Libraries full of human 'books' are spreading across the country.
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Dignity Health 2017

What would happen if you sat down and had an open and honest conversation with someone with completely opposing views?

Could it bring you closer together?

All images via the Human Library Organization, used with permission.


The Human Library Organization is counting on it.

In this day and age, it may seem like getting two people with different views together to discuss them is a recipe for disaster. Just read the comment section on any online post on a heated topic and you're bound to wish you hadn't. Political division and the ability to hide behind a screen and shout your thoughts through your fingertips has encouraged an "I'm right, you're wrong" discourse that seldom opens doors for productive dialogue.

Human Libraries — where actual people are on loan to readers instead of books — are a way to highlight the common ground.

At a Human Library, people volunteer to become "books" and make their experiences open and available. "Readers" are encouraged to ask them questions freely, and they'll get honest answers in return. There's no judgment, and no questions are off-limits.

You won't find people talking over each other. You won't find nasty comments or political agendas, and you won't lose faith in humanity. At the Human Library, you might actually feel better about the world you live in. You might even make a new friend!

The human "books" consist of people who have been marginalized or discriminated by society.

"Certain communities are being pinpointed as the 'bad people' because they believe different, or live different, or eat different, or look different, or have a different color, or ethnic or religious background," said Ronni Abergel, the Human Library Organization's founder.

Abergel has set out to counter that by building a space for conversations that can challenge stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue.

Some of the "books" readers may find at a Human Library include a Muslim, a Jew, a cancer survivor, a recovering alcoholic, a police officer, a refugee, someone living with Alzheimer's, a veteran, a teacher, and the list goes on.

Even better? Human libraries are on the rise globally, including in the United States.

The Human Library Organization, originally from Copenhagen, Denmark, just marked its 16th year in service. This year they're as busy as they've ever been.

Allison McFadden-Keesling can vouch for the org's success. When she saw an article about the Human Library in a London newspaper in 2008, she immediately knew she wanted to set up an event for students at Oakland Community College in Michigan. Fast-forward to today, and she's getting ready to host her 11th Human Library event on campus in five years.

"The most pleasantly surprising thing about the Human Library is how close all the human books become to one another," she said. "It has a family reunion feel every time we host as previous human book participants return and others join."

Some of the human books found in Chicago!

From Michigan to Connecticut to Texas to Arkansas, Human Library events are growing — with 30 new U.S. partners having joined in the past month alone.

Abergel knows the rise in interest isn't a coincidence. There's a consistent theme he sees in the applications he receives daily: the negative and fearful tone of the election.

"The tone of the election has made it important for many to set up a Human Library to counter and to show that this is not who we are," he said.

In a world that seems to focus on controversy instead of compassion, it can be difficult to identify our shared humanity.

Human Libraries help to remind us there really is more that unites us than divides us. And as events now spread throughout 82 countries, with Human Libraries even set to launch soon in Pakistan and Jordan, you can tell that is a shared feeling.

"We can spend billions and billions on trying to build up homeland security and our safety, but real safety comes from having positive relations to other groups in your community," said Abergel.

"Real safety is not going to come from building walls. It’s going to come from reaching out and getting to know each other."

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around 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!

via Pixabay

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The answer lies in Girls Inc., a national nonprofit serving girls ages 5-18 in more than 350 cities across North America. Since first forming in 1864 to serve girls and young women who were experiencing upheaval in the aftermath of the Civil War, they've been on a mission to inspire girls to kick butt and step into leadership roles — today and in the future.

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Photo courtesy of Macy's

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In 2020, Macy's helped raise $1.3 million in support of their STEM and college and career readiness programming for more than 26,000 girls. In fact, according to a recent study, Girls Inc. girls are significantly more likely than their peers to enjoy math and science, to be interested in STEM careers, and to perform better on standardized math tests.

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