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A touching campaign asks women to write letters to black girls everywhere.

#DearBlackGirl is more than a letter campaign. It's a way to connect generations.

A touching campaign asks women to write letters to black girls everywhere.

The most meaningful words are not those that the world says about us, but those that we say to each other.

The Beautiful Project is a North Carolina-based organization that creates the space for black women and girls to confront the images of themselves that they see in the media and then create their own. The single sentence above about the meaning of words is the simple idea behind their latest campaign, aimed at letting young black girls hear directly from women who look like them in the purest, simplest way:

A letter.


Photo via Pexels/Creative Commons.

They are asking women (18+) who identify as black to write a letter titled "Dear Black Girl." It can be about anything, from dreams and memories to encouragement and commentary on what black girlhood means. There's no limit on the subject as long as it's written with a little black girl in mind.

Why?

The campaign description on their site is so inspirational that it is worth a read in its entirety — but in short, many black girls grow up surrounded by criticism, discrimination, disrespect, and competing narratives about who they should be in a world that doesn't always appreciate them. They aren't exposed to an abundance of images of girls and women who look like them, nor do they easily find affirming and positive messages geared toward them in the media. All of this can lead to a unique kind of insecurity, fear, and isolation. It can make them feel invisible.

The Beautiful Project wants black girls to become as bold and powerful as they should be — and they want to solicit black women who have lived through black girlhood to help.

Photo by Steven Depolo/Flickr.

Some of the messages in the letters are directly tied to the special experiences of growing up as a brown girl — like this excerpt from Janelle Harris at The Root:

"So I went into school, which was my world back then, ill equipped for assaults against my body image and self-esteem. ... I think college—especially four years at an HBCU—was the first time I started to balance my black personhood and my black womanhood and understand them in tandem."

Some are more universal but not heard often enough, like this excerpt from Alexis Ditaway, published on My Black Matters:

"Be fearless of [the] strength you have. Even on the days that you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders, just remember that if you keep pushing, the world will one day be in your hands. Your dreams, your goals, and your potential are all yours to reach. Let no one and nothing stop you; not even yourself."

The letters will be used to spark conversations with girls via social media, exhibits, and local events.


The letters are being collected through today, (Oct. 7, 2015). But even after the deadline passes, it's a letter worth writing.

My letter is below. Now it's your turn! Check out the submission guidelines at The Beautiful Project, read through some of the letters they have already posted, and write your own today!

Dear Black Girl,

I hope by now you know that you are beautiful. I want that to be a given, an assumption that the brown of your skin (however dark or light it may be), the kink in your hair (however loose or tight it may be), the curves of your body (however subtle or dramatic they may be) are all exquisite.

But your physical beauty is not your superpower.

I hope by now you know that you come from greatness. While you may not be able to trace every single gene back to the beginning of time, you are a part of a global family that has built societies, birthed rich art, math, science, and culture, and overcome incredible odds with a survivor's spirit. You aren't just from the Queen Cleopatras and Michelle Obamas and Oprahs, nor are you just from the scientists, lawyers, and leaders who are celebrated during Black History Month. You are also from the mammys and slaves and cooks and nurses and the women whose names you may not know but whose skillful hands built the unimaginably well-built country that you call home.

But your ancestry is not your superpower.

And last but not least, I hope by now we don't even need to discuss your brilliance. I hope you've already figured out that your brain is a magic box with which you can ask deep questions, solve complex problems, and invent creative solutions with the best of them.

But your intelligence isn't your superpower.

Photo via iStock.

Your superpower is the power of self-determination your ability to determine and control your life far more masterfully than anyone else ever could. Did you know that you can decide to take a left turn when others go right, to be what no one told you you could, or to try something that others are afraid to try? Did you know that you can wake up on any given Sunday and decide who you want to be and start all over, right then and there, to become that? Did you know that you can decide what to believe in and, if you believe in God like I do, use your faith to help you become your own unique reflection of Him here on earth?

I know that sounds easier said than done. How do you become who you want, do what you want, be what you want in a world that is steadily trying to shape you? Which lessons and images and influences should you believe and which should you ignore? Well, here is the key:

Only believe the people who believe, just as much as I hope you already do, that you are beautiful and brilliant and ancestrally rich. You only believe the messages that confirm what you know, deep in your heart, to be true about you.

As much as I wish I could come and help guide you into the woman I know you can be, I'm more excited to see you use your superpower to become the woman you want to be. I can't wait for you to discover exactly who that is.

And I'll be right here loving you all the while.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

This article originally appeared on 11.21.16


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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."