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Standing On The Right Side Of History: 16 Year Old Jack Andraka Is ‘The Edison Of Our Times’

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I first learned of Jack Andraka from the above photo posted on my Facebook page. It was captioned:

“This is Jack Andraka, he is 15 years old and openly gay. He’ll be sitting with Michelle Obama tonight at the State of the Union. Jack has invented an inexpensive way for early detection of pancreatic cancer.”

Pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of 5.5 percent, and 40,000 people die of it each year. The diagnosis is often delivered after the cancer has spread. “By the time you bring this to a physician, it’s too late,” Dr. Anirban Maitra, Professor of Pathology, Oncology and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine explained.  “The first point of entry would have to be a cheap blood test done with a simple prick…”

Jack used ordinary inexpensive filter paper for his test strips. He bought a $50 ohmmeter at Home Depot. He and his dad built a Plexiglas testing apparatus to hold the strips while the current is read. He used a pair of his mom’s sewing needles for electrodes.

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He mailed his proposal to almost 200 researchers. Only Dr. Maitra responded. “It was a very unusual e-mail. I often don’t get e-mails like this from postdoctoral fellows, let alone high-school freshmen,” he told Abigail Tucker who wrote about the experience for Smithsonian when Jack won the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award:

He decided to invite Andraka to his lab. To oversee the project, he appointed a gentle postdoctoral chemist, who took the baby-sitting assignment in stride. They expected to see Andraka for perhaps a few weeks over the summer. Instead, the young scientist worked for seven months, every day after school and often on Saturdays until after midnight, subsisting on hard-boiled eggs and Twix as his mother dozed in the car in a nearby parking garage. He labored through Thanksgiving and Christmas. He spent his 15th birthday in the lab.

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Jack’s TED Talk at TED 2013 – The Young. The Wise. The Undiscovered.
February 25 – March 1, 2013

No articles I could find mentioned that Jack was “openly gay.” Needing confirmation I emailed, tweeted and messaged him – no response; he was in London with his mom, the youngest speaker ever to address The Royal Society of Medicine.

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I gave it one more shot and emailed, “I’d like to do a story about you. Are you gay? Are you out?”

This time the response was immediate:

“That sounds awesome! I’m openly gay and one of my biggest hopes is that I can help inspire other LGBT youth to get involved in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.] I didn’t have many [gay] role models [in science] besides Alan Turing.”

skitched-20130323-143732Moments after it was announced that Jack Andraka, then 15,
won the Gordon E. Moore Award, May, 2012
“There are millions more of me out there…”  — Jack Andraka

Jack’s Wikipedia entry is remarkable even if you do not compute that having been born in 1997 means he is now only 16.

Jack Thomas Andraka (born in 1997) is an inventor, scientist and cancer researcher. He is the 2012 Intel Science Fair grand prize winner. Andraka was awarded the Gordon E. Moore Award for his work in developing a new method to detect pancreatic cancer.  The Gordon E. Moore Award, named in honor of the co-founder of Intel, is for $75,000. He also won other prizes in smaller individual categories for a total award of $100,500.

Jack told me that he realized he was gay when he was 11 or 12-years old — in sixth grade. But afraid “no one’s going to like me if they know,” he didn’t come out until two years later. In September when he was in eighth grade, Jack sent a text to his best friend. At his request, she contacted other friends. And unbeknown to Jack, his friends told their parents. And one of the parents called his mother.

“We have ‘minimal rules’, but nothing that stifles creativity,” Jack’s father, Steve, told Forbes:

“Basically, you can sum it up simply: treat people with respect, do your homework, be honest and try to be safe.  Having too many rules burdens down the entire family and limits thinking.” He added, ”Teach your kids that most problems in this world are really opportunities in disguise, and innovation comes from discontent.”

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And last May, after Jack — then a 15-year old freshman at North County High School — won the Grand Prize at the Intel Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF,) his mother, Jane, told Joe Burris of the Baltimore Sun:

“For some reason, we’re not a super-athletic family. We don’t go to much football or baseball. Instead we have a million [science] magazines,” Jane said, “so we sit around the table and talk about how people came up with their ideas and what we would do differently.”

But at the dinner table, one September evening, the conversation turned to a different topic when Jack’s mom surprised him and the rest of the family, by asking eighth grader Jack why he hadn’t told them he was gay.

I asked Jane Andraka how she recalled that conversation and she told me:

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“After Jack told his school friends he was gay, one of the moms called me and told me there were rumors of Jack being gay. At dinner that night we talked and I mentioned that I had a phone call from a lady who said Jack was gay. Jack told us that it wasn’t a rumor and that he was telling his friends that he felt that he is gay. So my husband and I discussed this and shared that we believe that a person is born gay and that is the way he is and it’s better to be open about who you are rather than force yourself into a mold that isn’t you. We also told him that people are more than their sexuality and the important thing is to be an honest and caring person who makes the most of his potential. For instance, I don’t introduce myself as Jane the straight woman but as Jane the kayaker/anesthetist/mom. Later people can find out I’m married to a man.”

“We told Jack he should be himself and if gay is part of who he is, then he should be proud he can figure that out early so he can love all the parts that make him Jack. We also discussed how some people may not support him because he is gay but he can be a good role model for teens who are wondering if it’s OK and he can demonstrate to non-supporters that gay people can contribute to society in major ways. His brother was more surprised, but after talking to a wonderful teacher who had a gay roommate in college, he became very supportive and an advocate for gay students at his school.”

Jack told me everyone in his immediate family has encouraged him to be himself. And he added that some of his relatives, although they have no problem with Jack’s being gay, think he should keep it a secret because if word gets out it might hurt his career. But Jack disagrees. He told me, “In science you [LGBT youth] shouldn’t hide who you are. What matters in science are your ideas and the quality of your work. It is important to be true to yourself.”

Untitled 2I wondered if being the smartest kid in the classroom had caused him any grief. “I didn’t get made fun of going to the cancer research lab every single Friday night and during my breaks,” said Jack. “I was actually celebrated for doing that. People were actually fascinated that I was doing this research. That was what was super-cool about this entire experience.” And being openly gay hasn’t been a problem either for Jack at his school which hosts a Gay Straight Alliance. Out of a student body of 2400, it only has five members; Jack isn’t one of them. “None of my friends are members so I haven’t joined.”

Jack told me how excited he was to be sitting next to Apple CEO Timothy D. Cook at the State of the Union address. “You know he’s gay?” I asked. “did you talk about it?” No, ” Jack replied. ” We talked about pancreatic cancer. He had a friend [Steve Jobs] who died of it.”

If reading this makes you wonder as I did how Luke, Jack’s brother, deals with Jack’s achievements, not to worry. Luke was the fourth-place national winner of the Society for Science & the Public Middle School Science Competition, winner of an MIT Think Award, twice an ISEF finalist and winner of its $96,000 Sierra Nevada Scholarship for his method of treating acid mine drainage. Now a senior in high school, he’s been accepted by Virginia Tech in their engineering program.

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Jack and Luke working on a project at at North County High School

And if you’re concerned that the proverb, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” applies to this Jack, forget it. Jack kayaks, he is a member of the National Junior Wildwater Kayak team, likes to watch Glee, plays with his dog, folds origami, has read all the Harry Potter books at least five times — J.K. Rowling is his favorite author — and was dating someone for a while, but they broke up in February.

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An Andraka family outing

Dr. Maitra told the Baltimore Sun, “Keep that last name in mind. You’re going to read about him a lot in the years to come, What I tell my lab is, ‘Think of Thomas Edison and the light bulb.’ This kid is the Edison of our times. There are going to be a lot of light bulbs coming from him.”

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Steve, Jack, Luke and Jane Andraka – a family Standing firmly on the Right Side of History 

 

You can follow Jack on Twitter and on Facebook.

All images are courtesy of the Andraka family.

 

 Stuart Wilber believes that living life openly as a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Allied person is the most powerful kind of activism. Shortly after meeting his husband in Chicago in 1977, he opened a gallery named In a Plain Brown Wrapper, where he exhibited cutting edge work by leading artists; art that dealt with sexuality and gender identification. In the late 1980’s when they moved to San Clemente, CA in Orange County, life as an openly gay couple became a political act. They moved to Seattle 16 years ago and married in Canada a few weeks after British Columbia legalized same-​sex marriage. When Marriage Equality became the law in Washington State, they married on the first possible day permitted which was the first day of their 36th year together. Although legally married in some states and some countries, they are still treated as second class citizens by the federal government. Equality continues to elude him. (Photo by Mathew Ryan Williams)

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Virginia School Districts Furious After Youngkin Flip Flops on Promise to Allow Local Boards to Decide Mask Mandates

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For months Virginia’s incoming Republican governor has been promising he would neither mandate masks in schools nor ban school districts from requiring them.

“Virginia Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin (R) will not outlaw local COVID-19 mandates when he takes office in January,” reported the far right wing website Daily Wire back in November.

Local ABC affiliate 8 News, also in November reported, “Youngkin won’t try to block local mask, vaccine mandates like other Republican governors.”

Glenn Youngkin was sworn into office on Saturday, January 15, 2022.

Business Insider reports that on Saturday, after Youngkin was sworn into office, he “signed an executive action that banned schools from requiring that students wear masks to stem the spread of COVID-19, instead allowing parents to decide when their children wear masks during the school day.”

Youngkin’s first act as governor was to sign eleven executive orders. Among them: effectively banning any mask mandates in schools across the state, by allowing parents to opt-out for any reason or no reason.

In other words: flip-flopping on his promise.

Youngkin is using his Lt. Governor to threaten angry school districts. Fox News’ John Roberts:

Pundit and political analyst Bill Scher:

Youngkin made a big deal over the weekend claiming schools have to “listen to parents” and if they oppose his mask ban they aren’t listening to parents.

Gov. Youngkin is the one not listening.

In poll after poll after poll after poll Virginia parents make clear they support mask mandates in schools, and Virginians overall support mask mandates, period.

 

 

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Top Democrats Renew Call to End Anti-Gay Blood Ban as Red Cross Announces First-Ever National Shortage Crisis

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Last week the Red Cross issued its first-ever warning of a blood shortage so dire it is calling it a “national crisis.” In response 22 top Democratic Senators signed a letter urging the FDA to once and for all end the ban on men who have sex with men donating blood.

The nearly four-decade old ban was instituted during the early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis. In 2015 the FDA reduced the complete and total ban to one where gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men could donate blood if they had abstained from sexual activity for one year. In 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic raged, threatening blood shortages, the FDA moved to a three-month prohibition.

“If the nation’s blood supply does not stabilize soon, life-saving blood may not be available for some patients when it is needed,” warns the Red Cross, citing a 34 percent drop in supply, CBS News reports.

“Any policy that continues to categorically single out the LGBTQ+ community is discriminatory and wrong,” the group of 22 top Democrats, led by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), say in their letter. “Given advances in blood screening and safety technology, a time-based policy for gay and bisexual men is not scientifically sound, continues to effectively exclude an entire group of people, and does not meet the urgent demands of the moment.”

Blood Shortage MSM Donor Deferral Letter FDA HHS Jan 2022 Final by David Badash on Scribd

 

Image by ec-jpr via Flickr and a CC license

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PARTNERING WITH HATE AND ANTI-IMMIGRANT GROUPS

‘Unprecedented’: Trump Tried to ‘Exert Extreme Partisan Influence Over the Census Bureau’ Docs Reveal

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The Trump administration tried to exert tremendous influence over the 2020 Census, which is now being used in a nationwide redistricting program, often handing Republicans even stronger gerrymandered congressional districts and in some cases attempting to dissolve districts of Democratic members of Congress, while eliminating some majority-Black districts.

Then-President Donald Trump was directly and possibly “illegally” involved, as The Brennan Center for Justice, NYU Law School’s nonprofit public policy institute, reports. The Trump administration also worked directly with an anti-immigrant group that appears on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of nativist hate groups, a “think tank” devoted to anti-immigration efforts, and with an individual known for “promoting voter suppression efforts.”

“The Trump administration attempted to exert extreme partisan influence over the Census Bureau,” The Brennan Center reveals . It filed multiple Freedom of Information requests with at least ten federal agencies and was forced to sue the Trump administration when it unlawfully refused to produce the requested documents.

The Brennan Center adds that “career Bureau officials pushed back at those attempts. An email among senior officials at the Census Bureau from September 14, 2020, discusses the Commerce Department’s ‘unusually high degree of engagement in technical matters, which is unprecedented.'”

“Other records suggest that the Commerce Department planned to have Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross [photo, above] make personal calls to Republican state governors to urge them to provide state administrative records to the Census Bureau to ‘enhance the frame from which citizenship status is determined.’ (The Brennan Center did not uncover evidence that Commerce planned to make similar calls to Democratic governors.)”

Citing a “a complete lack of public transparency,” The Brennan Center reports “President Trump issued a memo in July 2020 stating that he would illegally attempt to remove undocumented populations from the apportionment count due at the end of December 2020.”

The Trump administration collected or attempted to collect an unprecedented amount of personal data targeting usesrs of welfare programs from dozens of states: “28 states had entered into agreements to share Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) records with the Bureau, 21 to share Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) records, 30 to share Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) records, and three to share driver’s license data.”

Our FOIA records show Mark Krikorian, Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies, emailing directly with Secretary Ross in December 2019. The Center for Immigration Studies is an organization classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-immigrant hate group that “has a decades-long history of circulating racist writers, while also associating with white nationalists.” The email also refers to a call from Secretary Ross.

The Center for Immigration Studies was founded by eugenicist and white nationalist John Tanton.

“Commerce Department employees were also engaging with the anti-immigrant Heritage Foundation,” The Brennan Center adds. “An email chain shows a Commerce Department official putting political appointee Nathaniel Cogley into direct contact with Heritage’s Hans Von Spakovsky, an individual the Brennan Center has previously flagged for his extensive background promoting voter suppression efforts.”

 

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