The Best Stories of 2019

By The CCM Team

The Ford Foundation’s Darren Walker and his fight with economic inequality. The mystery of a masked criminal who terrorized California several decades ago. The role Florida’s “Pill Mills” played in fueling America’s opioid addiction. At CCM we love a good story. As we close the books on another decade, the CCM team looks back on these stories and more. Why? Because they remind us of how a great story can be a powerful influencer.

Here is our list of the best stories of 2019:

The Man With the $13 Billion Checkbook

By John Leland  | The New York Times

From a tidy glass office in Midtown Manhattan, Darren Walker gives away $650 million a year of other people’s money, and is paid nicely to do so. When he got this job in 2013, as president of the Ford Foundation, he set his sights on tackling inequality.

There were complications. Charities like Ford, he realized, owe their existence to inequality, and they reproduce it: they extend rich people’s influence, with no accountability, and they take money from the public tax rolls to do so. If a foundation gives a million dollars to a donor’s favorite pet cause, part of that gift is whatever tax the donor or foundation would have paid on that million — and neither you nor your elected officials has any say in the matter.


Florida Pill Mills Were “Gas on the Fire” of the Opioid Crisis

The L.A.Times / Associated Press

Florida survives on tourism, but a decade ago, thousands of visitors made frequent trips to the state not to visit its theme parks or beaches. Instead, they came for cheap and easy prescription painkillers sold at unscrupulous walk-in clinics.

For a while, few in authority did much about it even though it was all done in the open with little oversight.

The clinics started in the 1990s and began proliferating in about 2003, their parking lots filled with vehicles sporting license plates from Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and elsewhere. The customers were drawn by billboards on southbound interstates advertising quick and easy relief — code for “We’re a pill mill, and we’re ready to deal.”


Melinda Gates is Proud Women Are Becoming More Empowered, But it's Not Happening Quickly Enough

John Legend  | Town and Country magazine

In the 19 years since Melinda Gates and her husband, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, launched the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, their work has helped steer more than $45 billion to causes ranging from maternal health to agricultural development to education, in the United States and more than 130 other countries. In the process the Gateses have become some of the world’s most recognized and powerful philanthropists, setting the standard for thoughtful and impactful giving.

This year Melinda—who, in addition to her philanthropic work, is the founder of the investment and incubation company Pivotal Ventures—became an author; her book The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World was released in April. Here, she talks to John Legend, the entertainer and activist, about giving, her family, and her plans to change the world.


How a Tuxedoed Sommelier Wound Up Homeless in California

Thomas Fuller  | The New York Times

Opus One, Château Lynch-Bages or Petrus. The crimson ribbons of fine wine trickled delicately into his customers’ bulbous crystal glasses.

Mark-Steven Holys had a knack for recommending the right bottle, for expertly carving the chateaubriand steaks and pheasant and for remembering the dietary quirks of a clientele that included many of California’s boldfaced names. He waited on George Shultz, the former secretary of state; Joe Montana, the champion quarterback; and Steve Jobs, the Apple founder.

Mr. Holys, 61, looks back on his decades as a sommelier and tuxedo-clad server from inside a Coleman tent in an Oakland homeless encampment, where the rats, he says, are as big as footballs.


The Knowledge Navigator

Ginya Carnahan, APR, CPRC  | Journey, Fall 2019

Kevin Chaffee thought he’d be grounded by his prostate cancer, but now he’s soaring again, and sharing his experience with others.

The oldest of five brothers, Kevin Chaffee was born and raised in Batesville, Indiana, a typical Midwestern town of 6,500 people. The town was built in the 1850s as a stop along the railway from Cincinnati to Indianapolis; the railroad still runs through downtown Batesville.


Man in The Window

Paige St. John  |  The L.A. Times

Man in the Window chronicles the decades-long mystery of a masked criminal who terrorized California in the ’70s and ’80s: the Golden State Killer. The host Paige St. John reports on the man who allegedly carried out hundreds of home invasions, murdered 13 people, and raped 50 women. Last year, Joseph DeAngelo was arrested for these crimes thanks to controversial but effective DNA sleuthing, and his capture shed a bright light on the many failures of the original investigations. 

The Man in the Window details how rival agencies didn’t communicate with each other and leads went unfollowed. Many local governments lacked sex-crimes units or effective rape kits. In the second episode, a survivor recalls being asked by a cop, “Are you really sure?”—as though she might’ve fabricated the attack. The Man in the Window never veers from the facts of the case, and what emerges is a portrait of how systemic ignorance and incompetence enabled a predator and doomed his victims.

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Cancer Deaths on Steady, 25-Year Decline

Mark Zaloudek  |  FCS Cancer 360 Plus magazine

There's encouraging news on the cancer front: Earlier detection, better treatment options and greater access to care close to home have resulted in a 27% decline in U.S. cancer deaths over the past 25 years.

The steady decline in cancer mortality means there were approximately 2.6 million fewer cancer deaths from 1991 to 2016, based on a study released last fall by the American Cancer Society.

The ACS cautions, however, that there is still much progress to be made, especially in Florida, which has the second-highest rate of new cancer diagnoses nationwide and ranks near the bottom in adopting public health policies that could save more lives.


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