How my grandma's words tell the truth about America and gun violence.

If I close my eyes, I can still hear it.

Nat King Cole plays quietly from the living room, the faint smell of cigarettes wafting in with perfume from the balcony where my grandma had taken a quick smoke break, far away from me and my baby sister.


She is now in the kitchen, draped in her blue silk robe, snapping her fingers, nodding her head, and turning steaks on the stove. She cracked open an ice cold Pepsi and began our secret ritual of her talking to me about life like I was her oldest, closest girlfriend and not her 12-year-old granddaughter.

On this particular day, she turned to me and said "People, do what they want, dear heart. Never let them tell you otherwise." Her best life-lesson gems came while she was in the kitchen, sometimes with no context at all and always with the nickname "dear heart."

I listened, wide-eyed as she stopped, this time pointing her finger, and said, "People will tell you they can't. They will make excuses, they will give you reasons, but the truth is that if they want to change something bad enough they will do it. People do what they want."

"People, do what they want, dear heart. Never let them tell you otherwise." — Mary Elizabeth Flack

On Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015, 27-year-old artist Antonio Ramos was painting a mural on a highway underpass in Oakland, California, as part of a public art project aimed at fighting violence in the community. Ramos was to be joined later that day by schoolchildren as part of the nonprofit project — but that never happened.

He was shot multiple times in a random altercation in that underpass by a shooter who is still at large.


Antonio Ramos was shot and killed while painting for peace.

Two days later, on Oct. 1, pandemonium erupted as shots rang out on the campus of Oregon's Umpqua Community College. Students huddled in classrooms of the North Umpqua River Valley school, called 911 and their loved ones and feared for their lives as a gunman shot 10 students dead and left 20 more injured.

It was the 294th mass shooting this year.

In Oakland, Oregon, and communities all across the country, the death toll from gun violence rises day by day. In spite of our nonprofits, our institutions of learning and our values, the epidemic rages on. And whether the death of one or the death of many, we shake our heads at the insanity of it all.


Candelight vigil in Rosen, Oregon. Photo by Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty.

How can this happen, we ask? We hold up our hands, helpless and hamstrung. We rant on Facebook and write columns like this one and stand amazed at how we could have let things get this bad. Why can't we stop it?

"This a political choice we make to allow this to happen every few months in America. We are collectively answerable to those families, who lose their loved ones, because of our inaction." — President Obama

For seven years, I had a thriving career in Washington politics, but secretly, I never really fit in. I understood the inner workings of Capitol Hill and the painful bureaucracy of Congress yet never quite adopted the cynicism and resignation of many of my colleagues. I never believed that a government that orchestrated putting a man on the moon — that masterminded the subjugation of an entire people and then somehow remained standing when those same people rose up and abolished the system that sustained its economy — couldn't figure out how to get a simple bill passed.

I believed that if those in power cared enough about people and their lives, they'd figure out a way to make whatever needed to work work. I guess I took my grandma's words to heart.

She didn't think that much else was stronger than the human will. And history confirms her hunch. When we — as a nation or as people — want to change something badly enough, we make it happen. It might take a while, the progress might be painfully slow, it might cost blood, sweat, and tears, but progress will be made.

Now, far away from my old life in politics, I find myself with the same thoughts as we meet, yet again, at the national altar of grief and outrage to watch President Obama's address, pray for the victims and cry, "We must stop this!" before turning around and doing nothing. We blame politics and money for our inaction.

President Obama during yesterday's address. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty.

America, as a nation of power, pride and privilege does what it wants. And today, as individuals, so must we.

If my grandma were here today, she would say she doesn't buy it. America, as a nation of power, pride and privilege does what it wants. It protects who it wants, educates who it wants, operates how it wants. It begins what it wants (see War on Drugs), and it ends what it wants (see polio). And when America the state doesn't, America the people rise up time and time again.

We've been taught that grit and determination are "the American spirit" but it is also, to some extent, the human spirit. We are driven to make choices, prioritize, fight for what we believe is necessary, determine what matters most, and then act — or not act — as a result.

So what does that logic mean for us today in the face of staggering amounts of gun violence?

It means that our legacy as it stands, shows that we do not care enough about human life to stand up and do what most experts agree it takes to protect it. And those of us who do care enough must start acting like it.

A Facebook status or tweet when 10 whole, precious lives are snatched at once will not do. We must also make the same impassioned cries for reform every time an Antonio Ramos is killed just as senselessly.

We must put our money where our mouth is and invest in organizations that lobby for bold legislation, violence prevention programs, and mental health support.

We must ask politicians the hard questions at every turn and say to them, "Do not talk to me today about political realities. Do not tell me about limitations and restrictions. Talk to me about possibility and how we can help you realize it."

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

And we must each personally make a commitment to work to end gun violence. Because when enough of us do, with enough effort and sacrifice, we will succeed. Why am I so sure?

Because the same power of human will that indicts us today for allowing our lives and the lives of our children to be put at risk in this way is the same power that points towards endless possibility.

Somehow, someway, this country will do what it really wants. And so, dear hearts, in the aftermath of our grief and frustration, will we.

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."