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.

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Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

Anderson Cooper has interviewed hundreds of people, from top celebrities to heads of state to people on the street. He is fairly unflappable when it comes to chatting with a guest, which is what makes his reaction while interviewing inaugural poet Amanda Gorman all the more delightful.

Gorman stole the show at President Biden's Inauguration with a powerful performance of her original poem, "The Hill We Climb." People were blown away by both her words and her poise in delivering them, especially considering the fact that she's only 22 years old. But it's one thing to be able to write and recite well, and another to be able to impress in an off-the-cuff conversation—and Gorman proved in her interview on Anderson Cooper 360 that she can do both at a level most of us can only dream of.

In the interview, Gorman explained how she dove into research to prepare her poem to fit the occasion, and then how that work was disrupted by the attack on the Capitol.

"I'm not going to say that that completely derailed the poem, because I was not surprised at what had happened," she said. "I had seen the signs and the symptoms for a while, and I was not trying to turn a blind eye to that. But what it did is it energized me even more, to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope and unity and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear."

After explaining how she used tweets and articles and messages about the Capitol insurrection to hone parts of her poem, she shared thoughts on reclaiming the power of words.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.