Carlotta Cardana and Danielle SeeWalker first met in Fremont, Nebraska, in 1998.

At the time, they were both new students at the local high school: Cardana was an exchange student from Italy, and SeeWalker, an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, had just moved to the town with her family.

Since then, they've remained friends despite living on different continents.


For many years, Cardana and SeeWalker talked about working on a creative project together.

Carlotta Cardana and Danielle SeeWalker in the winter of 2015 during an exhibit of The Red Road Project in Verona, Italy. Photo by Francesco Biasi.

But it wasn't until a random night in 2013 that they finally decided to commit.

Both women have journeyed to understand each other, and then to understand SeeWalker's Native American heritage together, over the past 20 years. But with this new project, they wanted to take that journey one step further: to the heart of America’s past, present, and future.

They decided to call their project the Red Road Project, a collection of stories that explore the relationship between Native American people and their identity in modern society.

SeeWalker, a writer, and Cardana, a photographer, made plans to travel to different communities all over America and record these amazing stories using images and words.

Dancers take a break in between songs at United Tribes Powwow in Bismarck, North Dakota. Photo by Carlotta Cardana/The Red Road Project.

They were both fascinated with Native American culture and history, so the project was a natural next step. “Danielle had always told me stories about her family and Native American culture in general, and I found that her stories were completely different from what I’d usually see in the media, which tends to focus on the negative issues,” Cardana said in an email.

First, they talked with SeeWalker's family and met others at community meetings. Then their project blossomed.

“From there, it was an organic growth through word of mouth. One person we spoke with would refer one, two or a handful of people and it grew from there,” SeeWalker said. And they have found this to be the most effective way of growing their project.

But they soon realized that their journey couldn’t just be an inward look at themselves; it was also an opportunity to inspire and educate the world with these positive stories. “I think during our second trip (summer 2014) it became clear that we weren’t doing this project just for the two of us, but that all the people we met had put their trust into us to get their story out there,” Cardana said.

Photo by Carlotta Cardana/The Red Road Project.

"Linda Black Elk, of Catawba and Mongolian heritage, dedicates her life to wild plants found in and around the Indian reservations. Not only is ethnobotany her career, but it’s also her hobby and her life. As a child, her grandmother would teach her all about wild plants; which ones to eat, ones that could be used for medicine and how to prepare them. Today, she continues to pass that knowledge onto her people and has recently written a book titled Watoto Unyutapi (Plants That We Eat)."

Three years later, they have talked with many people from tribes and nations across the country.

SeeWalker recounted one of her meetings: “One gentleman that we met while on the Wind River Reservation lived in a time where there was no running water or electricity.  He told us what it was like getting a refrigerator for the first time and how it was so much ‘fun.’”

Photo by Carlotta Cardana/The Red Road Project.

"Ula and Tim Tyler belong to the Eastern Shoshone tribe of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. They have been living on the reservation since before the introduction of running water and electricity. They have been raising their great-granddaughter since she was very little, teaching her about 'the traditional ways.'"

Some of the people they have met told them about the potential loss of important cultural heritage.

We met with one tribe (Mandan) and were told there was only one fluent speaker left alive; once he passes, the language dies too," SeeWalker told us. "It is so heartbreaking because language is the center of the entire culture: the ceremonies, the traditions, and the way of life.  There are many initiatives actively in place to promote younger generations to learn the language and keep it alive.”

Photo by Carlotta Cardana/The Red Road Project.

"A flag waves outside the Holocaust Museum in Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The Wounded Knee Massacre was one of the biggest tragedies in Native American history and it was triggered by Chief Sitting Bull’s death. After forcing Native Americans into reservation life, on December 29, 1890, the US army killed almost 300 Lakota men, women and children. The massacre marked the end of the so-called Indian Wars."

But above all else, these stories are about where Native Americans have been.

Photo by Carlotta Cardana/The Red Road Project.

"This bald eagle claw staff belongs to Desert Storm war veteran, Hanson Chee. The feathers represent each year he served in the military and the beadwork honors his father and grandfathers whom also were war veterans. The eagle claw was a gift from his father-in-law who caught the eagle while on a hunt."

And where they are going.

Fast Eddie (left), a powwow dancer, is pictured with social media celebrity Two Braids. Photo by Carlotta Cardana/The Red Road Project.

These stories are about the fabric of an America we don’t always see or hear about.

Photo by Carlotta Cardana/The Red Road Project.

"Henrietta Stands Nelson, a Lakota woman from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, rides her modern-day horse, a Harley Davidson named 'Thunder'. At age 51 ... she decided to fulfill a life-long dream of riding motorcycle. Today, she participates in long-distance drives to honor various Native American causes, many of which take days to complete."

But these stories and people are not going anywhere soon.

Photo by Carlotta Cardana/The Red Road Project.

"Fort Yates is the tribal headquarters for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which overlaps both North Dakota and South Dakota. The main street in Fort Yates is named after Sitting Bull, a highly regarded chief and holy man of the Hunkpapa band of the Lakota nation."

America has a complicated history with Native Americans, and this project hopes to balance the public narrative by telling inspiring stories from these communities.

Centuries of stigma and decades of harmful portrayals in films and television have marred the social, economic, and cultural standing of Native Americans in modern society. But this project is about taking tiny steps away from clichés and stigma.

“One thing we always knew from the beginning was that we wanted the project — whatever form it would take — to be something of use to Native and non-Native communities,” SeeWalker said.

Cardana and SeeWalker are heading back on the road this fall, searching for more stories to tell and new ways to tell them.

Their journey may have changed since it first began. But, throughout it all, they continue to share stories that inspire and educate, and that’s a journey worth celebrating.

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.

Freya from Maya Higa's YouTube video.

Ever wonder what an ideal date for a lemur would be? Or a lizard’s favorite Disney princess?

Thanks to one YouTube poster with a passion for animals and an endearing sense of humor, all questions shall be answered. Well, maybe not all questions. But at the very least, you’ll have eight minutes of insanely cute footage.

In a series titled “Tiny Mic Interviews,” Maya Higa approaches little beasties with a microphone so small she has to hold it with just her thumb and forefinger. And yes, 99% of the animals try to eat it.

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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.

Cellist Cremaine Booker's performance of Faure's "Pavane" is as impressive as it is beautiful.

Music might be the closest thing the world has to real magic. Music has the ability to transform any atmosphere in seconds, simply with the sounds of a few notes. It can be simple—one instrument playing single notes like raindrops—or a complex symphony of melodies and harmonies, swirling and crashing like waves from dozens of instruments. Certain rhythms can make us spontaneously dance and certain chord progressions can make us cry.

Music is an art, a science, a language and a decidedly human endeavor. People have made music throughout history, in every culture on every continent. Over time, people have perfected the crafting of instruments and passed along the knowledge of how to play them, so every time we see someone playing music, we're seeing the history of humanity culminated in their craft. It's truly an amazing thing.

The pandemic threw a wrench into seeing live musicians for a good chunk of time, and even now, live performances are limited. Thankfully, we have technology that makes it easier for musicians to collaborate and perform with one another virtually—and also makes it easier for people to create "group" performances all by themselves.

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A round-up of delights from around the internet this week.

Hey all!

Welcome to Upworthy's weekly roundup of delights from around the internet. This week's list features a little of everything—gorgeous music, cute kids, adorable animals, hope for the planet and a brand new video message from the late and great Betty White.

That's right, Betty White left us a message of gratitude shortly before her passing. It's brief, but how lovely to see and hear her speak to her millions of fans one last time. Few celebrities are as universally beloved as Betty White was, and though we knew she couldn't live forever, it would have been fun to see her celebrate her 100th birthday. Now, at least, we get to experience her joy and warmth with a few last words.

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