With Malala in Jordan

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Joining the Malala movement

Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai is awe-inspiring – the youngest person ever nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

She has faced down the Taliban, called on Obama to curtail drone strikes in Pakistan, and dazzled the world with her determination and eloquence.

Malala has inspired people everywhere with her courageous, tenacious campaign for all girls to get the education and opportunities they deserve. The ultimate goal: empowering girls to reach their full potential.

I am among Malala’s many admirers.

So I am especially honored and pleased to announce I am joining Malala’s new foundation, the Malala Fund, as its director of operations and communications. This is my first week on the job. I remain NY-based.

I am working with a phenomenal team, including Malala, her amazing father, Ziauddin, and the Malala Fund’s fabulous CEO, Shiza Shahid. Our superb advisers: Google’s Megan Smith, McKinsey’s Lynn Taliento, and GATHER’s Simon Isaacs.

My move to Malala’s foundation comes as a surprise to all involved – unimaginable even a few weeks ago.

The back story

While I have known of Malala for several years, I, like many people, first began following her closely just after she was shot by the Taliban in October 2012.

An image from one of NowThis News's many reports on Malala.

The millennial-focused digital video news network I helped launched and lead, NowThis News, was among the countless news outlets reporting on Malala’s struggle. But NowThis News went far beyond the usual reporting by providing a special section dedicated to Malala for many months, tracking her recovery, her cause and her re-emergence on the global stage. Malala and her righteous mission resonates especially intensely among young people around the world. NowThis News’s frequent and voluminous reporting on Malala garnered huge viewership.

Given the keen interest in Malala and the absence of any one place for people to keep up to date on her, my NowThis News colleagues and I decided to create a one-stop information source for all things Malala – a website and associated social media sites provided as a public service to the world. We teamed up with U.N. organizations and other NGOs to make it happen.

We ran into a few obstacles along the way, including unsavory characters who controlled the Malala.org domain name and the @Malala Twitter handle. The domain name was being held for ransom, and the Twitter handle had been used for years for illicit purposes.

My NowThis News colleagues and I wouldn’t take no for an answer in our quest to obtain the domain and Twitter handle. So we paid a hefty premium for the domain name and convinced Twitter to seize the @Malala handle and give it to us, with our plan being to give the domain and Twitter handle to Malala when she was ready to take possession of them (now done).

Fast forward to November 2013, when Malala told CBS News she intended to go to the Mideast to try to help Syrian refugee children get back to school. Because I have a long history and many contacts in that region, I volunteered to help the Malala Fund with her planned Mideast trip. That outreach brought me into contact with Malala Fund CEO Shiza Shahid, remarkable herself in many ways, who welcomed my assistance.

Malala Fund CEO Shiza Shahid with Syrian refugees last week in a makeshift school in a tent in Jordan.

Shiza and I quickly planned and last week carried out a trip to Jordan with other NGOs to get a first hand understanding of the challenges facing Syrian refugee children – an alarming reality, with hundreds of thousands of Syrian kids in neighboring countries living in dreadful conditions and no longer in school.

In recent days, as Shiza and I got to know each other, and as I learned more about the Malala Fund’s plans, I offered to commit myself full-time to the Malala Fund – an offer Shiza accepted.

I could not be more pleased to be part of this noble cause.

How you can help

Expect big things from the Malala Fund – goals we hope to achieve with your help. I’ll be calling on many of you, asking for your advice, assistance and support. And don’t be shy about volunteering and offering suggestions.

You can reach me at this new email address: Eason@MalalaFund.org

In closing, for inspiration and to underscore why I’m so excited to be joining Team Malala, I urge you to read this from PolicyMic: 12 Reasons Why Malala Rocked 2013.

Please join us at MalalaFund.org.

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Insight: Raul Castro and the U.S. Secret Service

Amid the fuss about the handshake today between Barack Obama and Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, I recalled how the Cuban leader once surprised me: He showed his admiration for the U.S. Secret Service.

The Carters and Raul Castro walking through Old Havana in March 2011. Photo by Eason Jordan.

During former president Jimmy Carter’s March 2011 Cuba trip, before I learned of Castro’s fondness for the Secret Service, Carter introduced me to Castro, who said he knew me as “the CNN guy.” Castro asked me whether I still worked at CNN. When I said no, Castro said, “That’s good because CNN has gotten much worse.”

During their discussions, Carter pressed Castro on a sensitive issue, prompting Castro to respond by saying if he agreed to Carter’s request, Castro would need Carter’s Secret Service bodyguards to protect him from the wrath of Cubans who’d be furious with Castro for relenting. Castro then rejected Carter’s plea.

But the big surprise came at the Havana airport immediately after Castro said goodbye to Carter, walking him to the steps of a private jet. With Carter on the plane preparing to taxi for takeoff, and with more than a dozen U.S. Secret Service agents remaining on the ground at the airport, Castro stunned the Secret Service agents by walking over to them, shaking their hands and thanking each and every one of them. It was a gracious, surprising gesture that some of the agents told me was exceptionally rare for a world leader.

At one point during Carter’s visit, the Carters and Castro walked for several blocks through old Havana – the first time in decades Castro had done so. During the stroll, I got a close-up look at Castro’s security detail. Unlike Fidel Castro’s bodyguards, who I saw during my many meetings with him and who were old school and usually wore military uniforms, Raul Castro’s bodyguards were young, smartly-dressed and had Secret Service-style radio earpieces. Clearly Raul Castro’s admiration for the U.S. Secret Service prompted him to transform his bodyguards into Secret Service look-alikes.

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A surprise encounter: Nelson Mandela

With Ed Turner and Nelson Mandela

Imagine walking out a door and unexpectedly coming face to face with Nelson Mandela.

That’s what happened to me in South Africa in 1990 – one of the biggest and best surprises of my life.

Only months earlier Mandela had been freed from 27 years of imprisonment by South Africa’s president, F.W. de Klerk.

The startling encounter came as my CNN colleagues Ed Turner, Mark Rudolph and I were in South Africa’s capital emerging from a meeting with President de Klerk.

As we exited de Klerk’s office, we were shocked to see Mandela standing alone in an anteroom waiting to meet de Klerk.

After Ed, Mark and I introduced ourselves to Mandela – he was exceptionally gracious – he posed for this photo with us before going into de Klerk’s office.

Three years later, in July 2003, CNN President Tom Johnson and I had the honor of hosting Mandela for a tour and meeting at CNN headquarters in Atlanta.

As Tom and I stood curbside at CNN Center waiting for Mandela to arrive, I recall Tom asking me how we should address Mandela. I said, “Mr. President.” Tom’s response: “But he’s not president,” to which I said “Mandela is the president of the African National Congress, and he will soon be the real president of that country.” So we called Mandela “Mr. President.”

Mandela will always be a hero in my book.

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Now This News: My moves

I’m making a bigger bet on NowThis News.

After helping launch and lead the scrappy digital video news network for the past year and a half, my role with the company is changing in two ways.

First, I’m so bullish on the millennial-targeted, mobile-focused newco, I’m making a sizable personal investment in the company.

Second, with NowThis News making great strides in its sophomore year, I’m giving up my general manager’s position with the company and will serve henceforth as an actively engaged adviser and investor – how I think I can be most helpful.

I am a big believer in the NowThis News concept and an even bigger believer in the team – founders, investors, leaders and staffers.

I’ll do all I can to ensure the company is a great success.

Here’s where you can find NowThis News: iOS app, Android app, Buzzfeed, Mashableweb, Facebook, InstagramTwitter, VineGoogle+Aol, MSN, Hulu, Roku.

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Remembering a friend on this World AIDS Day

Photo copyright John Slemp/Mira.com

Here is one of the faces of AIDS: my long-time colleague and friend Cornell Marigney.

Cornell served for years at CNN as my executive assistant.

He looked and sounded like dreamy crooner Barry White. He was a prankster. We laughed together every day. Cornell was loyal and supportive and a bit nuts.

In 2002, AIDS killed him. It was an excruciating, ugly way to go. Heartbreaking.

On this World AIDS Day, let’s keep AIDS victims and their families and friends in our prayers and do all we can to end this horrible pandemic.

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Let’s step up for Syria’s innocent victims – the children

This is alarming and tragic: Syrian children are at dire risk of being a lost generation.

This in-depth UNHCR report provides details: Future-of-Syria-UNHCR-v13

The Syrian civil war has produced more than eight million refugees – six million in Syria and more than two million in neighboring countries. Roughly half of those refugees are children, many of them live in horrid conditions, and most of them are no longer in school. The kids deserve so much better.

These refugees are an enormous burden for the small countries of Lebanon and Jordan. Syrian refugees now account for 15% of Lebanon’s population and 10% of the population of Jordan. Public opinion polls in both countries show most people there want their borders closed to a further influx of Syrian refugees.

The international community is falling woefully short in helping the refugees and their overwhelmed host countries.

With many nations spending huge amounts of money to underwrite the civil war in Syria, it’s time for the international community to step up for the innocent victims of this horrific conflict.

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My Springsteen photos featured in Gary U.S. Bonds’s autobiography

Three photos I snapped are showcased in the new autobiography of legendary rocker Gary U.S. Bonds.

Bonds is amazing in many ways, including this: During his headlining 1963 European tour, his opening act was The Beatles. Yes, John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Many years later, when Bruce Springsteen became a mega-star, Bonds and Springsteen teamed up to write, produce and perform such Bonds hits as “This Little Girl Is Mine,” “Out of Work,” “Jole Blon” and “Daddy’s Come Home.”

Photo by Eason Jordan

Last year, I photographed Bonds making guest appearances at Springsteen’s epic three-night stand at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium. After I posted several of those photos on Facebook, the New Jersey Star-Ledger asked for my permission to publish some of the pictures. Bonds saw those photos in the Star-Ledger and asked to use one in his forthcoming autobiography. When I said yes, publish as many as you like, he ended up including three of my photos, one of which you see here.

Being published as a photographer – a big honor and thrill for me, especially when the subjects are two of my favorite rock stars.

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Malala Yousafzai deserves the Nobel Peace Prize

She’s such an inspiration.

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Springsteen’s birthday bash

I was lucky enough to attend Bruce Springsteen’s recent epic three-night stand at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium. On the closing night, “The Boss” played until 2am, and his 87-year-old mother, Adele, made a surprise appearance during the encore to join in his 63rd birthday celebration. She sang back-up vocals and danced with her son during the last song of the night, “Twist and Shout.” Here are the best of my photos from that last show. New Jersey’s biggest newspaper, “The Star-Ledger,” showcased seven of the pictures in its exhaustive review of the concerts.

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