Gen Z is all right—check out these young activists stepping up to make a difference
Aniyah Ayres, Trinity Jagdeo

2020 has drained everyone, by way of a pandemic, political upheaval, and a shaky economy. Somehow, despite all of this, Gen Z has maintained the energy and focus to create a better state of being in the United States.

Generation Z is made up of everyone born after 1996, and studies show that this generation leans into their civic duty. Whether through inspiration or service projects, here are five youth-run businesses that are striving to make a difference during this unpredictable year.

Trinity Jagdeo


Trinity Jagdeo, We Can't 2 We Can

Trinity Jagdeo is striving for inclusivity for disabled children. Inspired by her childhood friend's battle with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2, Jagdeo saw the need for representation and was determined to close the gap. Her comic book series We Can't 2 We Can gives disabled children powers and makes them superheroes.

She also has started a non-profit of the same name, Trinity explains the mission, "We offer many services to the special needs community; hosting inclusive events is one of them. This year, in celebration of our second anniversary, we planned to host a fashion show called, 'I Love Me and My Disability.' Unfortunately, due to the current events going on with the world, we have had to postpone our show." She was still able to fundraise online, and the proceeds have gone to the many families she works with.


Trinity started her charity at 17, and now 19, her business has grown. She is now a public speaker and gives talks about entrepreneurship and goal-setting at high schools and colleges. How does she measure her success? "I will know I've made it when I get invited on the Kelly Clarkson show."


Stand Up, Fight Back


Andreya, Isabelle, Piper, Lee, and Noelani, Stand Up, Fight Back, Tucson

Stand Up, Fight Back (SUFB) is the brainchild of five teens, ranging in age from 15 to 19, who all met at Tucson protests for George Floyd. Since its inception, the teens have held events, calling for justice for victims of police brutality and relocation of police funding into the community, like housing and school initiatives. "We all grew up seeing how unjust this country really is. We had very similar ideas and morals; so we easily adopted a connection. Because of this strong connection, we all agreed to join together and find a way that we could make a difference in this country, big or small."

"In our city, three people have died in police custody in the last few months. Our goal is to be a part of the change in history, and to do whatever we can to help move this revolution forward. We are trying to make this earth a good place for all of us to live, not just a select few."

The teens believe that the best way to support their organization is to support their causes. "Black lives matter, as well as immigrants, LGBTQA+, and civil rights. Whether that means working with your local official donating, sharing, protesting, signing petitions. Do whatever you can do to eradicate the injustice in the system." The group always needs extra supplies for their efforts, and they have attached a Venmo donation link to their social pages.

Carrie and Sophia Fox


Sophia Fox, Adventures in Kindness

The idea for Adventures in Kindness was born one year ago when Sophia (then nine) asked her mother a tough question. "I asked my mom one night why there is so much mean in the world. She didn't have an answer, so we tried to answer it together. We decided to replace the word mean with kind." The pair sat down and created a list of age-appropriate activities. That list became the book Adventures in Kindness.

Carrie explains, "The book is written primarily for children between the ages of seven and 12, and it is designed to be a practical resource for them and their families, where they could open the book and literally have everything they need at their fingers to go create positive change."

The book, as well as the website, have become a platform for kind kids. For members of the Kind Kids Club, there are rewards for completing a certain number of activities. Their slogan is "Kind is cool, so wear it proud."

The book is available on Amazon and their website, and if purchased through the site, at least 10% of the profit will go to one of the charities featured in the book. For July, the donations went to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Carrie says they were chosen "because of their work with a platform called Teaching Tolerance. In the book, we talk about the importance of empathy and learning about cultures different from your own." To purchase books, kits, or apparel, visit their website.

Ventura Website Builders


Deive Mece, Evan Robert, Yash Rondla, Ventura Website Builders

Three 17-year-olds saw their community hurting in the wake of COVID19, and they felt compelled to take action. Evan explained, "We noticed that a lot of small businesses in our area—many run by older folks—were struggling. Nobody was visiting their businesses, and we realized that they had no online presence at all." The three noticed that without customers able to walk through stores, and they started what they called a "community service project" to help their local businesses stay afloat.

With the downtime they had while sheltering in place, the teens taught themselves how to build websites. According to Deive, "We're all interested in computers and coding. So we all pretty much learned how to build the websites over the past couple of months. We just looked up like tutorials and YouTube videos, and figured it out like that."

The boys are excited to continue helping businesses in need, and since they all want to major in business in college, Evan says that they are loving the early lesson in entrepreneurship. "Deive is interested in maybe minoring in software engineering, so we are all getting valuable experience." The three would like to expand their business outside of their Simi Valley area. If you know a business that has been impacted by COVID and can't afford web design, visit their website to request a consultation.


Aniyah Ayres


Aniyah Ayres, Aniyah's Mission

Since Aniyah was six, she's had the desire to give back. That is why she founded Aniyah's Mission. Her organization has been tending to the needy in West Philadelphia by feeding the homeless, as well as back to school supply drives and scholarship giveaways. At six, she started with a water ice stand, and now, at fourteen, she is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, community activist, motivational speaker, and author.

COVID-19 changed the dynamics of Aniyah's mission, but with her mother's help, she's still able to make a difference. "My mom went to the store for families and took their groceries to their houses, and we started supplying lunches for hospital workers."

Aniyah, who is now 14 and starting high school, hopes that her next steps are writing a second book. She wrote her first, which teaches children how to grieve after a loss, inspired by losing her own father really young. "There weren't any resources to help me cope with my anger or grief. So I wrote a book, hoping to help others process their grief. I definitely see myself and another book, and having more of a global impact."

Aniyah recognizes the advantages she has had with starting a nonprofit, but she wants to encourage others who may not have as many resources to still give back. She offers this advice: "You have to make sure it's something you really want to do, because it can get tiring. Then make sure you have the mindset to get started. Start out small, you can hand out bags of food in your neighborhood, or you can take part in a community cleanup day. From there, gather more people. Learn how to fundraise, and make sure you have a strong supporting family and friends behind you."

2020 has taught us many tough lessons, but one worth carrying into 2021 and beyond is that you're never too young to make a difference.

Tonya Russell is a freelance journalist who is passionate about mental health, wellness, and culture. To see more of her work or cute dog photos, follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

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!

Photo by Vanessa Garcia from Pexels

A professor's message to students has gone viral.

If you know any teachers, you probably know how utterly exhausted they all are, from preschools all the way up through college. Pandemic schooling has been rough, to say the least, and teachers have borne the brunt of the impact it's had on students.

Most teachers I've known have bent over backwards to help students succeed during this time, taking kids' mental and emotional health into consideration and extending the flexibility and grace we all could use. But teachers have their own mental and emotional needs, too, and at some point, something's gotta give.

A college student posted screenshots of a professor's message on Twitter with the comment "someone PLEASE check on my professor." It's simply incredible.

The message reads:

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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

man and two children on grass field

When I conceived my first born, I was elated. I took four at-home tests to confirm the news, peeing on my hand four times — and on four different sticks. I rushed to the city to tell my husband, with a congratulatory card and a few goodies in a yellow gift bag. There was a pacifier, a bottle, and an adorable Big Bird brush and comb set. And I called my doctor within hours. I scheduled an ultrasound the following week. But when I told everyone else the news, they wanted to know about my unborn baby's sex. Did I want a boy, they asked, or a girl?

I said I didn't care because I didn't. I wanted a child, to be sure. A happy, healthy baby who could (and presumably would) grow to become a happy, healthy kid. But everyone was focused on colors. On labels. Would I be a dance mom or a soccer mom? Would my shower be decorated with pink balloons or blue? And while I learned at my 20-week checkup that I was having a daughter — that I would be having a baby girl — I didn't identify as a "girl mom." My daughter is 8 and I still don't. Because sex doesn't define my daughter. It doesn't dictate her interests or mine, and it doesn't affect how I parent. I treat my son and daughter (more or less) the same. Because I'm not a boy mom or a girl mom, I'm just Mom, and that's an important distinction.


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Mom gets surprise call from daughter.

A FaceTime from her daughter is the best surprise this mom could ask for. Why? Because unbeknown to her, the daughter arrived back home from college in secret. And she shared this touching impromptu reunion with TikTok for everyone to enjoy.

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