Colin Kaepernick just snagged a top honor also given to Malala and U2. He deserves it too.

Sometimes the smallest actions can have the biggest impact.

All former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick did was sit down. He didn’t shout, he didn’t stomp, he didn’t set anything on fire — he simply didn’t stand up during the national anthem.

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images.


That one small act sparked conversations about racial injustice and police use of force — in addition to the meaning of the national anthem and American flag — and ignited a social media controversy the likes of which I have rarely seen.

But Kaepernick didn’t continue to sit. After consulting with veteran and fellow football player Nate Boyer, Kaepernick switched to kneeling instead of sitting, to show respect for veterans while still protesting racial injustice in America’s law enforcement and justice system. Throughout the 2016-2017 football season, despite the controversy swirling around him, Kaepernick quietly knelt on the sidelines at every game.

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

Some people hated him for it. Some people loved him for it. Amnesty International just awarded him their highest honor for it.

Global human rights group Amnesty International named Kaepernick their 2018 Ambassador of Conscience — the top human rights award given by the organization. Previous winners include Malala Yousafzai, Nelson Mandela, and U2.

Many Americans celebrated the honor, while others rolled their eyes. But whether or not you agree with Kaepernick’s message or methods, there’s no doubt he earned and deserves this award.

As Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International, said:

“The Ambassador of Conscience award celebrates the spirit of activism and exceptional courage, as embodied by Colin Kaepernick. He is an athlete who is now widely recognized for his activism because of his refusal to ignore or accept racial discrimination. Just like the Ambassadors of Conscience before him, Colin Kaepernick chooses to speak out and inspire others despite the professional and personal risks. When high profile people choose to take a stand for human rights, it emboldens many others in their struggles against injustice. Colin Kaepernick’s commitment is all the more remarkable because of the alarming levels of vitriol it has attracted from those in power.”

Kaepernick sacrificed his football career for a cause. And he’s done much more than that.

Some people have focused so much on Kaepernick’s anthem protests that they’ve missed the work he’s been doing off the field.

He started the Colin Kaepernick Foundation, with a mission "to fight oppression of all kinds globally, through education and social activism." Through his foundation, he has donated a million dollars of his own money to various organization working for justice and police reform. He’s created a camp for kids to learn about their civil rights. And he has inspired others in the NFL, and throughout the entertainment world, to donate to similar causes.

When I started the #10for10 #Encore as part of my #MillionDollarPledge it was because after I ended the Pledge I still had an amazing show of support from friends that wanted to be involved, so I decided on one more day to continue to support the organizations on the ground. Well that one day, turned into two days after an outpour of support from friends wanting to join to giveback to the community who are fighting hard for us on the ground everyday. 10 people in my original #10for10 turned into 20 people adding on at the end of these two days! Amazing! · Of course, I couldn’t end the #10for10 without hearing from this amazing singer, philanthropist, mother, wife, actress and activist, @aliciakeys. She messaged me instantly as the #10for10 was going to show her support and Pledge $15k to Silicon Valley De-Bug! @sv_debug is an organization that has initiated and lead successful social justice campaigns to advance the rights of youth, workers, immigrants and those impacted by the criminal justice system. · Thank you, Alicia for all the work you do in the community to help our brothers and sisters globally. And thanks to everyone that was involved with the #MillionDollarPledge! Together we are strong. See everyone involved as well as all the organizations we donated to that are on the frontlines everyday fighting for social justice on Kaepernick7.com! #PowerToThePeople

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All of this in addition to serving as a catalyst for conversation, a powerful symbol of peaceful protest for some, and a highly controversial figure in the social and political landscape for others.

You don’t have to agree with Kaepernick’s philosophical — or physical — stance to agree that he's met the criteria for the Ambassador of Conscience Award.

Standing — or sitting, or kneeling — for what you believe in takes courage, especially in the face of great resistance. After many teams had the opportunity to pick him up, Kaepernick still remains jobless with the NFL. He has been the target of the president of the United States, who referred to protesting players as a “son of a bitch” and encouraged people to boycott games when players kneel or sit during the anthem. There’s no question he made enormous sacrifices in his career — and in the court of public opinion in a “spirit of activism.”

In doing so, he joins an elite group of activists around the world who have been recognized with Amnesty International. And no matter what people think of his method of protest, he has rightfully earned his place among them through his uncompromising stand, and unwavering dedication to fighting injustice.

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!

The Schmidt family's Halloween photoshoot has become an annual tradition.

Two of Patti Schmidt's three sons were already well into adulthood when her daughter Avery was born, and the third wasn't far behind them. Avery, now 5, has never had the pleasure of close-in-age sibling squabbles or gigglefests, since Larry, Patrick, and Gavin are 28, 26, and 22, respectively—but that doesn't mean they don't bond as a family.

According to People.com, Patti calls her sons home to Point Pleasant, New Jersey, every fall for a special Halloween photoshoot with Avery. And the results are nothing short of epic.

The Schmidt family started the tradition in 2017 with the boys dressing as the tinman, the scarecrow, and the cowardly lion from "The Wizard of Oz." Avery, just a toddler at the time, was dressed as Dorothy, complete with adorable little ruby slippers.

The following year, the boys were Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Chewbacca, and Avery was (of course) Princess Leia.

In 2019, they did a "Game of Thrones" theme. ("My husband and I were binge-watching (Game of Thrones), and I thought the boys as dragons would be so funny," Schmidt told TODAY.)

In 2020, they went as Princess Buttercup, Westley, Inigo Montoya, and Fezzik from "The Princess Bride."

Patti shared a video montage of each year's costume shoot—with accompanying soundtracks—on Instagram and TikTok. Watch:

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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."