More

13 gorgeous photos reveal what it's like to be LGBTQ and African.

'Saying something is "un-African" is saying a kaleidoscope can only be one color.'

Growing up, Mikael Owunna felt like the African and queer sides of his identity were at odds with each other.

Owunna, a 26-year-old Nigerian-American photographer who identifies as queer, had a difficult time finding a way to reconcile those two parts of himself.

Mikael Owunna. Image used with permission.


"I experienced considerable homophobia in African spaces, and was told that being gay was 'un-African' - a disease from the West and white people," he wrote.

But after personal reflection and seeing the work of Zanele Muholi, a black lesbian South African photographer he admires, he realized these two sides of his identity didn't have to be at odds.

So Owunna created a photo project, "Limit(less)," which explores African and queer identities through style.

The portraits and stories he captures reflect the joy, rich history, and resilience of queer African people living outside the continent. The people he shoots are empowered, joyful, and confident — and, as Owunna quickly realized, so are their clothes.

All photos by Mikael Owunna, used with permission.

For Owunna, the project is a love letter to those who are navigating two worlds and a reminder of how far he's come.

"Coming from my personal experience where I experienced a lot of trauma around these two identities and didn't feel like I could be both, it's a way for me, with each click of my camera, to heal myself," Owunna says.

Here are 13 memorable moments from the project thus far.

1. "I don't look like a stud, I don't look like a dapper queer. I look like something else..."

Terna is Nigerian-Liberian American. She is bisexual but identifies as queer most of the time.

"...and that something else is a nod to where I come from. It’s me standing in my power, but it’s also distinctly you, like I have my little fedoras and those types of things, which I think do tip over into some of the queer aesthetics particularly, I would say, the queer aesthetics of people of color."  

2. "[My style is] more of a postmodern Angela Davis."

Gesiye is Nigerian-Trinidadian, born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago. She identifies as bisexual/queer.

"I don’t limit my African or LGBTQ identity to one form of expression, everything I wear is and can be a blend of these identities because that’s who I am and how I’m choosing to define it."

3. "I’ve always been around white LGBTQ people and they didn’t really see me as queer."

Juliet was born in Uganda and raised in Sweden. She identifies as queer.

"I’ve overcome all of this by finding other black queer people and forming Black Queers Sweden, the feminist and anti-racist movement and independent organization for black LGBTQ+ people, where we can be ourselves; both black and queer."

4. "The most beautiful part about being African/of the African Diaspora is our resilience."

Odera's country of origin is Nigeria. They identify as queer.

"To live and thrive as an African is an act of revolution and power. And for me, living my truth as an LGBTQ person is simply an extension of that power."

5. "The first time I met another queer African person was indescribable, and reaffirmed my identities in ways that nothing else could have."

Eniola is Nigerian and was raised in the U.S. She identifies as queer, but also "fuck labels."

"I hope that 'Limit(less)' reaches people who benefit from this affirmation. Too many of us think we’re the only one."

6. "My style has been described as old Somali uncle."

Wiilo was born in Washington, D.C., while their parents were on vacation. Their family returned to Somalia but emigrated to Canada because of the civil war. They identify as queer.

"Wiilo in Somali means, 'girls who dresses like boy.' It’s a nickname that I was given by my elders when I was younger. I am drawn to clothes that I feel both my dad and mom would have worn living in Somalia in the 70’s and 80’s."

7. "We are dynamic, bold, and beautiful, and queer."

Em is Nigerian-Efik from America. They identify as agender/genderqueer.

"Our Africanness is only stronger with this identity because everyday we breathe, especially for African trans folk, we are resisting and revolutionary. That’s pretty damn African to me." 

8. "Starting in university I started to embrace all facets of who I am because that’s what I need to survive."

Taib was born and raised in Canada to an Ethiopian mother and Kenyan father. He identifies as queer.

"I have big plans for my future and in order for me to reach my full potential I need all of me at the finish line not just the pieces that white society can stomach."

9. "Walking this world as a Black queer femme womxn, it is sometimes a struggle simply to survive."

Kaamila is Somali-American, biracial, and black. She identifies as a bisexual queer dyke, a fluid femme, and a womxn.

"Some days, makeup is my war paint and accessories are my armor. Some days, I decorate and adorn myself in a ritual of affirmation of all that I am. Not simply surviving, but thriving! I could be described as gaudy, often dripping in gold, and maybe a little bit gangsta. My style can be big and bold, taking up space in a world that tells me to be small. I make myself art in a world telling me that who I am is not beautiful. But I am not above leaving the house in sweatpants and uggs. It’s wack that women’s worth is wrapped up in whether we are considered appealing to others. My style is personal, political, playful, practical. It is a mix-and-match and mashup of all of the above."

10. "I have for a long time thought that I could only fully embrace one of the two identities, that they were mutually exclusive."

Brian is Rwandan but grew up in Tanzania, Niger, Kenya, Benin, and the Central African Republic. He identifies as queer.

"When I decided to embrace my LGBTQ identity, I subconsciously pushed away my African identity. I found myself becoming what some call a 'Bounty' or 'Oreo', black on the outside and white on the inside. But prior to that I had already tried to push away my LGBTQ identity. It was complete denial... And then one day I thought to myself why not try embracing both identities, just for the sake of trying. I remember feeling butterflies in my stomach and feeling so light as if an enormous weight was lifted off of me. I never felt so complete and comfortable in my skin."

11. "I’m a hard femme with an hourglass silhouette, a Goodwill budget, and a firm grasp of anti-capitalist rhetoric."

Netsie is a queer Ethiopian Namibian.

"I wear whatever makes me feel comfortable and powerful and safe. I’m too clumsy to own a pair of un-ripped tights. I love wearing bold patterns that clash, things that could be pretty but aren’t, anything to remind people that when they look at me, I am looking right back at them."

12. "My beard feels like a connection to my Muslim heritage, and it feels transgressive to wear it with this body, living the life I do."

Yahya is a half-American, half-Moroccan boi. They identify as a second-generation radical queer (on their mom's side) and pansexual.

"To be honest, I think I reserve most of my Moroccan clothing for special occasions. I think the examples that have been given to me of powerful queerness have mostly been through a Euro-American lens (which is why this project is so important!)."

13. "As the cliche goes, my style is a way for me to express myself - and my multiple identities, those discovered and undiscovered, all play into that."

Tyler is a Kenyan-Somali-Canadian. He identifies as queer.

"I guess my queerness, in part, fuels my ability to transcend the expected. And that is what I try to do with my style, transcend the expected and, in many ways, come home to myself."

For photographer Owunna, the work isn't done. He hopes to expand on "Limit(less)" in Europe this fall.

He's photographed and interviewed 34 queer Africans for the project so far, primarily in North America. He's crowdfunding an effort to cover the trip to Europe, where there are four times as many African immigrants, an ongoing refugee crisis, and the rise of anti-Muslim rhetoric and the far right; essentially, there are countless stories that need to be told.

And Owunna, centered, happy, and at peace with himself, is just the person to do it.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Police arrest man suspected of scamming an elderly woman.

There has been a rise in scams against the elderly during the pandemic. According to the FBI, American seniors were scammed for $1 billion dollars in 2020, up $300 million from the previous year.

To stay connected with friends and family during the pandemic, more seniors joined social media, opening them up to new avenues for fraud.

“The combination of online shopping and social media creates easy venues for scammers to post false advertisements,” the FBI report said. “Many victims report ordering items from links advertised on social media and either receiving nothing at all or receiving something completely unlike the advertised item.”

But when scammers came after 73-year-old Jean Ebbert in Long Island, New York, they had no idea they were dealing with a law enforcement veteran. Ebbert is a former 911 dispatcher, so she knows exactly what a scam looks like.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
True

The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Peter Dinklage in 2013.

Disney has taken another step toward diversifying its iconic princesses by casting Rachel Zegler to play Snow White in its upcoming live-action version of the Grimms’ fairy tale. Zegler’s mother is of Colombian descent and her father has Polish roots. The 20-year-old actress recently wowed audiences in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.”

Disney has also announced that Halle Bailey, a Black actress, will play Ariel in its upcoming live-action version of “The Little Mermaid.”

Disney’s big push toward inclusivity in the casting of its princesses is definitely a welcome move, but according to actor Peter Dinklage, the Mouse may be missing the forest for the trees.

Dinklage, who was born with a form of dwarfism named achondroplasia, criticized Disney on the “WTF with Marc Maron” podcast for being hypocritical for focusing on race while completely missing the ball when it comes to people with disabilities.

"There's a lot of hypocrisy going on, I've gotta say, from being somebody who's a little bit unique," Dinklage told Maron.

"Really? Like what?" Maron asked. "What do you see?"


Keep Reading Show less

This article originally appeared on 07.22.15



"So just recently I went out on a Match.com date, and it was fantastic," begins Dr. Danielle Sheypuk in her TEDx Talk.

If you've ever been on a bunch of Match.com dates, that opening line might make you do a double take. How does one get so lucky?!

Not Dr. Sheypuck's actual date.

Not Dr. Sheypuck's actual date. Photo by Thinkstock.


But don't get too jealous. Things quickly went downhill two dates later, as most Match.com dates ultimately do. This time, however, the reason may not be something that you've ever experienced. Intrigued? I was too. So here's the story.Gorgeous!

Gorgeous! Photo from Dr. Sheypuk's Instagram account, used with permission.

She's a licensed clinical psychologist, an advocate, and a model — among other things. She's also been confined to a wheelchair since childhood. And that last fact is what did her recent date in.

On their third date over a romantic Italian dinner, Sheypuk noticed that he was sitting farther away from her than usual. And then, out of nowhere, he began to ask the following questions:

Keep Reading Show less