The other day, I was watching CNN when a picture of San Bernardino's female terrorist, Tashfeen Malik, flashed onto the screen.

My 6-year-old daughter immediately turned to me and exclaimed, "Mom, that bad girl is a Muslim!"

My heart stopped for a second. As a mother, I've tried shielding my children from news of ISIS and American terrorists — whether they shoot innocent people at an office party or a Planned Parenthood clinic. Isn't that a natural instinct for most parents, wanting to shield your young ones from life's ugly realities as much as possible?


Image via iStock.

Except there's only so much shielding you can do. Especially when you're a Muslim.

"Mom, that bad girl is a Muslim!" my daughter said. "Look, she's wearing a scarf on her head just like you do!" I'm not only a Muslim mother who wears a headscarf. I'm also a writer and public speaker, focusing on stories of Muslims and training law enforcement on cultural sensitivity. I often appear on radio and television to talk about the effects of these media stories on the average, law-abiding Muslim American. That means my 6-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son know a little too much about how ugly this world can be.

Image via iStock.

I want my children to feel safe and loved. But what do you tell your children when the news is full of people "of your tribe" doing something horrible and evil?

I've been digging into that question, searching for suggestions and insights from experts. And while I've found a lot of good advice for post-terrorism parenting making the rounds online, not all of it addresses the specific challenges my family, and so many others, are facing.

Here are some key pieces of advice most commonly shared by experts and how I've made them work for our family:

1. "Assure children that these attacks are rare and the chances of anything ever happening to them are next to nothing."

A friend recently told me that every time her high school son passes someone in the hallway, people yell, "Bomb!" Another friend told me her 7-year-old daughter was nicknamed "ISIS" by her classmates.

Even more than terrorist attacks, my children are scared about how others will view them because they look like some of the terrorists they're seeing on the news.

Image via iStock.

While President Obama has repeatedly cautioned us not to lump all Muslims into the same box, Muslims are still regularly on the receiving end of hate speech and threats.

Which is why we need to talk to our kids — all of them — about bullying.

In a world already hurting, we all need to work together to help Muslim children understand that they are not any less loved or valued because of their faith. (It's worth pointing out that many brown-skinned people like Sikhs and Hindus are mistaken for Muslim, too.)

Teachers, principals, and school administrators should do the same by reminding their staff and students that faith-based teasing is not acceptable.

Image by nick chapman/Flickr.

2. "Talk about how the child feels rather than giving information about the who, why, what, and where."

For my family, it's impossible to escape the "who." And it's (naturally) always followed by questions about why. The day after the San Bernardino attack, my son, listening to the news in the car on the way to school, asked me, "Mommy, if those people were Muslim, why did they kill someone? Don't they know Islam means peace?" These aren't easy questions, and I don't have all the answers.

But I take this opportunity to talk to my children about Islam and its inherently peaceful teachings.

We looked through the Quran and found the verse, "Whoever kills a soul … it is as if he has killed all mankind, and whoever saves a soul, it is as if he has saved all mankind" (5:32).

I show them all the commandments about being peaceful, kind, loving, and just. That's the reaffirmation of faith I and my family need in times like these.

Image by Tarang hirani/Flickr.

3. "Shut off the television and radio and spend time with the family."

I want to be able to shut it all off. Yet I need to stay connected — not just for work, but for my sense of my family's safety. Switching off the television means not knowing what presidential candidates are saying, how Muslims are responding, what the latest advisories by Muslim civil rights groups are, and so much more.

That's why I'm trying to focus on listening to unbiased news reports instead of talk shows full of hateful rhetoric when my kids are around.

After my son casually told his sister that the word Islamic is actually a code word for evil, I stopped listening to the radio in the car when I drop my kids off at school. I find websites like Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting and some NPR programs to be more balanced than the main cable news channels.

Ultimately, that's the best way I know to protect my children from the painful words others are using against their faith, and I'm hoping other parents do the same so that we don't promote intolerance in future generations.

Image via iStock.

4. "Remind children that many people in the government and the community are working hard to keep them safe."

While that's certainly true of terrorist attacks, it's harder to make the case for Muslims right now. Adults and children are being harassed in the street, spit on in buses, and so much more. My children can see what the American Muslim community is going through, and it's almost impossible to shield them from it.

Last week, the father of my daughter's friend was escorted off a plane for looking suspicious and then detained by the police for hours. His face on the news was recognizable and she cried, "Mom, why did the police catch Amna's dad?" It's so heartbreaking and frustrating to watch my children grow wary and afraid.

I told her that loving other people, taking care of them, and making sure we help them when they're in need is what makes a Muslim.

That's why it's so important to get involved in showcasing a positive side of Islam and Muslims.

Whether you're a Muslim or not, getting to know your Muslim neighbors, visiting Islamic organizations, and learning about the positive contributions Muslims make in their communities can change the narrative and counter stereotypes. Virtually every city with a Muslim presence has a charitable or social service arm.

This week, my kids and I are buying holiday gifts as part of a mosque project to give to sick children in our local cancer hospital. You can also contact your nearest charity or two of the largest national charitable organizations — Islamic Relief USA and ICNA Relief — for projects to help with.

Image via iStock.

At the end of the day, keeping communication open is key. Sometimes only an honest heart-to-heart talk with your child will do.

When my daughter was so upset about seeing a terrorist wearing the same head covering as her mother, I told her to remember there are bad people in the world, no matter their religion.

I told her that loving other people, taking care of them, and making sure we help them when they're in need is what makes a Muslim.

I told her we are in this world to be kind and good.

I coaxed her into a better mood by telling her stories of the Prophet Muhammad who gave up everything he had for others. I'm an author after all, and I know the power of storytelling.

My daughter was silent for a long time, which means she was thinking about what I said.

At her age, I know I'll have likely have to repeat the message many times. But at least she was thinking about it, and today, that's all I can pray for.

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.

What you look like in a selfie camera isn't really what you look like in real life.

We've all done it: You snap a selfie, look at it, say, "OMG is my nose swollen?" then try again from a different angle. "Wait, now my forehead looks weird. And what's up with my chin?" You keep trying various angles and distances, trying to get a picture that looks like how you remember yourself looking. Whether you finally land on one or not, you walk away from the experience wondering which photo actually looks like the "real" you.

I do this, even as a 40-something-year-old who is quite comfortable with the face I see in the mirror. So, it makes me cringe imagining a tween or teen, who likely take a lot more selfies than I do, questioning their facial features based on those snapshots. When I'm wondering why my facial features look weird in selfies it's because I know my face well enough to know that's not what it looks like. However, when a young person whose face is changing rapidly sees their facial features distorted in a photo, they may come to all kinds of wrong conclusions about what they actually look like.

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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

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.

Dan Fischer takes people's lost loved ones out surfing for "one last wave."

Dan Fischer understands grief. He also has some idea of how to cope with it—and how to help others through it as well.

Fischer has experienced tremendous loss in the past few years, losing both his father and his best friend. As a surfer, he's a believer in what he calls "the transformative power of the ocean." Originally from Montreal, Canada, Fischer has found healing riding the waves off Newport, Rhode Island, where he's lived for the past seven years.

Now he wants to share that healing power of the waves with others.

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This article originally appeared on 11.30.16


Chris Porsz was tired of studying sociology.

As a university student in the 1970s, he found the talk of economics and statistics completely mind-numbing. So instead, he says, he roamed the streets of his hometown of Peterborough, England, with a camera in hand, snapping pictures of the people he met and listening to their stories. To him, it was a far better way to understand the world.

All photos by Chris Porsz/REX/Shutterstock.

He always looked for the most eccentric people he could find, anyone who stood out from the crowd. Sometimes he'd snap a single picture of that person and walk away. Other times he'd have lengthy conversations with these strangers.

But eventually, life moved on and so did he. He fell out of love with photography. "Those pictures collected dust for 25 years," he says.

Then, a few years ago, Porsz found those 30- to 40-year-old photos and sent them to be printed in his local newspaper.

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