Meet Jordan, whose love of black cats helps her speak.

Black cats are definitely lucky for this girl.

Superstition, according to most people, says black cats are unlucky. But Jordan is not most people.

Jordan is 22 years old and on the autism spectrum. It's rare for her to express herself through speech. Rare, that is, until she's face-to-face with a furry feline, especially if it's a black one.


Jordan meeting a black kitten. All images via PAWsitive/YouTube unless noted.

Jordan gets to be around fluffy black cats regularly thanks to Mychal's Learning Place, a nonprofit organization that helps give adults and children with learning disabilities the tools to build self-esteem and independence.

Through Mychal's Learning Place, Jordan has the opportunity to work with Adopt and Shop, a rescue organization and not-for-profit retail store that's never lacking in cats who need love and attention.

"[Jordan] gets to give love and affection the way she wants to. On her timeline," explained Ed Lynch, founder of Mychal's Learning Place.

Play time.

In many ways, Jordan's relationship with the cats is incredibly reciprocal. Jordan provides the cats with mental and physical stimulation, and they do the same for her, which in turn helps her be more vocal and outgoing in the world.

Her bond with black cats in particular is special.

"We first discovered her love for cats when she began to draw pictures of black kittens," said Alicia Galindo, director of the Culver City branch of Mychal's Learning Place, explaining that Jordan called all the kittens "Gracie" after a black cat she had growing up who passed away.

After starting work at Adopt and Shop, Alicia said Jordan was noticeably happier. Caring for the shelter cats seemed to give her a greater sense of purpose.

Ed said that when Jordan does speak without a cat around, she usually just repeats the last thing someone else said to her. When she's with her favorite black cats, however, he said Jordan speaks much more freely, spouting off a lot of her own phrases.

Jordan eagerly awaits the new black kittens.

"When Jordan is around cats, she just begins to talk to them as if they could understand her," said Alicia. "She always greets them and ask if they are OK."

A 2015 study conducted at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Purdue University found that animals can ease social anxiety in people on the autism spectrum.

A little girl nose-to-nose with her kitty. Photo by Patrick/Flickr..

The researchers studied the behavior of children with autism both with and without a guinea pig nearby and noticed the children were significantly less withdrawn in the presence of the animal.

Another study conducted at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine observed 70 families with children with autism, some who had pets and some who didn't. They found that the children of families with pets were much more socially outgoing and interested in bonding with their families than those without.

Because some children with autism don't like loud noises or sudden, large movements (aka dogs), the leader of the study, Gretchen Carlisle, recommends cats as the perfect companion.

Obviously Jordan agrees.

Ed and the rest of the staff at Mychal's Learning Place are thrilled that Jordan has found somewhere she can be productive and feel fulfilled and loved all at the same time.

People with autism are often labeled as "different" by society, but they're just like anyone else trying to figure out what works for them and what doesn't. When you discover something that clicks for you, it can be like a light going on.

Black cats also come with a label — bad luck. It makes people think twice about adopting them.

Looking at what black cats have done for Jordan (and she for them in return), you realize just how meaningless that making assumptions about individuals just because of a certain label truly is.

As Ed said, "Let’s take those labels, throw them out the door, and let them go."

Check out a video about Jordan and her cats here:

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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