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Women who inspire: Culturists breaking through during Covid-19

Know Your Value spotlights women who are pushing through barriers and spreading positivity, kindness, support and awareness during this difficult time.
Author and comedian Sarah Cooper.
Author and comedian Sarah Cooper.Mindy Tucker/@withreservation

It’s no secret that women have faced the brunt of the social and economic consequences of Covid-19.

Over the last eight months, we’ve seen the pandemic destroy lives, devastate the world economy and threaten any sense of security and job stability. We’ve also seen so many incredible women persevere, despite the obstacles. That’s why we’re spotlighting just some of the culturalists who are pushing through these barriers and spreading positivity, kindness, support and awareness during this difficult time:

Sarah Cooper, author and comedian

Image: Sarah Cooper appears on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
Sarah Cooper appears on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Although it’s hard to imagine a time when Sarah Cooper wasn’t going viral on TikTok and Twitter with her hilarious videos, she started out in a completely different field, initially earning degrees in economics to appease her parents’ wishes. Cooper worked as a user-experience designer for tech giants like Google and Yahoo!, and also pursued stand-up comedy in Atlanta on the side. Eventually, she left the tech industry to pursue writing and comedy full time, authoring the best-selling books “100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings” and “How to be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings.”

It wasn’t until April 2020 that Cooper’s career changed completely. Since the pandemic cancelled any plans of performing live, Cooper, 42, pivoted to digital media and topical comedy in a time of crisis. Her viral videos, set to the soundtrack of the president’s own words, have become ubiquitous during the pandemic.

In June 2020, Sarah Cooper signed with William Morris Endeavor, and she is currently adapting her comedy for film and television. She is working on a Netflix special called “Everything’s Fine” (directed by Natasha Lyonne and executive produced by Maya Rudolph) and developing a comedy series for CBS based on her popular book, “How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings.” She is also working on her next book title, a humorous semi-autobiographical take on Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Trump or no Trump, her creative aspirations center on one common theme: “I want to make people laugh,” she said in an interview with Variety. “That’s my No. 1 thing.”

I always turned to humor as a defense mechanism to ease tension and make sure everybody’s feeling good. I just love when people feel comfortable and happy. – Sarah Cooper

Malia Jones, social epidemiologist, founder of ‘Dear Pandemic’

Malia Jones, social epidemiologist.
Malia Jones, social epidemiologist.

In the early days of the pandemic, Malia Jones wrote an informative letter about coronavirus to her friends and family, including tips like "wash your hands" and "don't pick your nose." The letter went viral, getting over one million views on USA Today and earning her an appearance on “Dr. Phil.” Jones, a social epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who studies how infectious diseases spread through populations, was suddenly in high demand to explain the science of outbreaks on a level that the general public could understand.

Jones knew she couldn’t manage the overwhelming amount of questions on her own, so she and friend Alison Buttenheim, an associate professor of nursing and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, recruited more doctoral degree-holding women from across the country to help translate the onslaught of Covid-19 news into easily digestible terminology. The project turned into ‘Dear Pandemic’, in which these accomplished women answer people's questions and highlight scientific articles about the coronavirus on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

"When we look for someone in a really authoritative scientific position, what we're thinking of is generally a man. When we're looking for an advice column or a specific situation or we need to bother someone with a question that we have, we're more comfortable taking that kind of query to a female. – Malia Jones

Amanda Kloots, fitness trainer, co-founder of Hooray For

Beyond Yoga x Amanda Kloots Collaboration Launch Event
Amanda Kloots and Nick Cordero attend the Beyond Yoga x Amanda Kloots Collaboration Launch Event on Aug. 27, 2019 in New York City.Noam Galai / Getty Images for Beyond Yoga file

At the start of 2020, celebrity fitness trainer and entrepreneur Amanda Kloots and her family were in the process of moving across the country. Kloots and her husband, Tony Award-nominated Nick Cordero, had been performers in New York City’s theater scene for years, and were looking forward to making a fresh start in Los Angeles with their new baby.

Unfortunately, in late March, Cordero was diagnosed with Covid-19. The Broadway actor, 42, passed away on July 5 at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he had been in the intensive care unit for more than 90 days due to complications of coronavirus.

As a way to cope, Kloots documented her husband's experience on her Instagram account, becoming one of the most prominent faces of the impact of the disease on young, American families. During her husband’s long battle, Kloots never stopped rooting for Cordero, and getting others to root for him as well, in song, prayer and dance. That included a daily encouragement to her Instagram followers to sing Cordero’s song, “Live Your Life,” in his honor. Throughout it all, Amanda has relied on her regular workouts for sanity, touting how lucky people should feel to even have the ability to move and breathe.

The dancer-turned-fitness guru has learned how to keep going despite tragedy, continuing to teach her fitness classes, co-founding Hooray For (a charitable T-shirt company) with her sister and using her platform to spread awareness about the detrimental effects of coronavirus.

Kloots is honoring her husband Nick in an upcoming memoir that she says will be "a beautiful tribute to Nick but also a book that hopefully inspires people to find positivity in times of hardship.” The book, which she co-wrote with her younger sister, Anna, is titled “Live Your Life” (named after Cordero's song) and will be available next summer.

People have asked me forever, why I’m always smiling when I’m working out, or why I have such a positive attitude about fitness, or how do you stay motivated? I always say we are so lucky to be able to roll out of bed, to stand on two feet, to stand up, to walk, to jump, to skip, to smile. – Amanda Kloots

Dr. Zeynep Tufekci, sociologist and professor

Nobel Week Dialogue on the Future of Truth
Zeynep Tufekci, contributing writer to the New York Times, speaks at 'Nobel Week Dialogue: the Future of Truth' conference at at Svenska Massan on December 9, 2017, in Gothenburg, Sweden. (Photo by Julia Reinhart/ Getty Images)Julia Reinhart/Getty / Getty Images

When the novel coronavirus first began spreading in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Americans to not wear masks. In March, Dr. Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina’s School of Information and Library Science (with no apparent qualifications in epidemiology), challenged that recommendation in a viral tweet chain that she expanded into one of the most influential opinion pieces ever written for the New York Times.

She was critical of the mainstream media for failing to explain the importance of mask wearing and is often cited as one of the first to take up the importance of the practice in the mainstream media.

Over the past few months, Tufekci has written numerous articles explaining the importance of flattening the curve and mask wearing. But this isn’t the first time she has been right about something big: In 2011, she went against the current in arguing the case for Twitter as a driver of broad social movements had been oversimplified. In 2012, she warned news media outlets that their coverage of school shootings could inspire more. In 2013, she argued that Facebook could fuel ethnic cleansing. In 2017, she warned that YouTube’s recommendation algorithm could be used as a tool of radicalization. Tufekci, a Turkish native, credits her international and unbiased point of view, knowledge that spans subject areas and academic disciplines (she’s a former computer programmer who got into sociology), and her complex systems-based thinking in being able to see things more clearly.

It’s charmed that I get to do this, it feels good. But in the ideal world, people like me are kind of superfluous, and we have these faceless nameless experts and bureaucrats who tell us: This is what you have to do. -- Dr. Zeynep Tufekci

Mikaila Ulmer, founder Me & The Bees Lemonade, author, “Bee Fearless: Dream Like A Kid

Mikaila Ulmer, founder Me & The Bees Lemonade.
Mikaila Ulmer, founder Me & The Bees Lemonade.Courtesy of Mikaila Ulmer.

Mikaila Ulmer, 15, is a social entrepreneur, bee ambassador, educator and student. The young CEO founded Me & The Bees Lemonade business when she was just 4 years old, and over the past decade has sold over 1 million bottles of her product across 1,500 stores in the U.S., including Whole Foods, Wegman’s, The Fresh Market and Macy’s.

After being stung twice by bees as a young child, her parents wanted Mikaila to learn about the insect to quell her fear. She learned how crucial bees are to the ecosystem and drove her passion to educate others and save the bees.

Mikaila enrolled in youth business competitions, including Austin Lemonade Day and Acton Children's Business Fair as a kindergartner and was featured on CNBC’s “Shark Tank.” Her business began to grow, and local shops signed on to distribute the product.

She established herself as a voice of guidance for others, appearing on “Good Morning America”, “Today Show”, “ABC World News Tonight,” and “CBS News,” and she regularly speaks at entrepreneurial summits—even visiting with the Obamas.

When the pandemic hit, Mikaila continued to work hard, releasing her part memoir, part business guide “Bee Fearless: Dream Like a Kid” where she shares her personal journey and special brand of mindful entrepreneurship and offers helpful tips and guidance for young readers interested in pursuing their own ventures.

Everyone has something to teach and everyone has something to learn. -- Mikaila Ulmer