At tonight's State of the Union, there'll be an empty seat. Here's why.

Of the many guests President Obama and the first lady will invite to the State of the Union, one stands out.

It was the first guest announced, and it's arguably the most important, and sadly relatable, guest an administration has ever played host to. That guest is, of course, the empty seat, representing those who've been lost to gun violence.


Since the announcement, families of gun violence victims and survivors have rallied around the hashtag #EmptySeat, using it to express the feeling of loss that comes along with losing loved ones to gun violence.


"It's terrifyingly easy to buy a gun without a background check in far too many states." — Lucy McBath, mother of 17-year-old shooting victim Jordan Davis

Some of the families sharing their stories lost loved ones in highly publicized mass shootings.

Such as Dave Sanders, a teacher who was gunned down trying to save students during the attack at Columbine High School.


Or 6-year-old Noah Pozner, who was shot and killed in the 2012 attack at Sandy Hook.


"#EmptySeat is an expression of our daily anguish and grief for our loved ones stolen or affected by gun violence," Caren Teves told Upworthy in an email. She lost her 24-year-old son Alex Teves in the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting that killed 12 and injured 70 in July 2012.

"It is a public outcry to demand Congressional action, as well as thanking President Obama for his executive actions."


People visit a memorial across the street from the Aurora, Colorado, theater where James Holmes opened fire on a crowd. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Lucy McBath — whose son Jordan Davis was 17 years old when he was shot and killed at a Jacksonville, Florida, gas station in an argument over loud music back in November 2012 — is also sadly familiar with the symbolism of the empty chair.

"At what should have been Jordan's high school graduation, his classmates left a seat open for him. His music teacher kept a chair open in class," McBath told Upworthy over email.

"To honor Jordan's memory, I've made it my life mission to help prevent other families from going through the pain of having a loved one taken by senseless gun violence."

Others are using the #EmptySeat hashtag to honor the many victims of gun violence whose stories we'll never hear.

This woman's uncle who died by suicide.


Or those who've had their weapons used against them.



A quick look through the hashtag can be absolutely heart-wrenching — so keep that in mind before you check it out. It provides a very real, very human look at loss, mourning, and the true cost of violence.

It's those stories — the ones we'd never otherwise hear — that make the #EmptySeat hashtag so powerful.

Regardless where you stand on gun control, it's clear that something needs to change.

Unfettered access to guns is not a sound policy position, nor was it the founders' intent when crafting the Second Amendment (that whole "well-regulated" part is pretty important). The overwhelming majority of Americans support mandatory background checks on all gun purchases. So why can't we make that happen?

"It's terrifyingly easy to buy a gun without a background check in far too many states," says McBath. "There is so much more we can do to keep guns out of dangerous hands. ... It's time for elected leaders in states across the country to close the loopholes that make it easy for dangerous people to get guns."

A memorial is set up in Chicago's Lawndale neighborhood on Sept. 8, 2015. Nine were shot and killed over Labor Day weekend. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Standing by while people, like those remembered by friends and family with the #EmptySeat hashtag, continue to lose their lives to gun violence is not an option.

Platitudes like "Guns don't kill people; people kill people" do nothing to stem the ongoing loss of life. Placing blame on people with mental illness is neither fair nor effective at cutting down on violence. The fact is that the vast majority of people involved in shootings are not mentally ill.

While the executive actions laid out by President Obama are a start, they don't (and they can't) completely close the loophole that allows people to buy and sell guns without performing background checks at gun shows and via private sale. For this type of real, concrete change to happen, Congress needs to take action.

We need to do something. We don't need any more empty seats.

Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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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."