From fashion school to the Army to the Paralympics, Ce-Ce Mazyck kept pushing.
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Disabled American Veterans

Centra "Ce-Ce" Mazyck's road to joining the Army started in fashion school, of all places.

In 1994, Mazyck was enrolled at Bauder College in Atlanta, taking classes to become a fashion stylist. But one year into her two-year program, she realized that she wanted more — so she joined the Army Reserve.

All images via Ce-Ce Mazyck, used with permission.


"I went in there with the mindset of only doing school," explains Mazyck. "But at the end of the day, I fell in love with it." Which probably isn't that surprising — the military is in her blood! Her mother, her uncles, and her grandfather were all in the military too.

In 1997, Mazyck went on active duty and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

It tested her body and mind unlike anything else she had ever done. At one point, it got so tough that she even briefly thought about quitting. But after watching one of her favorite inspirational movies ("G.I. Jane") and having a heartfelt conversation with her female sergeant about the lack of women in the division, Mazyck reminded herself why she wanted to do this.

"The next day," she says, "I was jumping out of the airplane."

And for the next six years, Mazyck flourished.

Everything changed on a windy November day in 2003.

It was a routine jump, Mazyck says, but as the wind took her, something felt different. "This particular time," she explains, "it kept taking me."

Before long, she was tangled up with another jumper and together, they had to figure out the best way to brace their fall.

"Right before we were about to land, our parachute broke loose," she says. "I didn't have enough time to prepare a proper landing."

The fall broke the L1 and L2 vertebrae in her spine and paralyzed her from the waist down.

After the accident, she went through a tough rehabilitation period.

The doctors said she'd never walk again.

But through it all, Mazyck says, her son inspired her to keep pushing herself. Slowly, she was able to recover — and she even walked again with the help of forearm crutches.

"Everything that I went through — my mental toughness, my physical toughness," says Mazyck, "it was all because of [Tristen]."

During her rehab, Mazyck also received a boost from DAV (Disabled American Veterans), a nonprofit charity that empowers veterans and provides lifelong support for them and their loved ones.

"DAV explained that they could assist with any benefit issues and family issues that I may have," says Mazyck. "Nothing but awesome and kind people."

Once she had recovered physically, Mazyck set two new goals to find purpose after her military service: finishing her education and training for the Paralympics.

She had learned about wheelchair games while in rehab and, in 2005, actually competed at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Minnesota.

But, according to Mazyck, school had to come first.

The idea of finishing her degree was scary at first because she wasn't sure how people would treat her. But she made the leap and enrolled at the University of South Carolina in 2006. Her brother was there to support her through the whole process.

Mazyck graduated with a degree in sociology and a minor in women’s studies in December 2010.

"It meant the world to me," she says proudly. "It gave me that boost of confidence that I needed to become a part of society — to contribute to society again [after] being in the military, where, you know, it's our own little bubble."

Then she started training to compete in the Paralympics.

She trained almost every day — which was no easy feat as a single mother! But her mother helped care for her son while she trained. "That gave me comfort in my heart," Mazyck explains, "knowing that I was pursuing my dreams and my son was still being taken care of."

"My support system means the world to me. Without that, there would be no me."

Her hard work paid off. Not only did she compete in the javelin at the London Paralympics in 2012, but she went on to win a bronze medal at the World Championships in France soon after. Today, she travels the country conducting talks and inspiring the next generation of athletes with disabilities.

Thanks to a strong support system and desire to keep pushing herself, Mazyck found a way to keep doing what she loved after her military service.

"Dig deeper and just know that you can do it," adds Mazyck. "It doesn't have to be sports. It doesn't have to be you being a scholar at school. Just find your passion and go with it and don't give up on life — because it's too precious."

"I'm telling you, life truly begins once you live life outside of your comfort zone."

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan
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Growing up in Indonesia, Farwiza Farhan always loved the ocean. It's why she decided to study marine biology. But the more she learned, the more she realized that it wasn't enough to work in the ocean. She needed to protect it.

"I see the ocean ecosystem collapsing due to overfishing and climate change," she says. "I felt powerless and didn't know what to do [so] I decided to pursue my master's in environmental management."

This choice led her to work in environmental protection, and it was fate that brought her back home to the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia — one of the last places on earth where species such as tigers, orangutans, elephants and Sumatran rhinoceros still live in the wild today. It's also home to over 300 species of birds, eight of which are endemic to the region.

"When I first flew over the Leuser Ecosystem, I saw an intact landscape, a contiguous block of lush, diverse vegetation stretched through hills and valleys. The Leuser is truly a majestic landscape — one of a kind."

She fell in love. "I had my first orangutan encounter in the Leuser Ecosystem," she remembers. "As the baby orangutan swung from the branches, seemingly playing and having fun, the mother was observing us. I was moved by the experience."

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

"Over the years," she continues, "the encounters with wildlife, with people, and with the ecosystem itself compounded. My curiosity and interest towards nature have turned into a deep desire to protect this biodiversity."

So, she began working for a government agency tasked to protect it. After the agency dismantled for political reasons in the country, Farhan decided to create the HAkA Foundation.

"The goals [of HAkA] are to protect, conserve and restore the Leuser Ecosystem while at the same time catalyzing and enabling just economic prosperity for the region," she says.

"Wild areas and wild places are rare these days," she continues. "We think gold and diamonds are rare and therefore valuable assets, but wild places and forests, like the Leuser Ecosystems, are the kind of natural assets that essentially provide us with life-sustaining services."

"The rivers that flow through the forest of the Leuser Ecosystem are not too dissimilar to the blood that flows through our veins. It might sound extreme, but tell me — can anyone live without water?"

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

So far, HAkA has done a lot of work to protect the region. The organization played a key role in strengthening laws that bring the palm oil companies that burn forests to justice. In fact, their involvement led to an unprecedented, first-of-its-kind court decision that fined one company close to $26 million.

In addition, HAkA helped thwart destructive infrastructure plans that would have damaged critical habitat for the Sumatran elephants and rhinos. They're working to prevent mining destruction by helping communities develop alternative livelihoods that don't damage the forests. They've also trained hundreds of police and government rangers to monitor deforestation, helping to establish the first women ranger teams in the region.

"We have supported multiple villages to create local regulation on river and land protection, effectively empowering communities to regain ownership over their environment."

She is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year. The donation she receives as a nominee is being awarded to the Ecosystem Impact Foundation. The small local foundation is working to protect some of the last remaining habitats of the critically endangered leatherback turtle that lives on the west coast of Sumatra.

"The funds will help the organization keep their ranger employed so they can continue protecting the islands, endangered birds and sea turtle habitats," she says.

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen. Do you know an inspiring woman like Farwiza? Nominate her today!

Jennifer Lawrence

After being a Hollywood staple, Jennifer Lawrence vanished from the public eye following the release of "X-Men Dark Phoenix" in 2019.

Sure, the pandemic had something to do with that … in addition to the usual way our society treats Hollywood "it" girls, once it grows accustomed to the flavor. But in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Lawrence opens up about some other reasons she chose to step away for a time.

Lawrence went from being a highly sought-after Oscar-winning actress to starring in less-than-successful films like "Passengers," "Mother!" and "Red Sparrow." The films were not only poorly received among critics, but commercially as well.

"I was not pumping out the quality that I should have," she told VF. "I just think everybody had gotten sick of me. I'd gotten sick of me. It had just gotten to a point where I couldn't do anything right. If I walked a red carpet, it was, 'Why didn't she run?'"

So then, why do it? As any workaholic would know, it's about so much more than money.

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Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
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Marcella Lopez didn't always want to be a teacher — but once she became one, she found her passion. That's why she's stayed in the profession for 23 years, spending the past 16 at her current school in Los Angeles, where she mostly teaches children of color.

"I wanted purpose, to give back, to live a life of public service, to light the spark in others to think critically and to be kind human beings," she says. "More importantly, I wanted my students to see themselves when they saw me, to believe they could do it too."

Ms. Lopez didn't encounter a teacher of color until college. "That moment was life-changing for me," she recalls. "It was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin as a student. Always remembering how I felt in that college class many years ago has kept me grounded year after year."

It's also guided her teaching. Ms. Lopez says she always selects authors and characters that represent her students and celebrate other ethnicities so students can relate to what they read while also learning about other cultures.

"I want them to see themselves in the books they read, respect those that may not look like them and realize they may have lots in common with [other cultures] they read about," she says.

She also wants her students to have a different experience in school than she did.

When Ms. Lopez was in first grade, she "was speaking in Spanish to a new student, showing her where the restroom was when a staff member overheard our conversation and directed me to not speak in Spanish," she recalls. "In 'this school,' we only speak English," she remembers them saying. "From that day forward, I was made to feel less-than and embarrassed to speak the language of my family, my ancestors; the language I learned to speak first."

Part of her job, she says, is to find new ways to promote acceptance and inclusion in her classroom.

"The worldwide movement around social justice following the death of George Floyd amplified my duty as a teacher to learn how to discuss racial equity in a way that made sense to my little learners," she says. "It ignited me to help them see themselves in a positive light, to make our classroom family feel more inclusive, and make our classroom a safe place to have authentic conversations."

One way she did that was by raising money through DonorsChoose to purchase books and other materials for her classroom that feature diverse perspectives.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

The Allstate Foundation recently partnered with DonorsChoose to create a Racial Justice and Representation category to encourage teachers like Ms. Lopez to create projects that address racial equity in the classroom. To launch the category, The Allstate Foundation matched all donations to these projects for a total of $1.5 million. Together, they hope to drive awareness and funding to projects that bring diversity, inclusion, and identity-affirming learning materials into classrooms across the country. You can see current projects seeking funding here.

When Ms. Lopez wanted to incorporate inclusive coloring books into her lesson plans, The Allstate Foundation fully funded her project so she was able to purchase them.

"I'm a lifelong learner, striving to be my best version of myself and always working to inspire my little learners to do the same," she says. Each week, Ms. Lopez and the students would focus on a page in the book and discuss its message. And she plans to do the same again this school year.

"DonorsChoose has been a gamechanger for my students. Without the support of all the donors that come together on this platform, we wouldn't have a sliver of what I've been able to provide for my students, especially during the pandemic," she says.

"My passion is to continue striving to be excellent, and to continue to find ways to use literature as an anchor, depicting images that reflect my students," she says.

To help teachers like Ms. Lopez drive this important mission forward, donate on DonorsChoose.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

This story was originally published on The Mighty and originally appeared here on 07.21.17


Most people imagine depression equals “really sad," and unless you've experienced depression yourself, you might not know it goes so much deeper than that. Depression expresses itself in many different ways, some more obvious than others. While some people have a hard time getting out of bed, others might get to work just fine — it's different for everyone.

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Tired of avocados turning brown? Try this simple trick.

Ah, the delicious, creamy avocado. We love it, despite its fleeting ripeness and frustrating tendency to turn brown when you try to store it. From salads to guacamole to much-memed millennial avocado toast, the weird berry (that's right—it's a berry) with the signature green flesh is one of the more versatile fruits, but also one of the more fickle. Once an avocado is ready, you better cut it open within hours because it's not going to last.

Once it's cut, an avocado starts to oxidize, turning that green flesh a sickly brown color. It's not harmful to eat, but it's not particularly appetizing. The key to keeping the browning from happening is to keep the flesh from being exposed to oxygen.

Some people rub an unused avocado half with oil to keep oxidation at bay. Others swear by squeezing some lemon juice over it. Some say placing plastic wrap tightly over it with the pit still in it will keep it green.

But a YouTube video from Avocados from Mexico demonstrates a quick, easy, eco-friendly way to store half an avocado that doesn't require anything but a container and some water.

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