It all started with a congressional art contest.

The winner would get to display their painting in the long hallway that connects House office buildings to the U.S. Capitol. It would be seen by thousands of people, including some of the most powerful in the country — members of Congress, staffers, lobbyists, and visitors.

David Pulphus, an 18-year-old student in the Missouri district represented by Rep. Lacy Clay, won the contest with his striking painting of a violent and tense clash between police and protestors — a nod to the civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, that garnered national attention in 2014 after Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson.


As promised, Pulphus' painting was displayed in the hallway of the U.S. Capitol complex, where it hung for seven months. Then things got interesting.

For better or worse, the painting has become the centerpiece of a complicated conversation about race, power, and the role of art in politics. The painting depicts police officers as pigs. Literally. (Actually, they're more warthog-ish, but that's just my interpretation.)

Some police organizations took issue with this depiction and asked, in a strongly worded letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, that the painting be taken down. Shortly after, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-California) took it down himself. Then Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Missouri) put it back up. A few hours later, two other Republican representatives — Dana Rohrabacher and Brian Babin — took it down again.

If the point of art is to get people talking, here are three big questions we should be talking about:

1. First, what really is "offensive"? And what should you do when you're offended by something?

If you're a police officer, being depicted as a pig is probably offensive to you. That's fair. Likewise, you'd probably want to speak out against any narrative that all police officers are bad or inherently violent or racist.

If you find the painting offensive, however, consider this: Is the painting more offensive or horrifying than the number of unarmed black people gunned down by police officers every year? Isn't it totally reasonable and completely understandable for black Americans to want to express their feelings and speak out through protest, the written word, or visual art?

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

When members of Congress took the painting down without the permission of the colleague who hung it up, that was a declaration that their point of view on the issue — that the painting is offensive and police officers shouldn't be depicted looking bad — takes precedence over Pulphus' right to express how he feels about the police.

When one of the most powerful people in the United States government calls an 18-year-old's painting "disgusting," he contributes to the kind of active silencing that Pulphus' painting speaks out against.

2. What kind of art should be in our congressional halls, anyway?

The halls of our Capitol are where history gets made and where the giant machine of government operates (in theory). Presumably, the artwork in those hallowed halls should reflect the best of us.

There's definitely something to be said for not wanting to hang a painting that depicts a moment in our history no one is proud of. If that’s the case, though, those speaking out against the painting should hold all of the art in the Capitol complex to the same standards.

It kinda makes you wonder why those same people haven't done anything about these giant marble statues of racists and slave owners:

3. Is it possible there's a larger point being missed?

Maybe? Just a little?

All this quibbling over whether the painting should hang in Congress means no one is really talking about what the painting actually depicts.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

The unrest in Ferguson happened after the shooting of Michael Brown and escalated after a report found evidence of racial bias in the town’s policing. That’s a real problem that people — especially black people living in Ferguson — were right to be mad about.

It's also a problem with some tangible solutions. If only the people fighting over the painting had some sort of power to introduce or support legislation that could address it. If only! Perhaps their time would be better spent doing that rather than playing hide-a-painting with their colleagues in Congress.

What we have here is a sobering reflection of the state of conversation around race relations in the United States, and it reminds us why we need art like this so badly.

One side is voicing frustration about the violence and distrust he sees in his community, asking only for someone to listen or to see what's happening. The other side frames it as an attack on police officers who are simply trying to keep communities safe. It's not really about the painting — it's Black Lives Matter vs. Blue Lives Matter condensed into a petty quibble you might have with a roommate.

So make no mistake: The fate of this painting is important. Not just because it will settle this particular argument, but because it will set a precedent for what the government is willing and ready to pay attention to.

Ask yourself: If members of our Congress can't even stand to look at a painting, how can they be prepared to take on the complicated and sensitive work needed to heal the divide that the painting represents?

If art exists to raise questions and ignite discussion, than this painting has gone above and beyond. Maybe that was the point. Art has a way of getting under people's skin and getting them to talk about things they might not have otherwise.

Art has a way of revealing the truth.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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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.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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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

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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.

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