11-year-old Marquis Govan lives in Ferguson, Missouri. He's had a hard life and is seeing some crazy things happen in his hometown. But rest assured, he's going to change the world.
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.
"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!
Conservative media in the United States has painted Australia as a state on the brink of authoritarianism due to strict COVID-19 protections in some parts of the country. These news outlets appear to be using the country as an example of what can happen in America if liberal politicians go unchecked.
Fox News' Tucker Carlson ran a story on Australia earlier this month claiming the country "looks a lot like China did at the beginning of the pandemic." He ended it by saying that "what's happening in Australia might be instructive to us in the United States" and that things can "change very quickly" and become "dystopian and autocratic."
Carlson provides zero reasons why Americans should be fearful of becoming an autocratic country due to COVID-19, beyond the idea that "things can change very quickly" so his appeals sound a lot more like fear-mongering than genuine concern.
Florida governor Ron De Santis–whose state's COVID-19 death rate is some 50 times Australia's–suggested that the U.S. should reconsider its diplomatic relations with Australia, asking whether it was freer than China.
While conservative media in the U.S. bemoans the state of Australia, people living Down Under don't care much for their concerns. Polls show that the vast majority of Australians support vaccine mandates, presumably because they don't want their fellow countrymen to die.
Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz got in on the Australia bashing last week when he posted a tweet featuring a video of Australia's Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner announcing the country's latest vaccine mandates.
Gunner had announced that anyone who serves the public in hospitality, gyms, retail or any other customer-facing industries must get their first coronavirus vaccine within a month or face a $3,750 (5000 Australian dollars) fine.
"I love the Aussies. Their history of rugged independence is legendary; I've always said Australia is the Texas of the Pacific," Cruz wrote before adding, "The Covid tyranny of their current government is disgraceful and sad. Individual liberty matters. I stand with the people of Australia."
Gunner responded to Cruz on Twitter, educating him on the effectiveness of vaccines and how compared to Australia, Texas is a complete disaster when it comes to protecting people from the virus.
G’day from Down Under @tedcruz. Thanks for your interest in the Territory. I’m the Chief Minister. Below are a few… https://t.co/kOI3wRqTtb— Michael Gunner (@Michael Gunner) 1634528825.0
"Hey Ted Cruz, g'day from the Northern Territory in Australia. Here are some facts. Nearly 70,000 Texans have tragically died from COVID. There have been zero deaths in the Territory. Did you know that?" he wrote before adding, "Vaccination is so important here because we have vulnerable communities and the oldest continuous living culture on the planet to protect. Did you know that?"
He then added, "We don't need your lectures, thanks mate. You know nothing about us. And if you stand against a life-saving vaccine, then you sure as hell don't stand with Australia. I love Texas (go Longhorns), but when it comes to COVID, I'm glad we are nothing like you."
The difference between Texas and Australia is staggering when it comes to the number of people who've died due to COVID-19. Australia has a population of 25.7 million and has had 147,275 total cases and 1,558 total deaths due to COVID-19.
Texas, on the other hand, has a similar population of 29 million but has 3,474,092 cases and 68,043 fatalities. That's more than 45 times the death rate.
Cruz can bash Australia all he wants, but if he actually loved the people of Texas, he'd care a bit more about their health. Few people have much use for liberty when they're dead or stuck on a ventilator.
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."