Kwadwo was painting a tribute to victims of police brutality. Then he almost became one.

Kwadwo Adae is more than just a painter — he's a community builder (and impeccable dresser).

For the last decade, Kwadwo (pronounced "K’way-jo") has run Adae Fine Art Academy in New Haven, Connecticut's historic Ninth Square, where he teaches art to children, teens, and adults.

But not everyone can make it to the classroom. So Kwadwo brings his art to them, taking his talents on the road in a mobile studio that visits mental health clinics and assisted living centers, creating communities and helping people heal through artistic expression.


He also paints murals, chatting with customers at his local bakery as he adds another flourish to the wall, or traveling across the world to create collaborative community pieces with underprivileged children.

"Art is a really powerful thing, and I don't think our society places enough value on what art can do," he told Upworthy. "There's the healing factor that's inherent in an artistic passion, and you cannot underestimate its power."

Kwadwo (in the rear, with that lovely paisley button-up) with students from Anjanisain Paryavaran Vidyalaya School in the Himalayas, where he travelled to help them make a mural on their school. All photos by Kwadwo Adae, used with permission.

In the summer of 2014, Kwadwo began to paint an image of Lady Justice posed with her iconic swords and scale.

A friend volunteered to model for him. He'd been doing a series of nude studies but was looking for a different way to challenge himself, rather than just painting a figure. A deity, perhaps, or some mythological figure...

It was serendipity that they settled on depicting her as Lady Justice.

A few weeks later, Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

In the aftermath, Kwadwo got involved with the Black Lives Matter movement, participating in peaceful demonstrations from New Haven to New York. But his painting fell to the wayside, languishing unfinished in his studio.

Kwadwo had wanted his Lady Justice to be different, something otherworldly and transcendent and righteous and frightening and recognizable, but somehow still inhuman — because justice, as he understood it, was not just reserved for humans.

But with each successive tragedy, he found himself questioning what, exactly, his Lady Justice stood for. "I was appalled and shocked and had this feeling about what justice means for me, as a black man living in this society. And I really struggled with that," he said.

Kwadwo and his in-process Lady Justice painting.

Every time another black American was slain, he would bring the painting back out, immortalizing their names on the back of the canvas.

"As the year passed and more and more men and women of color were executed by police, I would be filled [with] unhealthy levels of sadness, anger, and despair. The only constructive place to put these emotions was in this depiction of Lady Justice," he wrote in a Facebook post. "When I can no longer fit another name on the back of this painting, I will officially consider this piece complete."

But the list of names kept getting longer, and his painting began to fill him with disgust.

What started as a tribute now served as a sickening reminder of the terrible injustices that his family and friends dealt with every single day. He hid his Lady Justice in the back of his studio, focusing instead on an abstract series or a sprawling floral print.

At least, until another name was broadcast on the news.

The back canvas of Kwadwo's Lady Justice painting.

And then, on Dec. 18, 2015, he saw the flashing lights in his own rearview mirror.

Kwadwo said he was less than 100 yards from his house, on his way to the studio, when he was pulled over by a plainclothes state trooper, who approached the car with his weapon drawn.



His frightened mind flashed through every possible scenario, but there was one thought in particular that wouldn't leave his mind:

"Who would be the one to write my name in memoriam on the back of my own painting?"

Kwadwo wasn't killed. But he was taken into custody.

His alleged crime? Running a stop sign, and crossing the double yellow lines into traffic.

Although he was detained, the police released Kwadwo later that day, with a court date on Dec. 30.

The police report made sure to note Kwadwo's "fair/poor" attitude.

There was no mention of a weapon being drawn.

"When you are a black man in these United States, getting pulled over and seeing a gun drawn is analogous to having a near death experience. I am truly grateful to have a court date instead of a death certificate today," Kwadwo wrote.

12 days later, Kwadwo appeared in New Haven's Superior Court — and his neglected Lady Justice was finally complete.

He could have spent the interim days stewing in his anger or depression. But Kwadwo found a better way to channel his energy, and he committed himself to putting the finishing touches on the painting.

His Lady Justice was completed on the morning of his trial.

Kwadwo showed up in court and told his own side of the story — which stood in stark contrast to the officer's report. The case was ultimately thrown out and expunged from his record in exchange for a $25 donation to the Crime Victims Fund.

I've been spending so much time staring deeply into her blindness as of late; personally and patiently awaiting her eyes upon me in judgement. Although she is nearly complete in one sense, I shall be working on her in perpetuity. My dearest Lady Justice. #ladyjustice #lady #justice #art #painting #artist #artistlife #oilpainting #law #lawyer #swords #shields #scales #judge #jury #executioner #ladyinjustice #blind #blindfolded #visualart #antiviolence #policebrutality #blacklivesmatter #artstudio #painter
A photo posted by Kwadwo Adae (@kwadwo.adae) on

With his harrowing encounter behind him, Kwadwo is feeling freshly inspired as the new year begins — and his positive energy is infectious.

"I'm taking the emotional damage of the experience and trying to translate it into my art," he told me a week after his court date.

He's back to taking aikido classes again after an injury put him on the sidelines for the year. He points out the aikido swords in the hands of his Kali-esque painting and explains how aikido is about taking the aggressive force of your attacker and using that energy to redirect and end the conflict.

He's also been meditating. Sometimes in those quiet moments, Kwadwo's mind wanders to the man who arrested him that day. But there is no vengeance or vitriol in his thoughts — just forgiveness. "We're all trying to make the world a better place," Kwadwo says. "Even the cop who pulled me over is trying to make the world a better place in his own way. We're all trying to do our best. We just need to get better at empathizing with other people."

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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.

Of the millions of Americans breathing a sigh of relief with the ushering in of a new president, one man has a particularly personal and professional reason to exhale.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has spent a good portion of his long, respected career preparing for a pandemic, and unfortunately, the worst one in 100 years hit under the worst possible administration. As part of Trump's Coronavirus Task Force, Dr. Fauci did what he could to advise the president and share information with the public, but it's been clear for months that the job was made infinitely more difficult than it should have been by anti-science forces within the administration.

To his credit, Dr. Fauci remained politically neutral through it all this past year, totally in keeping with his consistently non-partisan, apolitical approach to his job. Even when the president badmouthed him, blocked him from testifying before the House, and kept him away from press briefings, Fauci took the high road, always keeping his commentary focused on the virus and refusing to step into the political fray.

But that doesn't mean working under those conditions wasn't occasionally insulting, frequently embarrassing, and endlessly frustrating.

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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.