When OZY was nominated along with the Oprah Winfrey Network for an Emmy in August, we knew we were up against three of America’s biggest media brands: NBC, MSNBC and PBS. Yet we had faith that what we had done was truly special. On Monday, that belief was rewarded: OZY and OWN won the Outstanding News and Analysis Emmy for the Motherhood episode of Black Women OWN the Conversation, a first-of-its-kind TV show where OZY co-founder Carlos Watson spoke with more than 100 Black women about their journeys — and the future they hope to see. Today’s Daily Dose is a tribute to those who've taken on unfavorable odds and flipped them through their persistence and sheer brilliance.
Pallabi Munsi, reporter
politics: defying history … and pollsters
1. Jimmy Who?
A former governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter had little funding and even less support from the Democratic Party establishment when he ran for president in 1976. The Atlanta Constitution ran a headline that read: “Jimmy Who Is Running for What!?” But a nation still grappling with the effects of Watergate and the Vietnam War was hungry for change. Carter and his team used a fractured contest with multiple Democratic contenders and an early win in Iowa to seal the nomination and then defeat President Gerald Ford. Carter has since carved out an extraordinary post-presidential career of diplomacy and service. Now 95, he has even beat melanoma with the help of immunotherapy.
2. 2016 in Reverse
A business leader who had never held office and was once a Democrat, he snatched the Republican nomination from better-known rivals. But that’s where the parallels between Wendell Willkie, a utilities executive, and President Donald Trump end. As Nazi troops grabbed more and more of Europe, Willkie galvanized Republican voters with his call to shed isolationism. He lost the 1940 election to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but he made the Republican Party more internationalist a year before Pearl Harbor.
The Hindu nationalist BJP party had ruled India for the previous six years, overseeing steady growth and a victorious military campaign against Pakistan. Opinion polls ahead of the national elections showed the BJP leading comfortably. But inequality and religious strife were on the up. Current Prime Minister Narendra Modi was then the chief minister of Gujarat state, in power during a massacre of Muslims in 2002. That galvanized opposition unity against the BJP, whose “India Shining” campaign flopped. A centrist coalition led by the Congress party formed the government. A decade later, Modi would exact his revenge, emerging as the most powerful Indian political leader in a generation after becoming prime minister in 2014.
5. Nobody Lasts Forever
Dictator Yahya Jammeh had ruled Gambia since 1994 and said he would rule for “one billion years” if “Allah willed it.” But in one of Africa’s most surprising election results, property dealer Adama Barrow trounced Jammeh in 2016, setting off a domino effect that has since seen multiple dictators on the continent lose power, from Zimbabwe to Algeria. Barrow instituted the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission that uncovered gruesome human rights violations under Jammeh. But three years later, Barrow appears to have returned to his predecessor’s script and turned his back on a commitment to leave office this year. That’s sparked protests in a country that now knows it has the power to bring about change — whatever the odds.
6. Millennial Strongman
Like Barrow, Nayib Bukele pitched himself as an “outsider” when he took on the two parties that had dominated El Salvador’s politics for decades in last year’s presidential elections. And like the Gambian leader, the ponytailed Bukele, 39, has since used the pandemic to tighten his grip over the nation. The former San Salvador mayor has defied Supreme Court rulings and sent soldiers into Congress to pressure legislators. Yet he remains wildly popular for bringing order to a gang-terrorized nation.
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The Soviet Union had won six of the previous seven Winter Olympics ice hockey gold medals and had a team of trained professionals. The U.S. side consisted of amateurs. Yet in one of the most nail-biting upsets in sports history, the Americans beat the Soviets 4-3 in front of 10,000 cheering fans in Lake Placid, New York. Watch the final moments of that historic game.
2. Greek Legend
This legend’s true — so true that it’s hard to believe 16 years later. Ahead of the 2004 Euro soccer championships, Greek defender Takis Fyssas had told his fiancée he would be back in time to watch the final games of the competition from home. Greece had 150-1 odds at the start of the tournament. They were nobodies in global soccer and had no star players. But Fyssas was wrong in his prediction — as were the bookmakers. Greece went on to win the competition, defeating Portugal in the final. Watch highlights of the final.
3. Snow Queen
“I put my feet on the floor. I couldn’t feel them,” recalled Amy Purdy. “When I looked at them, I saw that they were purple. I glanced at my hands and saw that my hands were purple.” Purdy was 19 at the time and needed a below-the-knee amputation because of meningococcal meningitis. But that didn’t stop her from dreaming fearlessly. Now she’s among the world’s top-ranked adaptive snowboarders. The 2014 Sochi Paralympic bronze medalist is currently the only double leg amputee competing in snowboarding at the world-class level. Watch Purdy talk about her journey in OZY’s Defining Moments on Hulu.
Roberta Vinci didn’t know the meaning of the word “upset” until it was translated into Italian for her — never mind that she had pulled off one of the greatest coups in women’s tennis, defeating Serena Williams at the U.S. Open in 2015. Williams was on her way to a rare calendar Grand Slam, and Vinci was given 300-1 odds of beating her. Whoever bet on Vinci that day would have walked away rich after her 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 win. Watch here.
In early September, California lawmakers passed a bill allowing former prison inmates to pursue careers as firefighters after their incarceration. The bill, authored by Assembly Member Eloise Gomez Reyes, had faced fierce backlash for seeking to remove barriers that prevented inmates from becoming first responders upon release. As Gomez Reyes tweeted: “Those that have served on the fire lines deserve a second chance.”
2. Hire Prisoners
California might be onto something. According to a survey of 1,052 managers and regular employees conducted by the University of Chicago in 2018, 82 percent of managers think employees with criminal records perform as well or better than workers with a clean sheet. They typically have a better work ethic, some managers say. And reintroducing them into industries where they previously worked helps companies save on fresh training by as much as $4,000 per employee.
At 16, he entered a world of crime. At 17, he led a gang of criminals. At 21, he was arrested on charges of kidnapping, extortion and murder. Nine years later, Nigel Akkara, who lives in India’s eastern metropolis Kolkata, is an entrepreneur, healer and theater therapist offering a new lease on life for many like him.
You might know Dominique Jackson for her awe-inspiring performance as Elektra on Pose. She’s also a pioneer within the queer community, supporting and giving to those in need. Jackson knows the struggle to prove herself — even to her loved ones — all too well. “I wanted to prove to my mother that being trans didn’t mean that I was some degenerate. It’s about the mindset, and the mindset is love.” Watch Jackson talk about her journey on OZY’s Defining Moments streaming on Hulu.
Growing up in an almost exclusively white community in Vancouver, Sophia Chang had a rough childhood. “I faced lots of overt racism. I got called ‘Chink.’ I got called ‘Jap.’ I got called ‘gook.’ … I was ashamed of being Asian for a long time.” It was the members of the Wu-Tang Clan, formed on Staten Island by rapper-producer RZA, who introduced Chang to aspects of Asian culture when she met them in New York City in her 20s. That Asian identity is one the hip-hop star now wears proudly. Watch Chang discuss her struggles-to-fame story on OZY’s Defining Moments on Hulu.
Recovering from cancer without the aid of modern medicine is near impossible, with 1 in 100,000 odds. Yet patients have made dramatic turnarounds, shedding the disease and inspiring research within the medical profession. Could a subsequent infection be the key? Some scientists, for instance, have found tumors vanishing after patients suffered from diphtheria, gonorrhea, hepatitis, influenza, malaria, measles, pneumonia, smallpox and syphilis.
2. The Wake-Up Call
Munira Abdulla, then 32, was driving her son Omar Webair home from school in the UAE in 1991, when an accident left her in a coma with a serious brain injury. Despite treatment at hospitals in the UAE, the U.K. and Germany, no one believed she would ever regain consciousness. But she did — 27 years later. “None of us had ever experienced that someone wakes again after 27 years,” said Dr. Friedemann Müller, head physician at Germany’s Schoen Clinic. While Abdulla still requires care, she’s back home in the UAE and able to communicate.
3. First Heart Transplant
It was compared to the “surgical equivalent of the ascent of Everest.” On Dec. 3, 1967, South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard led the world’s first human-to-human heart transplant. Some wondered if doctors were playing God, and Barnard became the target of hate mail. But he paved the way for a procedure that now saves between 3,500 and 5,000 lives each year.
4. Hearing Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven might be the world’s best-known classical composer, but when his magisterial Ninth Symphony premiered in 1824, he had to be turned around to see the audience cheering — because he could not hear the applause. “If I belonged to any other profession, it would be easier,” he told a friend once about his hearing disability, “but in my profession, it is a frightful state.” By his mid-40s, Beethoven was totally deaf and communicated with colleagues, visitors and friends through written notes.
1. Paw-shank Redemption
A serial killer who’d left a trail of blood across several Southeast Asian countries, Charles Sobhraj had been in New Delhi’s Tihar Jail for 10 years. That is, before the Frenchman escaped from prison with the help of David Hall (a suave young Englishman imprisoned for smuggling heroin who was out on bail at the time), a drugged cat and unsuspecting wardens. The subject of several films and TV dramas in India, Sobhraj is now back in prison, in Nepal.
Like many Soviet Jews, Edward Kuznetsov and Mark Dymshits wanted to make it to Israel. But in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, relations between the Soviet Union and Israel were chilly. And getting exit visas was nearly impossible. So the “refuseniks” — Soviet Jews denied exit visas — devised Operation Wedding. A 16-person crew booked an airplane under the pretext of flying to Stockholm for a wedding. The plan was to assume control midflight when Dymshits would take over from the pilots, who would be deplaned at a stopover. They didn’t succeed, but they opened the door for generations to follow.
Lucy Dudko, aka Red Lucy, descended on Silverwater Jail in Australia with a gun in her hand pointed at pilot Tim Joyce. It was March 25, 1999, and she’d just hijacked a helicopter to bust out her boyfriend, John Killick, who was awaiting sentence for armed robbery and shooting at an off-duty police officer. As Joyce landed the White Bell 47G helicopter in the prison yard, inmates began cheering and clearing the way for Killick, who climbed aboard in his green prison singlet. According to police records, Killick told the pilot, “You can make a lot of money out of 60 Minutes if you do the right thing. It’s your choice.” Joyce called the cops after freeing himself, and Lucy and Killick managed to elude authorities for 45 days before being caught. Red Lucy and Killick were sentenced to 10 and 23 years, respectively.
Kim Jin-soo was just 17 years old when he fought for the South in the Korean War. Taken as a prisoner of war to North Korea, Kim received medical treatment in Pyongyang for a gunshot wound and was dispatched to coal mines for nearly 40 years before he turned to farming. This past June, Kim, who had been declared dead at the time of his capture by South Korea, crossed the Tumen River and escaped to China — 55 years after his capture.
Virginia-born Brown had watched his wife and children get sold and shipped to another state in 1848 — and he wasn’t going to wait for that to happen to him. So, on March 23, 1849, Brown plonked himself into a 3-by-2-foot box labeled “dry goods” and settled in for a 27-hour journey — via wagon, steamboat and railroad — to the home of abolitionist James Miller McKim. The incident made him instantly famous, but after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, he was forced to flee to England, where he worked in show business before returning to the U.S. in 1875. He turned his earlier experience into an occupation as a magician — emerging from the same box he’d used to secure his freedom.