This nonprofit honors compassionate risk-takers, people who are largely unknown, people who have the courage to stick their necks out for the common good, in the US and around the world.

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A DUMPSTER-DIVING HERO #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut Ranya Kelly of Arvada, Colorado, had no idea what risks were ahead of her when she sort of fell into her life’s work. She was looking for an empty carton in a dumpster behind a shoe store. Along with empty boxes, she found hundreds of brand new shoes, thrown out by the shoe store because they hadn’t sold. Kelly was delighted to salvage the shoes and take them to shelters for the homeless. Did the shoe store thank her for finding a good use for shoes they’d thrown away as worthless? No way. They told Kelly she was a thief and threatened to have her arrested for stealing. Afraid people from the shelter might try to return the shoes to the store for cash refunds, they began putting yellow paint on the next shoes they threw out, so they couldn’t be returned—or worn without embarrassment. But Kelly kept pulling shoes out of the dumpster. She just cleaned off the paint, and took them to the shelters. The thought of going to jail for theft was unnerving.She not only didn’t want to be locked up, she also didn’t want to jeopardize her husband’s position in a prominent firm. If he was fired for having a jailbird wife, it would be a disaster for her family. In spite of all that, she kept taking the shoes. “I decided it was more important to do this work, and that if I got arrested for it, that was okay.” When Kelly discovered that other shoe stores were also throwing away useable shoes, she began taking them from their dumpsters too. Kelly stayed out of jail; she discovered that discarded goods became the property of the hauling company once they’re put in a dumpster. The hauler took her side and gave her permission to take what she wanted. Persistence paid off and that original store, plus all Denver-area stores in the same chain, began just giving her the shoes without marking them with paint and without threatening her. Publicity about Kelly has inspired other stores and manufacturers to donate good stuff they would normally throw away. Kelly’s crusade to prevent thoughtless waste is now moving thousands of dollars worth of goods to the poor every day of the year. Update: Since being commended as a Giraffe in 1991, Kelly has gotten over 700,000 pairs of new shoes to people who need them. Her operation now also distributes other clothing, furnishings--whatever people in distress may need. She's gone beyond her Colorado location to assist after natural disasters, and on Indian reservations. She's particularly focused on helping the families of vets and active duty military personnel, who too often have trouble making ends meet. All work in the operation is still done by volunteers. Like this Giraffe? LIKE this Page! Giraffes should have 10,000 Likes. And do Share with Friends. We all need to know there are real heroes among us.

BECAUSE VETS DESERVE GOOD CARE #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut For six years John Berter of Cincinnati, Ohio, enjoyed his job as a federal police officer at the Veterans’ Administration Hospital in Cincinnati. Then a new police chief took over. To Berter’s astonishment, the new Chief began teaching his officers how to cause pain without leaving telltale marks. The Chief told them that a police officer was “a bad guy wearing a good guy hat.” And he warned them that he knew plenty of ways to frame anybody who got out of line. Berter says he and his fellow officers were dumbfounded when the Chief intimidated and abused patients at the 25-building hospital complex, most often African-American patients. Berter witnessed five unprovoked attacks by the Chief. Most of the victims required medical care afterwards; one of his regular tactics was to stand on a man’s testicles. John Berter kept doing his own job the way he felt it should be done, while the knowledge of the Chief’s brutality ate at him. How could he allow the head of the police force to threaten and injure patients? Berter told us, “They were sick, they were powerless, and there was no one there to speak for them… I thought it was very important that this stuff be stopped. It was my…responsibility to protect them. My dad’s a veteran; I’m a veteran; I have friends who are veterans. I would hate to see those people faced with Chief Wilson.” Eight months into Wilson’s tenure, Berter and three other officers sent a hundred anonymous letters to the FBI, elected officials, government agencies, veterans’ groups and the press. The FBI’s response was to tell the Chief that his officers were claiming he beat people up. Wilson found out who his accusers were and began a campaign of reprisals. Berter, who had an excellent record, suddenly began getting reprimands. The Chief increased his workload 400% and forced him to take extra training courses. He even placed Berter on 90-day notice because of grammar and spelling errors in his daily reports. When the Chief began making veiled threats against Berter’s family, the pressure literally made Berter ill. His doctors placed him on sick leave for acute stress. Berter contacted the Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency set up to protect whistleblowers from reprisals. The OSC didn’t contact any of the Chief’s victims, nor in any other way check out Berter’s charges. They interviewed only VA officials and, Berter reports, worked hand in hand with the VA to discredit him. After this experience Berter told a reporter, “As far as I’m concerned, the OSC’s job is nothing more than protecting government agencies.” Fortunately he had also contacted the Government Accountability Project, a private group that helps whistleblowers. (According to GAP, the OSC had been turning away 99% of the whistleblowers seeking help.) GAP collected statements from 19 of Wilson’s victims, 14 of them black Vietnam vets. GAP also discovered that allegations of brutality had been made against Wilson at two other VA hospitals. The FBI finally investigated, finishing with a 1,420-page report and what the agent in charge called a good, prosecutable case. But the Justice Department declined to bring charges against Chief Wilson. GAP found internal memos showing that the head of the VA had appealed to his friend the Attorney General, who saw that the case was dropped. By then, the charges had received wide press coverage and Wilson was demoted and transferred. But the four whistleblowers, including John Berter, were fired. According to a GAP attorney, Berter’s testimony before a Congressional committee shocked Congress into passing new legislation to protect whistleblowers. More than a year after Berter was fired, an OSC attorney indirectly vindicated him when she recommended that problems in the VA security force, specifically in Cincinnati, be corrected. Her report charged that Wilson had lied to or misled OSC investigators, but she failed to credit Berter and his fellow officers for reporting the abuses and ignored the reprisals against them. Instead, her report included a 14-page indictment of John Berter. Upon reading it, Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, chair of the Civil Service Committee, wrote to the counsel, “your refusal to acknowledge Mr. Berter’s assistance in this matter is wrong, but your personal attack on him is unconscionable…Congress did not establish the Office of Special Counsel as a means to turn on the messenger.” Chief Wilson resigned after the release of the special counsel’s report; charges were finally brought against him for perjury and obstruction of justice. The experience cost John Berter a lot. His career and his health were ruined. A proud husband and father, he had to accept welfare until he recovered enough to start his life over. He later became a staff counselor at a half-way house, helping prison inmates on work-release prepare for freedom. He’s making a living again, though far less than he earned with the VA. And he’s found that he prefers this area of criminal justice. As he told us, “I don’t think I ever want to put a badge on again.” We asked him what he would say to someone who’s thinking of reporting an injustice. “Go with your heart,” he urged. “Go with what your gut tells you to do. Go with your conscience. But be prepared to pay the consequences.” Like this Giraffe? LIKE this Page! Giraffes should have 10,000 Likes. And do Share with Friends. They need to know there are real heroes in the world.

STANDING UP FOR PEOPLE WITH AIDS #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut Back in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, Ganga Stone, the owner of a small business in Manhattan, and Jane Best, a professional financial advisor, volunteered to work at a hospice. Stone was asked to deliver some groceries to the home of a man who was dying of AIDS. The man was so ill that he couldn’t cook the food she had brought, so Stone stayed, to cook and to talk. He hadn't eaten in days. He told her that he had asked all the service agencies in the city for help, but none had a program that would provide him prepared meals. Stone and Best decided that this was a piece of the AIDS epidemic that they could do something about. Both quit their jobs to start “God’s Love--We Deliver.” They began by asking people with AIDS (PWA’s) what they would like to eat, buying and preparing whatever was requested, and delivering the results on their bicycles. As more PWA’s asked for their services, they recruited other volunteers, then talked some of Manhattan’s finest restaurants into donating elegant meals. GLWD now has more than 200 volunteers delivering gourmet meals prepared by full-time cooks in a church kitchen. The volunteers don’t just drop the food and run. They spend time with each PWA, learn about their lives, let them know someone cares. They’ve begun an Autobiography Project, encouraging each PWA it record his or her life story. Stone and Best believe that the desire to serve is the highest impulse of the human heart; their GLWD is giving more and more New Yorkers the opportunity to exercise their hearts. Ganga Stone became Executive Director of this burgeoning service; with the organization so well launched, Jane Best went back to the nine-to-five job world, continuing as a God’s Love volunteer and planner. Giraffe commendations were given not only to Best and Stone but also to “Each Volunteer of God’s Love--We Deliver.” Update: God's Love purchased a building to house a huge kitchen and staff offices in SoHo. It has expanded its mission to provide meals nutritionally tailored for people who are homebound and suffering from cancer, Alzheimer's, MS, and other debilitating diseases, as well as AIDS. What began as an urgent response to the AIDS crisis has grown to assist all those who are too ill to cook for themselves. Stone has done personal coaching with the dying and has written a book about death: Start the Conversation. Like these Giraffes? LIKE this Page! Giraffes should have 10,000 Likes. And do Share with Friends. They may need to know about heroes today.

GIRAFFE CHALLENGES DIAMOND LOOTERS #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut Farai Maguwu, the very first Zimbabwean Giraffe Hero, is now sticking his neck way out to protest corruption and injustice in the diamond industry in Zimbabwe and indeed all of Africa. Maguwu is Director of the Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG), a civil society organization working with people of diamond mining communities like Marange that have been plundered by the corruption and greed of diamond mining companies and their own government officials. Zimbabwe is a country with a $3.6 billion annual budget for its 14 million citizens. Maguwu reports that those citizens have been cheated by the looting of diamonds worth more than $15 billion between 2009 and 2015. ”Given that the state owned 50% shares in all the diamond firms in Marange,” Maguwu announced, “we conclude that the grand theft involved unpatriotic senior government officials who are abusing their positions in government to serve their individual and foreign interests.” And the problem goes beyond Zimbabwe. In his May 25 CNRG statement, he charges that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been corrupting African governments and the diamond industry to gain easy and cheap access to Africa’s diamonds. The UAE, according to CNRG, has been the main destination of illicitly sourced Zimbabwean diamonds, allowing traders there to buy diamonds at artificially low prices and resell them at top dollar. “Africa is getting peanuts from the sale of its rough diamonds,” charges Maguwu. The corruption of selected Zimbabwean government officials, CNRG continues, has been blatant. For example: In 2013 the UAE appointed Zimbabwe’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Mines, Prof Francis Gudyanga, to the Board of Dubai Diamonds Exchange, presumably for the purpose of weakening Zimbabwe’s internal controls. In any case, it’s clear that a Permanent Secretary of the Mines Ministry of a diamond-producing country who also sits on the Board of a major trading platform in a diamond industry hub is heavily conflicted. The same controversy surrounds the similar appointments of other African government officials and company executives. So whom do these conflicted people serve, Maguwu asks—the people of the countries they supposedly represent—or their private interests? CNRG has now publicly called on all these conflicted officials to resign their posts in the Dubai Diamonds Exchange. In addition, CNRG has now called on the governments of diamond-producing states, as well as KPCS (the multinational body ostensibly set up to police the African diamond trade) to do their jobs. Job One being to reform the diamond industry, wipe out rampant corruption and finally deliver justice and a fair share of the wealth to the cheated communities like Marange where the diamonds are mined. “How can diamonds that generated over $15 billion for people far away from Marange create such abject poverty at the point of origin?” asks Maguwu. “Diamonds do not fall from the sky. They are mined in real communities where real people were born and live. These people matter.” Like this Giraffe? LIKE this Page. Giraffes should have 10,000 Likes. And do Share with Friends. You'll be lighting up their days.

MAKING PEACE THROUGH TRANSLATIONS #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut Is it courageous to translate books? Well, if you lived in the Soviet Union during the 1980s and if you hadn’t gotten clearance from the authorities, it could definitely be dangerous. Vladimir Shestakov, an ecologist in Leningrad, did it anyway. He was determined to forge bonds between Russians and the world. And one way he could do that, he thought, was by translating books into Russian so that his friends could get at least a glimpse of other views, other ways of thinking. For Shestakov, it began in November 1982. He had never been an activist, never thought to challenge his government. But he was given a book called The Hundredth Monkey, by Ken Keyes, and it fascinated him. The book proposes that once a certain number of people possess an idea, the idea spreads exponentially throughout a larger population. The book was immensely popular in the west, though much criticized by many scientists. Shestakov was entranced by the book, and he wanted his friends to read it, too, so he translated it for them, using a typewriter and carbon paper. Soon, more and more copies appeared—“like mushrooms after rain,” said Shestakov—and the demand was rapidly outstripping the supply. So Shestakov sent the translation to XXth Century and Peace, a publishing division of a Soviet “Peace Committee.” He also conferred with people from the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. And in 1983, the book appeared in Russian. The feared KGB was not unaware of these goings-on, and more than once contacted Shestakov to ask, in essence, “What are you doing?” Shestakov played it straight and cool, never challenging the governmental security agency yet never backing down, either. He went on to translate several more books, including Carl Sagan’s The Nuclear Winter and Helen Caldicott’s Nuclear Madness. For Shestakov, the idea behind all of this, was simply peace. He dreaded the specter of nuclear war and believed that if only people could share valuable information—particularly, the dangers of arms escalation and the means to halt it—it would be more difficult to hate and to fight each other. To Shestakov, there was nothing more important: “Remembering that wars begin in human minds, we can work on destroying the image of an enemy and spread the truth about each other as human beings. Then there will be no pretext for spending billions more dollars on military programs, scaring the population with foreign threats. “We are not idle spectators. The question of the arms race is about our children’s life and death and about the future of all living matter on earth. It’s the foremost question of morality. Time impels us to make a choice, and the battleground is in our souls.” The experience of translating and publishing books in the face of the KGB was a good lesson for him, says Shestakov, and the lesson is at the core of what it means to be a Giraffe: “If each one of us does a little bit more than we have done, it will result in a confluent stream of powerful action that may bring serious positive changes on social and global levels.” Like this Giraffe? LIKE this Page! Giraffes should have 10,000 Likes. And do Share with Friends. You'll be shining light into their day.

FIGHTING CORRUPTION WITH RIDICULE #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut Zimbabwe was robbed. At least, that’s the official story. Giraffe Hero comedian Silvanos Mudzvova isn't buying it. In 2007, huge diamond deposits were discovered in the country’s eastern province. People thought, “At last, our economic crisis is over: No more food shortages, no more unemployment, no more inability of hospitals to obtain needed medicines.” But such was not to be. The Zimbabwe government invited in Chinese companies, who—with the presumed help of corrupt Zimbabwean officials—took most of the diamonds. President Mugabe told the country that about US $15 billion of diamonds was taken illegally. People throughout Zimbabwe demanded justice. They were not happy. Among the least happy was comedian and actor Silvanos Mudzvova; he staged a one-man demonstration at Parliament to demand his share of the diamond money. Officials arrested and detained him. Upon release, however, Mudzvova continued his campaign. He toured the nation, performing a one-man play he called, “Missing 15 Billion Dollars. I Need My Share.” To the displeasure of the government, huge crowds attended. This wasn’t the first time that Mudzvova has used performances to protest. He has produced and starred in other plays, some of which denounced the forced displacements of the urban poor back in 2005. Each time he has come forth publicly, the government response has been to attempt to push him back. It hasn't worked. “I will not stop expressing my constitutional right,” Mudzvova has said, “no matter the threats that I face on a daily basis.” Like this Giraffe? LIKE this Page! Giraffes should have 10,000 Likes. And do Share with Friends. You'll be shining light into their days.

ABOVE AND BEYOND THE JOB DESCRIPTION #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut Rose Reissman has been fighting for quality education in the New York City public schools for decades, innovating constantly, and breaking by-the-book rules. Reissman’s students find themselves challenged to their limits. Her award-winning oral history program, just one of her many innovations, brings members of the community into the classroom to share their life experiences and teach the kids that there are at least two sides to every question. Reissman produces three student-run radio shows on WNYE-FM that are so popular with the kids that they’re even doing them in the summertime. For a long time, Reissman spent over $3,000 a year of her own money taking her students on field trips. Time and time again, her supervisors told her not to be so interested in her job. Reissman went on to train teachers for the Board of Education, and is working to improve the curriculum. She was named one of the five best teachers in the country by a national education magazine. Update: Dr. Reissman is the author of many books including The Evolving Multicultural Classroom. She is the chief academic officer of Mind Lab and the Head of the Writing Institute at the Ditmas Education Complex. She continues to teach literacy, project-based learning, and many other programs and has extended her work to students as far away as Afghanistan. Like this Giraffe? LIKE this Page! Giraffes should have 10,000 Likes. And do Share with Friends. You'll be shining light into their days.

SAVING LIVES ONE ADDICT AT A TIME #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut From our archives of real heroes-- David Purchase’s personal AIDS-prevention program is based on a windy street corner in Tacoma, Washington, yet it’s attracting attention from public health specialists and AIDS researchers all over the nation. A counselor to drug abusers for nearly 20 years, Purchase is running a pioneering needle exchange in the US, on his own, with his own hands. He skirts charges of selling drug paraphernalia by giving the needles away. A one-man operation, outside the bureaucracy, Purchase’s program is definitely “user-friendly.” He started thinking about the threat of an AIDS epidemic among intravenous drug users years ago while he was laid up with a fractured leg. He decided that more had to be done to educate addicts about the dangers of sharing needles, so he produced a video on AIDS prevention for drug users. When hes leg was recently refractured, Purchase got some more thinking time. “As soon as the needle exchange idea hit me,” he told the Giraffe Heroes Project, “I couldn’t think of a reason no to do it. I couldn't talk myself out of it." Purchase's program is sim­plicity itself. Three days a week he sets up a card table on a street corner in a part of Tacoma fre­quented by addicts. Drug users turn in old needles; he gives them clean new ones and a bro­chure on AIDS prevention. No fee, no paperwork, no bull. Concerns about insurance liability and political controversy keep the Tacoma police and health departments on the side­lines, but they monitor and en­courage the program. The health department hopes that surveys they conduct, describing the needle ex­changers, will provide ideas for reaching still more drug abusers. Critics of the needle ex­change say it encourages drug use. But Purchase responds that the program's purpose is not the prevention of addiction, but the prevention of disease. He wants to protect the 3,000 drug us­ers of Tacoma, their spouses—and the babies they may have—from AIDS and hepatitis. He's using his own money, some donations, and a borrowed card table to do what the government can't. Suddenly "suits," as Purchase calls more formal types, from New York and other cities are showing up in Tacoma, looking for ideas and data for their own attempts to slow the spread of AIDS among intravenous drug users. "Current administration pol­icy has been just to let the junk­ies and the gay men die," says David Purchase. He’s determined to keep the "junkies" of Tacoma, and their families, from dying of AIDS. UPDATE: Hundreds of needle-exchange programs sprang up across the country, thanks to David Purchase's pioneering. When Purchase died in 2013, his obituary in the NY Times credited him with saving thousands of lives. Like this Giraffe? LIKE this Page! Giraffes should have 10,000 Likes. And please Share with Friends--you'll be shining light into their days.

When she was a student in law school, Meenakshi "Meena" Raman was shocked to discover that many of her fellow Malaysians had no idea that their country had laws that could protect them when their property, lives, and livelihoods were threatened by corporate or government actions. When she graduated in the 1980s, Attorney Raman and a friend established the first public interest law firm in Malaysia and dedicated themselves to representing communities that had no access to the legal system. Working with the Consumers Association of Penang, the firm represented fishermen whose livelihood was threatened by runoff from industrial waste, and tenant farmers being evicted from land they had lived on for generations. Raman's firm published pamphlets about the law to help people understand their rights, educated other lawyers about protecting under-served populations, and espoused a philosophy of non-hierarchical law serving the public interest. This was no desk job. When bulldozers came to destroy farms, Raman and her colleagues stood in front of the machines while others ran to get injunctions. Raman filed suit against the Asia Rare Earth Company, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corporation partially owned by the Malaysian government. AREC was dumping radioactive wastes in areas that were home to ten thousand people, most of them Chinese. Studies showed high incidences of leukemia in the affected villagers, and high levels of lead in the blood of children. Raman lost the suit but because of enormous public pressure, Mitsubishi chose to close down its operations in Malaysia, relocating them to China. In the midst of the Mitsubishi case, the Malaysian government arrested and imprisoned Raman and over 100 scholars, reporters, activists, and Chinese business people. Raman was never charged with a crime but spent 47 days in prison, in solitary confinement. When she was released, she went right back to work on the case. Raman has said that her imprisonment has proved helpful in her work. “Malaysians ... they are always worried. I ask them, Why do you worry? After all, the worst-case scenario—I’ve gone through it. So I can comfort them. In a sense, it was a very important moment in my life. It was not easy. It was not easy.” Raman’s work has extended beyond the borders of Malaysia. She helped found the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (E-LAW), a network that facilitates the sharing of scientific, legal and other resources around the world so that small public-interest firms like the one she started in 1981 can get information to help win their cases from experts in other countries . “We realize that trans-national corporations are very powerful and they operate all over the world," explains "Meena" Raman. "So unless you have an international alliance to counter this, they will go from one country to another country, always going to the country with the least [stringent] laws.” UPDATE Raman is working as a legal advisor with the Consumer Association of Penang, the group that first opened her eyes to the needs of Malaysia’s underserved. She is Secretary to Sahabat Alam Malaysia, a grassroots, community non-governmental organization involved in environmental and development issues, another group she has worked with since the early 1980s. Since 2004, she has been the chair of Friends of the Earth International, which is leading educational and political efforts on global environmental issues such as climate change. Like this Giraffe? LIKE this Page! Giraffes should have 10,000 Likes.

BLOWING THE WHISTLE ON HEALTH INSURANCE #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut It happened at a makeshift health clinic set up at a fairgrounds by Giraffe Stan Brock and his Remote Area Medical volunteers. Wendell Potter saw the set up and was stunned. “When I walked through the fairground gates,” he told a reporter, “I saw hundreds of people lined up, in the rain. . . . Lined up, waiting to get care, in animal stalls. Animal stalls . . . It was like a lightning bolt had hit me.” The line-up for free care was not in one of the "remote" parts of the world where there is no health care, places that RAM was created to serve; this was in the United States and the people in the line for free care simply had no health insurance. After seeing the lines and the animal stalls, Potter, a vice president of a giant health insurance company, wasn’t sure whether he could continue in his line of work. He knew all the policies and the practices that health insurance companies use to make profits, and he'd just seen the end result of those policies and practices. He couldn't live with what he knew. He quit his job. And then he started telling people what he knew. Potter started reaching out to advocates for health insurance reform about going public with his insider knowledge. He was asked to testify before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Here is some of Potter’s testimony; it’s not sugar-coated: “Insurers make promises they have no intention of keeping, they flout regulations designed to protect consumers, and they make it nearly impossible to understand—or even to obtain—information we need. . . . To win the favor of powerful analysts, for-profit insurers must prove that they made more money during the previous quarter than a year earlier and that the portion of the premium going to medical costs is falling. . . . They look carefully to see if a sick policyholder may have omitted a minor illness, a pre-existing condition, when applying for coverage, and then they use that as justification to cancel the policy, even if the enrollee has never missed a premium payment.” Potter went on to describe the different ploys that insurers use to make profits while essentially cheating their customers. A subsequent investigation into three of those insurers determined that over five years they had canceled the coverage of 20,000 people, allowing the companies to avoid paying $300 million in claims. Potter countered the continual protestations from the industry leaders that they were open to reform in a book, Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans. As you can imagine from the title alone, it did not endear him to the insurance industry nor to any other corporation where he might apply for work. But it did help him deal with the memory of the people he'd seen getting free health care—in animal stalls. Potter makes appearances around the country, exposing the industry’s practices. He has a lot to say about the for-profit industry's devious tactics, saying things like, “It’s to the insurers’ advantage for it [an insurance policy] to be complicated and confusing…. They profit as a result of the confusion.” Potter's income is a fraction of what it once was; he works as an nonsalaried consultant to the Center for Media and Democracy. (He has health insurance coverage through his wife, who manages a retail shop—it's a low-cost, high deductible plan.) As for the people he worked with for decades, “They're not people I go out and have a beer with these days, that's for sure.” You can follow his work at Like this Giraffe? LIKE this Page! Giraffes should have 10,000 Likes.

A PIONEER IN THE COURTROOM #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut Eleanor Jackson Piel has been sticking her neck out for more than half a century, ever since earning her law degree in 1943. Piel was a rarity just by making it into and through law school in a time when women’s career options were usually teaching and nursing. Her next goal was to become a litigator, but a female arguing cases in a courtroom was unheard of. Practicing solo, Piel has, for these five decades, taken on cases that most firms would have avoided as too controversial—and insufficiently lucrative. A lot of Piel’s clients have paid her nothing. It’s always been lonely and it’s seldom been profitable, but she realized her dream of being on her feet, before juries, saving lives and breaking ground. A longtime opponent of the death penalty, she once read in her morning paper that lawyers were unwilling to defend death row inmates. She picked up the phone and called the agency described in the paper as working with prisoners who needed legal help. She was given a death-penalty case in Florida, where an overworked and amazed public defender said, “It was like she was calling to offer a fifty-thousand-dollar check.” Piel got a stay just 16 hours before the inmate’s scheduled execution, then went on to prove him innocent and obtain his release—all this thousands of miles from her New York City home. The 60’s saw Piel defending civil rights activists. In the 80’s and 90’s she pioneered in sex-discrimination cases, defending her clients against major institutions that had batteries of attorneys. In representing assistant professor Cynthia Fisher against Vassar College, Piel established that her client had been denied tenure because of “sex-plus” discrimination; Fisher’s gender plus her being married and a mother, had cost her tenure, Piel asserted. No woman who was married while teaching at Vassar had ever been awarded tenure in the hard sciences; Fisher had been denied despite having qualifications above men who did receive tenure. Piel won a rousing victory in federal court. The victory was reversed on appeal in a near-tie decision by eleven judges. But Eleanor Jackson Piel, courtroom litigator, had made her case: Vassar began tenuring married women in the hard sciences, and other colleges had cause to pause before using sex-plus to deny women tenure. Update: Piel is 95 years old, practiced law until very recently, and she's on Facebook! Like this Giraffe? LIKE this Page! Giraffes should have 10,000 Likes.

More Giraffe Heroes


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Sangduen Chailert, known as "Lek," puts in 18-hour days caring for sick and injured elephants in a protected reserve she co-founded, the Elephant Nature Park in northern Thailand.

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Nobis Est - It's Up To Us

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