On June 12, 2016, the deadliest mass shooting in American history unfolded at an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Photo by Gregg Newton/AFP/Getty Images.

At least 50 people were killed with dozens more injured. The terrorist act — committed by a homophobic, religious extremist — sparked reactions from President Barack Obama and leaders from around the world.


Unfortunately, a knee-jerk response from some people was to condemn the violence with misinformed fear — to blame all Muslims for the ideology a very small group promotes.

It's a dangerous response to have — especially if you're a presidential hopeful with a platform — because implying all Muslims are capable of committing (or sympathizing with) such an atrocity only further divides our communities and justifies prejudice.

That's why one Florida man's viral Facebook post in the wake of the tragedy is all the more important.

Mahmoud ElAwadi, a Muslim who lives in Orlando, shared a photo of himself giving blood on Sunday. In the post — which within a day was shared more than 110,000 times — ElAwadi points out several truths every American should keep in mind while processing what happened.

Here is ElAwadi's post in full:

-Yes my name is Mahmoud a proud Muslim American. 

-Yes I donated blood even though I can't eat or drink anything cause I'm fasting in our holy month Ramadan just like hundreds of other Muslims who donated today here in Orlando. 

-Yes I'm angry for what happened last night and all the innocent lives we lost. 

-Yes I'm sad, frustrated and mad that a crazy guy [claiming] to be a Muslim did that shameful act. 

-Yes I witnessed the greatness of this country watching thousands of people standing in 92 degree sun waiting on their turn to donate blood even after they were told that the wait time is 5-7 hours. 

-Yes this is the greatest nation on earth watching people from different ... ages including kids volunteering to give water, juice, food, umbrellas, sun block. Also watching our old veterans coming to donate. And next to them Muslim women in hijab carrying food and water to donors standing in line. 

-Yes together we will stand against hate, terrorism, extremism and racism. 

-Yes our blood all [looks] the same so get out there and donate blood cause our fellow American citizens are injured and need our blood. 

-Yes our community in central Florida is heart broken but let's put our colors, religions, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political views all aside so we can UNITE against those who are trying to hurt us.

Here are three crucial reminders ElAwadi highlighted in his post.

1. This terrorist's actions do not reflect Islam in the slightest.

Like the vast majority of Muslims, ElAwadi is "sad, frustrated, and mad that a crazy guy [claiming] to be a Muslim did that shameful act."

Muslim leaders in the U.S. were quick to condemn the motives behind the ISIS-inspired massacre. Nihad Awad, national executive director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said these extremists "do not belong to this beautiful faith."

Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

2. Muslim Americans are just as devastated by this attack on our country as anyone else.

"I'm angry for what happened last night and all the innocent lives we lost," ElAwadi wrote. "Together we will stand against hate, terrorism, extremism and racism."

ElAwadi is not the exception. You don't have to look far to spot Muslims showing their support for the victims and rejecting the senseless violence. 

Photo by Daniel Munoz/Getty Images.

3. America is at its greatest when all of us — regardless of skin color, religion, or sexual orientation — rally together to help those in need.

"I witnessed the greatness of this country watching thousands of people standing in 92 degree sun waiting on their turn to donate blood even after they were told that the wait time is 5-7 hours," ElAwadi wrote. He noted that people of all ages — including veterans and women wearing hijabs — pitched in to do their part.

Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.

As ElAwadi's post demonstrated so well, the more we stomp out hate and replace it with solidarity, the better off we'll all be.

"Our blood all [looks] the same," ElAwadi concluded. "Yes, our community in central Florida is heartbroken, but let's put our colors, religions, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political views all aside so we can unite against those who are trying to hurt us."

Seeing as love tends to conquer all, I'd say that's a pretty good plan. 

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.

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From the skies to the ground, these airplanes continue to serve a purpose.

This article originally appeared on 09.18.15


What happens to airplanes after they're no longer fit to roam the skies?


An abandoned 747 rests in a Bangkok lot. Photo by Taylor Weidman/Getty Images.

Decommissioned planes are often stripped and sold for parts, with the remains finding a new home in what is sometimes referred to as an "airplane boneyard" or "graveyard." Around the world, these graveyards exist; they're made up of large, empty lots and tons of scrap metal.

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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.

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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.

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