same projects.”

“With this program, we can amplify Latino-led housing developers who too often do not have the support they need to succeed. And in doing so, we can increase the amount of quality housing developments across the U.S,” said Tommy Espinoza, CEO of Raza Development Fund, the nation’s largest Latino-serving CDFI. “Homeownership is key for communities of color because it creates stability for the family and is the quickest way to own an asset. We’re proud to work with Wells Fargo to create better opportunities for our communities.”

2022 program participants selected by coalition of mission-driven CDFIs

Through a $30 million grant from Wells Fargo, Capital Impact Partners joined forces with LIIF and Reinvestment Fund to create a national learning cohort of 27 housing developers (PDF), both nonprofit and for-profit, who are based out of California, Georgia, Texas, and the Baltimore, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., metropolitan regions. The developers will have access to capital and resources to advance their development pipelines and grow their business, including capacity-building grants funded by Wells Fargo, and more than $100 million in additional funding the CDFIs have committed toward innovative loan products.

“We don’t just build houses – we build communities where people want to live and can attain the best futures possible,” said Dr. Gina Merritt, principal of Northern Real Estate Urban Ventures, LLC based in Washington D.C., and founder of Project Community Capital. Merritt is taking part in the Growing Diverse Housing Developers program and specializes in projects that provide residents with access to employment and health services, childcare, community spaces, and other support services. “We use social capital to identify, qualify, and train residents from underestimated communities with RTA – reliability, trustworthiness, and ambition. Everyone deserves a decent, safe place to live and access to economic opportunity.”

J. Tommy Espinoza Growing Diverse Housing Developers Fellowship

With a $10 million grant from Wells Fargo, RDF launched the J. Tommy Espinoza Growing Diverse Housing Developers Fellowship, a four-year professional development program for Latino and Black-led real estate firms. The fellowship is comprised of 12 developers, including UnidosUS affiliates and other non-profits, who are already building and preserving multifamily rental housing and for-sale development projects across the country. The fellows will receive access to capital and mentoring, and will convene at least quarterly for learning sessions provided by RDF and the Council of Development Finance Agencies.

Julissa Carielo, construction entrepreneur and J. Tommy Espinoza GDHD fellow, co-founded DreamOn Development Company in San Antonio to “build things that matter,” including mixed-use housing projects that also bring jobs, businesses, and services to underutilized areas. As one of the few Latina business owners in her field, Carielo says the RDF fellowship program “will provide invaluable funding for development projects, and connections to developers from all over the country that have a vested interest in creating more housing and transforming communities.”

About Capital Impact Partners

Through capital and commitment, Capital Impact Partners helps people build communities of opportunity that break barriers to success. We work to champion key issues of equity and social and economic justice by deploying mission-driven financing, capacity-building programs, and impact investing opportunities. A nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution, Capital Impact has disbursed more than $2.5 billion since 1982. In 2020, Capital Impact launched a new enterprise with CDC Small Business Finance under one leadership team and national strategy to reinvent traditional and mainstream financial systems. Our goal is to ensure these systems equitably serve communities of color to drive community-led solutions that support economic mobility and wealth creation. Our leadership in delivering financial and social impact has resulted in Capital Impact being rated by S&P Global and recognized by Aeris for our performance. Headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, Capital Impact Partners operates nationally, with local offices in Austin, Texas, Detroit, Michigan, New York, and Oakland, California.

About Raza Development Fund

Founded in 1999 as a support corporation of UnidosUS, formerly known as National Council of La Raza (NCLR), RDF provides access to capital and financing solutions to non-profits, UnidosUS affiliates, and other Latino serving organizations across the country with the mission of breaking the cycle of poverty in low-income communities. Since its inception, RDF has provided organizations serving Latino and poor families in 38 states with technical assistance and financings in excess of $1 billion, which have leveraged over $5 billion in private and public capital for education, childcare, affordable housing, social services projects and, most recently, small businesses. Headquartered in Phoenix, AZ, RDF lends nationwide and has offices in Seattle, New York City, Texas, and Florida.

Click here to read the full article on Businesswire.

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Upcoming Events

  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  3. National College Resources Foundation Upcoming Events–Mark Your Calendar!
    September 24, 2022 - April 1, 2023
  4. Anaheim & CA STEAM Symposium? Yes, Come Present In Person!
    October 1, 2022 - October 2, 2022
  5. HACU 36th Annual Conference
    October 6, 2022 - October 8, 2022
  6. ROMBA Conference
    October 6, 2022 - October 8, 2022

Upcoming Events

  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  3. National College Resources Foundation Upcoming Events–Mark Your Calendar!
    September 24, 2022 - April 1, 2023
  4. Anaheim & CA STEAM Symposium? Yes, Come Present In Person!
    October 1, 2022 - October 2, 2022
  5. HACU 36th Annual Conference
    October 6, 2022 - October 8, 2022
  6. ROMBA Conference
    October 6, 2022 - October 8, 2022