100 Good Things That Happened In 2017

Think this year was all bad? Think again.

A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.  

It's not all doom and gloom.

2017 was a complicated year that included the inauguration of a controversial new president, horrifying humanitarian crises in Yemen and Syria, devastating natural disasters across the globe, and the deadliest mass shooting in American history.  But 2017 also featured powerful stories of optimism, heroism, progress, positivity and advancement. 

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The year began with a powerful, unifying trend across the United States: Americans began replacing their partisan political signs with ones that didn't have a single politician's name on them. Instead, the signs read (in several different languages), "no matter where you're from, we're glad you're our neighbor." It was just the beginning of some much-needed unity after a divisive election. A group of Republican senators would stick together to stop a repeal of Obamacare. Sen. John McCain blasted partisans and then watched as his former rival Joe Biden comforted McCain's daughter on live television while discussing his cancer diagnosis. Two congressmen from different parties held a "town hall on wheels" after a snowstorm trapped them in a car together. A group of bipartisan politicians came together to push back on President Donald Trump's travel ban

A number of people got their day in court, too. Chelsea Manning had her sentence commuted by former President Barack Obama and the Supreme Court struck down a racist gerrymandering law in North Carolina. It also ruled that gay parents could both appear on a child's birth certificate. In Australia, citizens made legal gay marriage the law of the land.  Justice Sonia Sotomayor gave everyone a lesson on equality in the infamous gay wedding cake case. A new law passed in Texas that would allow poor people to pay off fines with community service and avoid jail time, and a ruling in Colorado determined that rapists can be charged for the cost of their victim's rape kit. A judge went viral for her reaction to a woman's unjust parking ticket

Immigrants, documented and undocumented, were shown some love as the battle over new legislation rages on. Sen. Bob Casey spent a day trying to save a family from being deported and undocumented immigrants found sanctuary in churches and synagogues across the country. Thousands of immigrants celebrated Fourth of July by becoming American citizens. Passengers stood up for an immigrant in Minnesota who was being unfairly questioned by a transit officer, White House advisor Kellyanne Conway accidentally reminded us that many heroes weren't born in the United States, and a mayor in Houston emphatically debunked some of the biggest rumors about immigrants. People across the country tipped their hats to Native Americans on Columbus Day. 

In San Diego, local government found a solution for their homeless military veterans. In London, homeless people were given disposable cameras and the incredible photos they took were turned into art.  New York City founded a Girl Scout troop for homeless girls and a woman in Myrtle Beach is giving the homeless school supplies. A cafe in Scotland is now employing homeless people, a hair stylist droves across the United States giving homeless people free haircuts, and the McDonald's next to the Vatican channeled its giving spirit and handed free food out to homeless people in Rome

A Chicago police officer showed us all what community policing is supposed to look like, a Savannah police officer saved a newborn baby with CPR, and a Las Vegas police officer helped a woman escape the mass shooting on the strip. Citizens came together to thank police officers for their tireless work and one police department in Maine filled us in on what not to say to cops. Another department deployed "superheroes" to help kids fighting cancer

Women dominated the year, earning recognition from TIME Magazine for being silence breakers. Employees at Fox News brought down Bill O'Reilly for his alleged sexual misconduct. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is helping Congress clean house of its sexual harassers. Dozens of women came forward against former film magnate Harvey Weinstein and set off a chain of allegations against powerful men in Hollywood. In Saudi Arabia, women were finally granted the right to drive. In the United States, a woman graduated from the Marine Corps' most grueling program for the first time ever. Danica Roem because the first openly transgender woman to ever win a state delegate seat, the first Sikh mayor was elected in New Jersey, the first lesbian mayor was elected in Seattle, Vi Lyles became the first black mayor of Charlotte and Melvin Carter III became the first mayor of color in St. Paul, Minnesota.

There were advancements in science, too. Scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical grew a beating human heart from skin cells. The child mortality rate across the globe has plummeted. India successfully eradicated polio with vaccines and California's vaccine laws made children in public school safer. France, too, got in on the vaccine action: they made it mandatory for parents to vaccinate their children. A study in England illuminated the astonishing health benefits of having trees in cities. A group of Afghan girls got a silver medal in a global robotics competition. 

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The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) declared 3,4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine (or MDMA) a "breakthrough therapy" for treating post-traumatic stress disorder, approved a new cancer treatment that allows people to use their own cells to successfully fight the disease and gave the thumbs up to an MRI scanner for babies. Meanwhile, NASA found seven new planets that could support alien life.

Speaking of life — elephants in Africa appear to have been granted a new, hopeful future after armed brigades protected hundreds from poaching and China announced its plan to end ivory trading by the new year. Hundreds of volunteers formed a chain in New Zealand to prevent a pod of pilot whales from beaching themselves. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio got the attention of Mexico's president with a plea to save vaquitas, the most endangered marine mammal in the world. Not long after, manatees were moved off of the endangered species list

Volunteers form a human chain to stop a pod of pilot whales from stranding themselves again after being refloated after one of the country's largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand's South Island, February 12, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps
Courtesy Open Style Lab

Journalists from around the world worked vigorously to restore our faith in the institution. Investigative reports into the foster care system, the opioid crisis in West Virginia and how police forces protect cops from punishment all informed the public about widespread corruption. Reporters from CNN, local Houston television stations and the Miami Herald helped rescue or shelter people during a wave of natural disasters this fall.  Overseas, a Syrian photojournalist helped save a young boy during an airstrike in Aleppo. A New York Times journalist gave us a look into what life is like for Iraqi soldiers fighting ISIS. All throughout 2017, heroic journalists on the ground in Iraq and Syria told the stories of how the rise of ISIS has upended the lives of regular citizens

Fashion and entertainment folks made tons of inspiring news as well. In the A Plus series Fashion Rule Breakers, we profiled Open Style Lab, a nonprofit organization working to create clothing that meets the needs of those with disabilities. We also took a look at the ethical fashion world, and how some activists are doing their best to educate Americans about where and how their clothes are made. Other brands took a more direct approach, like Zappos, the Las Vegas shoe company that covered the funeral costs of those who died in the Las Vegas mass shooting.

Amal Clooney gave an impassioned speech to the United Nations on how they should be combatting ISIS. Snoop Dogg donated to a children's hospital on behalf of Jimmy Kimmel after Kimmel opened up about his newborn son's heart condition. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Colbert managed to have a reasonable and friendly religious debate. Chance The Rapper had an award ceremony for students and teachers. Earlier in the year, Chance started a fund for an arts program in Chicago public schools and donated $1 million to public schools in the city.  Kim Kardashian and Rihanna joined the fight for Cyntoia Brown, who is hoping to appeal a murder conviction. An Italian filmmaker successfully populated the Internet with GIFs of work done by female directors. A new campaign challenged the gender roles in advertisements by using naked men instead of naked womenHeinz gave 22,000 workers the day off after the Super Bowl instead of paying for an advertisement spot during the game. Dale Hansen, the Texas sportscaster, was back in the news for his good heart when he defended a transgender teenager who wanted to wrestle in high school.

Politicians, athletes, entertainers, activists, journalists — all of these people made positive change in the world this year. And while their incredible stories should uplift you, perhaps nothing defined the year more than the heroes that were the everyday kind of people. The ones who rose up in moments of war, natural disaster and great tragedy to help another human being.

We watched as the "Cajun Navy" mobilized to Houston to help victims of one of the worst floods in United States history, and then saw a group of Muslim young people help clean up in the aftermath. One man was rescued during the storm as his car was submerged with water thanks to a human chain. Puerto Ricans also stepped up to help surrounding islands after Hurricane Irma decimated the region around them. In the aftermath of that storm, a chainsaw-yielding nun made headlines for helping clear roads across Florida. Speaking of Florida, a group of beachgoers successfully formed another human chain there to rescue a family that nearly drowned in a riptide. In California, a group of female inmates helped fight the devastating forest fires. In Mississippi, a group of college coaches and athletes from Southern Mississippi helped with the relief efforts after a tornado tore through Hattiesburg.

It wasn't just natural disasters that sparked heroism, either. A Romanian baker fought off a terrorist with a crate in the London Bridge attack before sheltering people in his bakery. After the attack, a group of Muslim women performed an act of solidarity on the London Bridge. Tobias Elwood, a former captain in the British Army and British Conservative Party politician, tried to save a police officer's life after he was stabbed. In the New York City terrorist attack, a police officer ran towards the driver of a rented van who had just killed eight people in a bike lane, shot him several times without killing him and apprehended him before he could do any more damage. When a bomb went off at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, a homeless man ran towards the danger and began helping the injured. Johnnie Langendorff became a national hero when he helped chase down the shooter in the Texas church massacre. After a devastating bombing in Syria, a group of civilians known as the White Helmets saved a girl who was stuck beneath the rubble. Veteran David Eubank ran into gunfire to save a little girl. 

An image of Eubank carrying the girl to safety. Free Burma Rangers

One year after the deadly terrorist attack at the Orlando Pulse Nightclub, the LGBT community in Orlando says they are stronger and more vibrant than ever. An organization in the United States is now focusing on advocacy for the 1.5 million LGBT folks who are over the age of 65. A lesbian couple is celebrating their love by getting married in 24 different countries. The inspiring marriage stories didn't stop there, either: A couple that met when their dads died in the September 11th attacks tied the knot in Austin, showing that love can really overcome hate.  

People came together online, too. The world watched as Zimbabweans celebrated the world's oldest dictator resigning. A group of Redditors started a GoFundMe account for the victim in a Chicago beating. Transphobic commenters ran into a biology teacher on Facebook who tore down their ignorance and a father used Facebook to call for compassion for his bullied son (he got it). The Red Cross used Twitter's character increase to educate people about global conflict and Twitter updated its "revenge porn" policy to better protect users

It was a tumultuous year of ups and downs but one thing is clear: these 100 stories are just a sliver of the amazing good done by people all over the world. And while it might not always be easy to find those stories in a sea of horrifying headlines, I promise it's always worth looking. 

For more, you can follow @Ike_Saul on Twitter.

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