True
Sierra Club

One of the most groundbreaking, critically acclaimed, and delightful video games of 2014 began in a highly unlikely place — Anchorage, Alaska.

A scene from "Never Alone." Photos by North One Games/E-Line Media.


It's called "Never Alone" (or "Kisima Ingitchuna"). And it wasn't developed by Nintendo, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, or any of the other big game studios.

It was the brainchild of the Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC) — a nonprofit community support organization for Alaska Natives and their families.

Many Alaska Native communities are struggling to hold on to their identities in the 21st century.

As more and more Alaska Natives move out of traditional communities and into urban areas, indigenous languages are disappearing — and with them, traditional knowledge. Many don't have a choice because climate change threatens to erode and, in some cases, even destroy native towns and villages around the state.

For many, life in Alaska's cities is hardly easy. According to Amy Fredeen, executive vice president and chief financial officer of the CITC, Alaska Native youth in Anchorage are plagued by high dropout and suicide rates. Passing traditional knowledge down under these conditions becomes all the more challenging.

The council saw "Never Alone" as both a way of becoming more financially self-sufficient and a necessary new method of transferring cultural knowledge from one generation to the next.

"We saw video games as a way to connect to our youth in a place where they're already at," Fredeen told Upworthy. The group also hoped that sales of the video game would help reduce their dependence on federal grant money.

There was a problem, however: No one on the CITC had ever made a video game before.

Undaunted, the council cold-called E-Line Media, a Seattle-based entertainment and video game development company with a message: "Come to Anchorage."

"What was funny is they actually came up and tried to talk us out of it."

According to Fredeen, E-Line urged the council to approach the project with caution: Video game development is a highly risky business and particularly challenging for a nonprofit with limited cash supplies.

But the group was determined — and the developers were impressed.

E-Line signed on. And off they went.

The team started by analyzing how indigenous characters were typically portrayed in video games. What they found was upsetting — and unsurprising.

"It ran the gamut from being terrible stereotypes to just appropriation," Fredeen said.

The group found that not only were native video game characters exceedingly rare, but when they did appear, it was often as sidekicks exhibiting a mishmash of cultural signifiers cobbled together from various and unrelated communities or, worse, as one-dimensional villains.

"Some of them were really almost obscene," Fredeen said.

In contrast, "Never Alone" features an Alaska Native main character and is based largely on a traditional Iñupiaq story.

E-Line chief creative officer Sean Vesce teaches Minnie Gray, an Alaska Native elder, storyteller, and consultant on the game, how to play.

Nuna, the game's hero, teams up with an arctic fox to find the source of the blizzard that's threatening her community. Players explore themes of resourcefulness, cooperation, and the transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next through the beautifully rendered gameplay.

"When I saw that come to life on screen, when they were using the scrimshaw in an animated way to tell a story, it brought tears to my eyes." — Amy Fredeen

E-Line credits the game's part-Iñupiaq lead writer, Ishmael Hope, for helping ensure that Alaska Native voices were front and center in the development process.

“We want to be culturally appropriate without cultural appropriation," Matt Swanson, one of the game's producers told Upworthy.

That meant checking their egos at the door and questioning some assumptions they didn't even realize they had.

According to Swanson, the original villain of the game was slated to be a raven before their collaborators pointed out that wouldn't make sense in an Alaska Native context.

"As Westerners, we have lots of stories where [the raven] is a trickster character, and things like that. And they pushed back on that and said, 'Look, that's not really culturally appropriate. The raven in our culture is a much more sort of sacred character.'"

It was a surprise to the E-Line team, which highlighted the importance of listening and their role as students in the story development process.

In addition to the main game, "Never Alone" features hours of documentary footage of Alaska Native elders and community members sharing traditional stories, explaining customs, and passing down knowledge.

The team was initially worried that the footage — which the player has the option of watching — would disrupt the gameplay but later received tons of positive feedback on the feature.

For Fredeen, the moment she knew "Never Alone" was going to be something special was when she saw the first cutscene — rendered entirely in serialized scrimshaw.

Scrimshaw is a traditional form of bone or ivory carving. According to Fredeen, while scrimshaw today is most often done in single panel, it was traditionally used in Alaska Native communities as a multi-panel, serial storytelling device.

"When I saw that come to life on screen, when they were using the scrimshaw in an animated way to tell a story, it brought tears to my eyes," Fredeen said. "The instant I saw that, I knew the team was listening to who we were as a people and how we really connected with each other."

The game debuted to terrific reviews and has since won some very big awards.

Minnie Gray in the recording studio.

Its effects are being felt far beyond Alaska's borders as well.

"After the game launched, we've been getting this incredible response from people of all different backgrounds on how getting to see an indigenous main character in a game, and seeing cultural representation in a game has resonated with them," Swanson said.

For Fredeen, the importance of that representation can't be overstated and was evident from the first time she saw a group of Alaska Native youth encounter the game.

"When they saw the video game on the screen, and when they saw a character that looked like them and the dress was familiar to them, and they saw their community members on the video with the video game, you could just see the pride on their faces."

The game is expected to make money — a big deal in the video game world — and the team continues to be impressed with its success.

“It's been amazing all around," Fredeen said.

"People just get excited in Alaska," she added. "... They're excited to see something that was made with Alaskans."

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.

Upworthy is sharing this letter from Myra Sack on the anniversary of the passing of her daughter Havi Lev Goldstein. Loss affects everyone differently and nothing can prepare us for the loss of a young child. But as this letter beautifully demonstrates, grief is not something to be ignored or denied. We hope the honest words and feelings shared below can help you or someone you know who is processing grief of their own. The original letter begins below:


Dear Beauty,

Time is crawling to January 20th, the one-year anniversary of the day you took your final breath on my chest in our bed. We had a dance party the night before. Your posse came over. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, closest friends, and your loving nanny Tia. We sat in the warm kitchen with music on and passed you from one set of arms to another. Everyone wanted one last dance with you. We didn’t mess around with only slow songs. You danced to Havana and Danza Kuduro, too. Somehow, you mustered the energy to sway and rock with each of us, despite not having had anything to eat or drink for six days. That night, January 19th, we laughed and cried and sang and danced. And we held each other. We let our snot and our tears rest on each other’s shoulders; we didn’t wipe any of them away. We ate ice cream after dinner, as we do every night. And on this night, we rubbed a little bit of fresh mint chocolate chip against your lips. Maybe you’d taste the sweetness.

Reggaeton and country music. Blueberry pancakes and ice cream. Deep, long sobs and outbursts of real, raw laughter. Conversations about what our relationships mean to each other and why we are on this earth.


Keep Reading Show less
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.

Keep Reading Show less
More

The airplane graveyard that 3 families call home is the subject of a stunning photo series.

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.

Keep Reading Show less