Category Archives for Journalism

Honouring the slave who raised him

Due to an unfortunate health problem, Pulitzer prize–winning reporter Alex Tizon died three months before “My Family’s Slave,” his incredible tale about Eudocia Tomas Pulido, appeared on the cover of the June issue of the Atlantic Magazine.

We called her Lola,” wrote Tizon. “She was 4 foot 11, with mocha-brown skin and almond eyes that I can still see looking into mine—my first memory. She was 18 years old when my grandfather gave her to my mother as a gift, and when my family moved to the United States, we brought her with us. No other word but slave encompassed the life she lived. Her days began before everyone else woke and ended after we went to bed. She prepared three meals a day, cleaned the house, waited on my parents, and took care of my four siblings and me. My parents never paid her, and they scolded her constantly. She wasn’t kept in leg irons, but she might as well have been. So many nights, on my way to the bathroom, I’d spot her sleeping in a corner, slumped against a mound of laundry, her fingers clutching a garment she was in the middle of folding.”

Had he lived to tour and answer questions about his experience, Tizon might have prompted an even bigger discussion about modern slavery in North American than his article set off.

A Story of Mutual Dependence and Love

“My Family’s Slave” details Tizon’s complicated relationship with his nanny and household maid. Initially, Lola was trapped due to decisions made by his mother and grandfather. After Alex became responsible for Lola, he tried to free her, but by then, she didn’t have anywhere else to go. He paid to send her back home to the Philippines, but she returned to his household soon after saying she no longer fit in with the few people still alive in her hometown.

It’s hard not to wonder how many similar situations exist across North America.

When he came to us with the enthralling, vexing story of his immigrant family and its terrible secret, we recognized that this was the sort of journalism The Atlantic has practiced since its inception,” wrote editor Jeffrey Goldberg, in a companion article to the piece. “The magazine was founded in 1857 by a group of New England abolitionists eager to advance the cause of universal freedom. When I first read a draft of Alex’s piece, I imagined that the founders—people like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Harriet Beecher Stowe—would not have believed that 154 years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, humans would still be enslaving other humans, in America and across the planet. The eradication of all forms of slavery remains an unfinished goal of civilization, and of this magazine, and stories like Alex’s help us understand slavery’s awful persistence.”

A structure that weaves through time and place

Tizon’s story follows a complicated structure that weaves four storylines together. One storyline follows the author’s journey as he carries Lola’s ashes to her birthplace outside of Manilla, told in the order in which it took place in narrative fashion, complete with flashbacks to previous visits to the region. A second storyline outlines the history of slavery as an institution from modern times dating back to some time prior to the 1500s. Another storyline highlights the history of the Tarlac Province and Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. The main storyline connects each of the other three by describing Lola’s service to Tizon’s family, highlighting key moments of connection, cruelty and turmoil.

We landed in Los Angeles on May 12, 1964, all our belongings in cardboard boxes tied with rope. Lola had been with my mother for 21 years by then. In many ways, she was more of a parent to me than either my mother or my father. Hers was the first face I saw in the morning and the last one I saw at night. As a baby, I uttered Lola’s name (which I first pronounced “Oh-ah”) long before I learned to say “Mom” or “Dad.” As a toddler, I refused to go to sleep unless Lola was holding me, or at least nearby.”

Classic Feature Style

Like most of the stories in The Atlantic, “my family’s slave” represents exquisite long-form journalism. No errors appear in the text and each sentence flows easily from the one it follows.

I highly recommend My Family’s Slave by Alex Tizon , The Atlantic, May 15, 2017,  accessed April 2, 2018.

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Can Sherry Simon understand cities by studying language?

Earlier this year, I attended a bilingual lunchtime discussion led by Sherry Simon about power struggles in multilingual cities at McGill’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Montreal.

As Keynote speaker, Simon, a Professor in Concordia’s French Department presented a collection of stories she edited within a book called “Speaking Memory: How Translation Shapes City Life.”

Even though this book is a collective, it is a result of my obsession with Montreal and with Montreal-like cities which I’ve studied over the last ten or more years,” she said. “It all started in the early 1990s in my neighbourhood, which is Mile-End, when I became aware that the day-to-day life in my neighbourhood, the way languages were handled, the way people thought, the way identities were construed were diametrically opposed to what I was hearing on the radio and what I was reading in the newspapers. That was a shock.”

My focus was a profile for the February issue of the Montrealer, but Simon’s work is so fascinating, I decided to present our conversation in this podcast as well.

Sherry Simon’s Diverse Career

As a Jewish Anglophone who grew up in Snowdon, went to school in Westmount and spent much of her life integrating into Montreal’s Francophone culture, Simon knows how it feels to be an outsider. Unlike many of us, however, she has used her minority status as a strength in understanding and explaining changing identities.  She is one of the few Anglophones I’ve met who speaks about the French and English dichotomy in Quebec from a position in which she absolutely believes that it is vitally important to keep the French language dominant in the city. Despite not agreeing with her, I couldn’t help but recognize how well-considered her opinion is.

Simon is currently a professor in the French Department at Concordia University and author of “Genders in Translation,” “Cities in Translation,” and “Translating Montreal: Episodes in the Life of a Divided City” in addition to “Speaking Memory.”


What some people see as a disadvantage I turned into an advantage,” she said. “I remember that very existential sense that I had as a kid when I took the bus across town and felt unwelcome. Bilingualism in Montreal affects everything that we are. Culture is constantly being transferred back and forth.”

Simon was born on April 16, 1948. The Royal Society of Canada and of the Académie des lettres du Québec count her as a member. In 2009 she was a Killam Research Fellow and in 2010 she received the Prix André-Laurendeau from l’Association francophone pour le savoir (ACFAS).

During our conversation, we discuss the bonjour/hi controversy,  Quebec’s influence on France when it comes to gender,  the improvement in Francophone pride in their own identity, and the removal of gender from Canada’s national anthem.

This is a change that is long overdue,” says Simon. “Language regularly changes. This is totally normal and fundamental. It’s absolutely essential that people recognize themselves in the language they use.”

A fascinating part of our conversation for me was our discussion about Montreal’s fundamental shit from English to French between 1940 and 1980.

People don’t realize that what was happening on the French side of town was exciting to a whole group of Anglos at the time,” said Simon. “My favourite character of that time was Malcolm Reid, a journalist in the 70’s who wrote about Francophone Montreal. He wrote this wonderful book about the Shouting Sign Painters. It’s a fabulous book about how the poets and songwriters were transferring the identity of the city and how exciting that was for English Montrealers to watch.”

Sherry Simon’s next book will be a tourist guidebook to polyglot places.

Once my Montrealer profile is online, I’ll link to it, but in the meantime, I highly recommend that readers who understand French watch Simon’s bilingual speech called “The Flow of Languages, the Grace of Cultures.”




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Manon Barbe Profile on Page 1

My profile of longtime LaSalle borough mayor Manon Barbe appears on page 1 of yesterday’s (March 14) City Edition of the Suburban.

Barbe is a great example of a successful political leader who has broken many glass ceilings over the years through dedicated service, gumption and persistence. I don’t agree with all the positions she holds on issues, but her ability to make decisions and stand by them is admirable. She also works hard. I’ve seen her personally wait tables to serve veterans their lunch at LaSalle Legion events.


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Unapologetically Canadian Episode 2: Building Community with David Lefneski

If you prefer to read, here is a transcript

[00:00:14] Today I am speaking to one of the leaders behind Southwest United Mission Church and the mission downtown. Also somebody who is on Anglo family council and an alround a great guy.

[00:00:32] Here he is. I'm David Lefneski and I came to Verdun when there was Verdun United Church and Crawford Park United churches in 1998 looking for a bilingual minister because they wanted someone to both serve the congregations English speaking but serve their French neighbors. And it's the only church advertisement I saw that wanted a bilingual person which I was so I came to Verdun. I came from a fundamentalist background. I was raised in a more Pentecostal Baptist model of church and evolved towards the reform and reformation Protestant more mainline church. I was coming out of a French Presbyterian Church in Rosemont. I was coming out of the closet slowly and feeling that my orientation was an issue for some.

[00:01:27] And I really felt when I said here and Verdun "who's not welcome" and they said "What? Everyone's welcome. I thought there might be hope for me to simply be David in this context.

[00:01:42] And that was in 1988 to 1998. I've been here 18 years so I came for a ministry to what was existing at the time a large building on Woodland for Verdun United. Crawford was a smaller building but 225 in regular worship. Between those two congregations.

[00:02:03] Vibrant outreach. Alive to neighborhood a sense of not United Church affiliation as much as just "we serve our neighbors however we can." Marriages. Baptisms. At that time there were efforts at collective kitchen and Christmas baskets but it really was a clear sense that neighbour was at the at the heart of what ministry was about.

[00:02:30] And since then maybe in 18 years the evolution is pretty incredible. We're actually standing in a space in Verdun Elementary where just yesterday there was there was a community lunch. There was a what do you call the Good food family And there was a mini market all in one day.

[00:02:56] And then there was teen cuisine after that in a big long day. So it's a funny it's a crazy evolution actually. It's it's kind of when your heart has to choose the contractions of decline whether you let contractions become.

[00:03:16] How do you call that after the contraction then it's the growth of the heart. It expands. And as painful as the process is we went through many years of questions looking at our ministry at money and building and thinking God's given us with an inheritance from our forefathers and mothers and faith. They've invested in building and we said you know we can do better than just heat a building. We can be more active in our community. It took many years. But in 2007 two congregations joined together, agree to sell the bigger building which costs about thirty seven thousand dollars to heat a year and we felt it was just too too much for a one hour or a limited use. And it wasn't the building that could have adapted easily to community use at that time. So we sold we took money we invested that money and we were without a home for the office and outreach and the principal of the local school said hey we have room. And we went to Lester B. Pearson who said we'll make a partnership with a rental space that you pay. But the partnership will include working with our youth and food needs and clothing needs. We're in a spot that is disadvantaged. The school is like an inner city school with lots of needs of needs at various various levels. And we said yeah we can handle that. So it really we were defining to come into this space by the community. And what are the needs of the community.

[00:04:52] And this is now 2007. This is 2016. So nine years. We gave up an address. We came to a school in the corner of Melrose and redone our official addresses through the school to reach our office with mail. But last week the mailman tried to deliver mail at 6 3 1 which is a totally illegal address so hopefully no one from Polk County is listening you know because that's our number.

[00:05:20] So a taxi could pick up a senior or get something delivered but it's not a real number because there's no address. And what a good model. I like that.

[00:05:32] Address.

[00:05:36] We kept our smaller of the two churches so Crawford park became a Southwest church building. And this became the mission. And so we're still two locations which has kind of been our tradition for decades.

[00:05:50] The offices out of the school in the former nurse's office. Breakfast Club was one of the first things that happened with the school because the needs of children eating every morning. So it's a tri-partnership Breakfast Clubs in Quebec which is now Breakfast Clubs in Canada the school and the mission so our volunteers who put a kitchen in the Mission Space at our expense. About $30,000 dollars that we put that money in. Always with the blessing of the bschool board and have felt really a good relationship overall with the board because of this and of the Lester B, which is the furthest east the school in their whole territory. And of all the schools I would say as I said earlier kind of an inner city school. So it's not quite the norm of what West Islands about and it's recognized that we better do this together in a community model.

[00:06:46] Right now one of the things you had mentioned is when I've talked to you in previous times that you have a vision for taking this forward to combine the two.

[00:06:58] The two communities because you really have a worship community and a community you serve which includes many of the volunteers actually come from the community you serve. I mean it's I guess it's a really unique. Collection of people. And and you were talking about how moving forward your vision was much more united which is really kind of interesting. That's the name of the organization you work for. And that's both the challenge and the strength. So how do you as one individual one leader. Encompass those two very distinct missions. I mean you could be two organizations if you wanted to

[00:07:44] We could be I mean when we put up two stained glass windows in the school at the mission the Good Samaritan and the lost sheep we kept those because we felt their message was kind of an inclusive message. I mean who's my neighbor? Who is the other in that story of the Good Samaritan helping caring for the lost sheep you know. Who's who's not included who's on the edge of society or who can't read the invitation you're sending. Who's not eating well because he can't get out of their apartment and get to the healthy food choices. Who alone when they die?

[00:08:22] So when we put those stained glass in this building in a public building we are very conscious of it's kind of a juxtoposition of church and people of faith and what social justice or outreach and how those are almost in some way there are paradoxes and yet they are our motivation is to transform. I mean I want to convert everyone to healthy eating to healthy living to healthy choices to a healthy lifestyle. I don't have to speak of that as a religious conversion but yes we want to bring change and transformation of a message that we have lived as transformed formative. So our sense of faith in God and Jesus when we follow as Christians has never prevented us from having the Qur'an on our communion table at the church when people were bashing Muslim brothers and sisters we said hey come to the imam.

[00:09:21] We read from the Qur'an from the Bible we exchanged Qur'an and Bible and we kept our eyes on our communion table and fact when it was stolen last year from someone who said probably what's it doing to the Christian church because Christians have fundamentalists like everywhere else. And our response was to buy a new one through a Muslim family and rededicate it and put it back to remind us we don't possess truth. We're seeking after truth and unless we try to transform our community together with school with CLSC, with mosque with Christian church. Any group and every group willing to take the risk of a generous love and use space for community without it being contingent on faith adhesion or allegiance or adherence. So ours is a very alive faith. Maybe one day we have a church mission in one spot. It could maybe be really some headaches. But in other ways how exciting can you get to be probably the only as we hear it the only school in Canada where a public school has a faith group. That is committed to transformational models and community models working together. That's amazing. So in one sense. Maybe. It's still a good place to be because the energy is there. We have respect of others. Kids today going to manoir 250 Christmas cards homemade recycled singing and giving out those cards and they're looked at me and the kids said 'how do I call you?' And I said Well I'm a minister and Reverend David. I'm a community leader. So I'm David O. He said I'll call you Mr. Davis he said.

[00:11:06] I guess that's what they called teachers. I realize I just thought I was kind of cute right there that you know what do you call leadership. Well if it's transformative leadership it's probably going to change its name over a period of time which has been true for me.

[00:11:23] Well the fact I came as Reverend David and then we opened ourselves to more French ministry. And when I came out as a gay man when I took a Verdun nine year old as a foster son and the mother accused me of being a pedophile and I'm Gay and I guess I better talk to the elders and leaders of the church. I don't want them to hear that at IGA on Barrentine. Right. And I did and the elder ship said "oh you are a minister and we called you here. We believe in your ministry. You're our leader. So you stay. And when 15 people left that's about 2001. So it's quite a few years ago they left for various reasons but the majority of the congregation and to this day has simply been supportive. And I'm just David including my sexual orientation, and including being a foster parent, a musician, a gardener and yes I'm the minister and community leader. So it's the evolution of what kind of adaptive leadership over time. You know we can't stay the same and if our title's the same and same job district for the last 20 years I might be a little worried whether that's a teacher administrator preacher parent--because we should be evolving. We should be changing and growing and rising to new challenges.

[00:12:51] What do you think of when you hear the word Canadian?

[00:12:54] Oh my lord. I'm in Quebec. I came more than 30 years ago from Ontario my first 18 years are all French. Then I went into more bilingual I'd say I use my French here. Probably half of my work is now in French. Anything relating to the public is done in French. Anything we do, we do bilingually in our paperwork and our invitations. We try to do as much in our worship, weddings and baptism still in language of choice. For me I won't tell you how I voted in certain referendums but I would have stayed. No matter the decision as my roots here of these decades are not relating to Quebec Quebec versus Canada but rather I mean I'm a convert. I learned my French I'm Francofile I understand minority status. I understand that as a gay man there was a single parent or a single foster parent and I I understand the fight that it takes and the courage it takes to have a vibrant culture in a sea of English in North America and to be disconnected from Europe sort of its origins. And yet to have such a vibrant rich and different history. So I celebrate it and I think the common language where I live in Quebec is French. So the common language should be always Bpnjour to everyone and then you switch into whatever language including English you might want to speak. And even now I would say in our recent election in Verdun.

[00:14:38] In our recent election that we're done redone the candidates all kind of came by the mission and I'm Anglo family council president so I know they were kind of looking for some English inroads in votes.

[00:14:52] So you talk to everyone and I'm fairly apolitical and I know the 26 for the turkey meal that our new Deputy Liberal deputy just won the election provincially will be coming Mr longlais who is the PQ candidate is probably going to bring some desserts and maybe Veronique who was Quebec Solidaire.

[00:15:36] With English now sitting as the minority in Britain there's a lot of needs and you see us in Quebec. There's so many needs and changes but what's fundamental I feel is we serve we work together we build bridges towards each other we cross pollinate where we can and we don't stand on some political agenda. So my long response is to say I'm Canadian. I'm not even a monarchist. So the queen if that's going to throw up certain people I'm thinking I'm not even a monarchist so I'm kind of going for me being Canadian is the generosity I believe in as a Canadian. As being a Quebecois adopted, I feel such a privileged place really in Quebec very integrated and I want I want the English experience to be integrated into a dynamic Quebed, not excluded from it right but included within. So that's a lot of work and I would say that's probably where I'm at. I don't question.

[00:16:49] You answered with a definition of what you think Canadian is let's get it.

[00:16:54] And I have to think of it more because how I vote really is determined by that.

[00:16:59] The interesting thing is I don't think I mean one of the things I don't think of myself as a Canadian based on how I vote. For me it's because I believe in Canada as a big idea in federalism and the fact that diversity connects and the fact that you actually...Canada is stronger when every separate part of it is stronger. So moving to Quebec was very easy for me because it's not just where my roots are from but for me the idea of a strong Quebec with a strong Canada and a strong Ontario Ontario Northern Ontario would love to separate from Southern Ontario like there's separation movements all over the country and I just don't think it separates anything from the fact that we can all be Canadian anyway.

[00:17:44] I agree with you because fundamentally what I hear you say and that's what we're trying to live in a strong community--a communite de base if the base community is healthy respected alive doing well feeling engaged even if they're not in agreement with policies politics, but if they're feeling invited to the table they're able to eat, find jobs get to school, learn, educate their kids, be bilingual trilingual or hovever many languages, a strong Newfoundland Labrador a strong Quebec strong West. I agree with that that that creates a stronger whole.

[00:18:23] I would still affirm in the history of founding peoples, the First Nation, of British and French. There is something very unique in that history when you look across the country, but when you come into Quebec, you can't deny it. You know that we have some aspects of that history that are very particular and so they should be and just recognize them, celebrate them keep it flowing towards a generosity. And when you have to make a decision if I ever had to make a decision I would be.

[00:18:57] Well we do have to occasionally, but that's a different thing. Anyway thank you very much David we appreciate your time. You're welcome.

[00:19:10] Thank you for listening to unapologetically Canadian.

This episode was brought to you by Tangerine, the best value bank for Canadians.

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Unapologetically Canadian Episode 1: Introduction to a Seasonal, Free and Abundant Canada

When I was in university, there was a free listening room where you could go to relax and hear great music on tapes. I would ask to hear songs by Joni Mitchell, Anne Murray, the Tragically Hip, Parachute Club, the Cars, Gordon Lightfoot, Tom Cochrane,Leonard Cohen, Tom Connors, April Wine, Rita MacNeil, Rush, Maureen Forrester, the Band, Loverboy, K.D. Lang, Paul Anka, Glenn Gould, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Lenny Breau, The Guess Who, Wilf Carter and Neil Young.

To hear some of my favourites, CBC’s top 20 Canadian Songs an online museum of Canadian music from 1910 until now.

At the time, I didn’t realize that almost all my choices were Canadian.

That was the first time I lived away from home, so the lyrics, sentiments and moods of many of my favourite singers comforted me and softened some of the loneliness I felt at that time. Since then, I’ve spoken to several people who have taken on global, non-nationalistic or more local identities than my own and have come to recognize that being Canadian is an essential part of who I am.

So what does that mean?

To me, being Canadian means to live a seasonal, free and abundant life.  

Seasonal Living

Let me begin with the seasonal part. Where I live, temperatures drop to minus 30 in the winter, while in the summer, they’re at plus 30. We enjoy snow, ice, flooding, fall colours, spring tulips, and summer tomatoes. In Canada, we have eight different seasons—each with good and bad points.

The year begins with deep winter, when there’s enough snow for cross-country skiing and lots of shovelling.

Early spring features dirty snow, mud and lots of sunshine and warmth.

Flowers start appearing on trees, in sunny gardens and sometimes even through the snow in the springtime.

In early summer, the dandelions sprout and barbecue season gets underway.

A lack of rain dries up the grass and gardens by the time of summer heat waves and city dwellers escape to the cottage if they can.

Early autumn features morning frost and brilliant red, yellow and orange leaves.

If we’re lucky, late autumn features a brief moment of heat known as Indian summer because the rest of season is full of rainy cold grey days.

Early winter might have snowy sunny days between its long dark nights.

Our many cold dark seasons put a dry, warm pleasant shelter high on the list of priorities for Canadians. We also use more energy to heat our buildings, feed ourselves and keep ourselves warm and cool throughout the year than most other countries in the world. There’s a reason why Bob and Doug Mackenzie wear tuques.


When it comes to freedom, most Canadians can’t complain. We live in a democracy, so choosing our leaders comes down to us. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of movement—we have each of these, although these freedoms are being threatened these days, so we’ll have to fight to keep them.

Luckily, anyone can still run for political leadership, as I discovered when I did so myself in 2017. There’s also a free media, and anyone can become a citizen journalist and publish their own work to assist people struggling with institutions or government.

Canada has a political tradition based on the values of peace, order and good government.

We operate under a parliamentary system that we imported from Britain and then revised for our own needs. We don’t have a direct vote for our Prime Minister. Instead, we vote for a federal minister of Parliament who joins colleagues from the rest of the country to choose a prime minister. Ministers jointly recommend this prime minister to the Queen, who confirms their choice via her representative, the Governor General. Yes, it’s convoluted and not directly democratic and could use improvement, but it mostly works.

When it comes to freedom, I’m also proud of Canada’s many decisions to help the world’s needy. Recently, we’ve sheltered Haitian and Syrian refugees, but we’ve also taken Vietnamese boat people, American draft dodgers and many others in my lifetime. The Japanese Internment camps and our treatment of our own First Nation peoples area sad exception to a tradition of serving as a beacon of freedom for many, including Hugenots, Mennonites, Home Children, Jews and slaves, who found freedom at the end of the Underground Railroad. I know that earlier economies in Canada benefited from human slavery, with even our Saint Marguerite Bourgeois profiting from that horror, but we did the right thing at last and that’s what I want to commemorate.

I’m also proud of our decision to join the world in banning the death penalty, providing universal health care, measuring with metric, allowing safe abortion, enabling our citizens to die with dignity and soon, legalizing marihuana. As divisive as each of these decisions has been, I believe they are the right ones to make.

In Canada, if you’re a parent and you have a full-time job, you have the right to stay with your baby for the first year. That too is a good tradition. Its benefits don’t extend to self-employed entrepreneurs, politicians or students, although we’re getting there.


I am so grateful for the extreme abundance that all Canadians benefit from. Canada has more fresh water than any other country in the world.

We have multiple bees, bird and butterfly species.

We have both conifer and deciduous trees. We have mountains and rivers and peat bogs and prairies. We have moraines, escarpments, drumlins and cliffs. We have ancient, classic and modern art. Our flora and fauna ranges from arctic to dessert. We have three coasts along three different ocean bodies. The Gulf Stream passes our shores.

And that doesn’t include the incredible diverse abundance of people, both those who helped shape Canada in the past and those who live in Canada today.

As an amateur historian and genealogist, I am in awe of the accomplishments and visions of people who helped shaped our country. These are the women who bore us, the parents who raised us, the farmers who fed us, the builders who constructed our homes and work places, the entrepreneurs who employed us, the artists who inspired us, the athletes who entertained us, the police, lawyers and soldiers who kept us secure, the prophets who got us thinking, the creators who gave us our tools, and the politicians and bureaucrats who governed us.

This podcast is my opportunity to connect with Canadians from all walks of life to find out how they and their families are contributing to our country. I’ll find out whether they consider themselves Canadian, and if so, what that means to them. It’s our chance to explore and continue co-creating the Canadian identity.


This episode is brought to you by Notable Nonfiction. Notable Nonfiction teaches people to grow through their own ingenuity. Find out more at Notable

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