In and out of the ring, boxer Claressa Shields is a fighter. Now, she's headed for Rio.

"Boxing is for men, and it is about men and it is men. A celebration of the lost religion of masculinity all the more trenchant for being lost.”

Joyce Carol Oates wrote that in her 1987 book, "On Boxing." Though she may change her tune after watching Claressa Shields in the ring.


Shields (right) in the 2012 Olympics. Photo by Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images.

In 2012, Shields became the first American woman to earn an Olympic gold medal in boxing, a monumental achievement for anyone, but especially for a 17-year-old who discovered the sport just six years prior.

In hearing her story, it's abundantly clear: Nothing — not doubt, not money, not family hardship — will stop Claressa Shields. Absolutely nothing.

Long before she stepped in the ring, Shields was a fighter.

In Flint, Michigan, her family faced extreme poverty (she even went without food so her younger siblings could eat). Shields was sexually assaulted and molested as a child, and she often stayed with relatives and friends, as her own home life was unpredictable.

But with writing, prayer, and a push from her dad, she quite literally fought her way through an unthinkable upbringing.

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

Shields' father was incarcerated for most of her childhood. But after his release, he introduced his daughter to his first love: boxing.

He told her all about the champ, Muhammad Ali, and his daughter, celebrated boxer Laila Ali. That was all Claressa needed to hear.

At 11, he signed her up for lessons at a local boxing gym. She took to the demanding sport almost instantly, leaving quite an impression on trainer Jason Crutchfield.

"She was catching on real quick, real quick," Crutchfield told Independent Lens. "I said: 'Whoa! You need to come with me.' And I just took her under my wing from there."

GIF via PBS/YouTube.

Life at home was inconsistent and uncertain, but boxing and the gym became her safe haven.

While her friends started going to parties on weekends, Shields spent her Fridays in the gym, training with Crutchfield. Her entire life revolved around boxing.

Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images.

She soon earned the nickname T-Rex for her slight frame and short arms. "But I used to always be swinging," she told ESPNW.

It's that drive, that fire, that helped Shields earn the gold medal in London in 2012.

Photos by Scott Heavey/Getty Images.

And she hasn't lost a bout since. Seriously.

When she returns to the games this month, Shields will have more than a medal on her mind.

Not just silencing women's boxing's many critics or becoming the first American boxer (male or female) to win back-to-back boxing gold medals, but bringing much-needed attention to the city she loves. Shields is one of Flint's hometown heroes, and the embattled community could really use one right now.

GIF via PBS/YouTube.

"I'm fighting for my family, I'm fighting for my future, I'm fighting for my city -- to give them some hope and faith, because it's so bad in Flint," Shields told ESPNW. "I always fight harder than I would if I were fighting for just a medal."

Shields' story is one of triumph, courage, and grit.

In 2012, she shared some writing from her journal with the New Yorker. In her entry from December 2011, the then-16-year old wrote in her journal (which she named Olympia):

"It just hit me. The reason that I box is to prove dudes, men wrong. They say women can’t box? Olympia man I’m finna start training so hard there’s no male can even see a mistake in me.”


Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images.

She has no time for doubts. No time for haters. She's in it to win it. And with heart and talent like hers, she just might.

Want to see T-Rex in action? A documentary about her OlympIc journey, "T-Rex: Her Fight for Gold," premieres Aug. 2 on PBS.

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!

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."