Miley Cyrus' VMA outfits got attention. But the incredible way she ended the night was even cooler.

The MTV Video Music Awards happened last night. It's OK if you missed them.

The show went until almost midnight, and (if you're like me) you're probably too old and uncool to recognize half the performers. Hey, I totally get it.


Here's what you'll be seeing in many of the headlines recapping the event:

  1. Kanye West announced he's running for president in 2020.
  2. It looks like Justin Bieber started crying on stage after his performance.
  3. Nicki Minaj definitely has a beef with Miley Cyrus, and she wasn't afraid to talk about it on stage.
  4. Nicki did, however, seem over her feud with Taylor Swift, whom she performed with to open the event.

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images.

But if you ask me, the coolest and most underreported part about the 2015 VMAs had nothing to do with 1-4 above. (Or any of the red carpet looks. Or any surprise Moonman wins. Or any of the performances ... although, Tori Kelly was amazing).

The coolest part came and went at the end of the event, without the glitz and glam we're so used to seeing on award show stages.

Miley Cyrus' squad from her Happy Hippie Foundation announced a surprise performance from the VMA host.

They weren't A-listers. They didn't dress in flamboyant outfits to grab our attention. But Miley's friends from Happy Hippie (you can learn more about all of them here) welcomed her to the stage, shedding a light on an important issue that deserves our attention: homelessness of LGBTQ youth.

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images.

The Happy Hippie Foundation, which Miley launched earlier this year, advocates for young people facing homelessness — particularly those young people who are LGBTQ.

Young people in the LGBTQ community account for an alarmingly disproportionate chunk — somewhere between 20% and 40%of the total homeless youth population. Tragically, family rejection a big reason why so many end up on the streets.



Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Sharing her time on stage with her Happy Hippie squad shouldn't come as surprise to anyone who's been paying attention to Miley. She's been pretty clear on her intentions to give a voice to young people who don't have one.

"When you have all eyes on you, what are you saying? And that's what I had to ask myself a lot," Miley told the Associated Press of her activism in May 2015.

"It's like, I know you're going to look at me more if my [breasts] are out, so look at me. And then I'm going to tell you about my foundation for an hour and totally hustle you."

She's not afraid to hustle us at award shows, too. Last year's VMAs were no different.

At the 2014 award show, Miley won Video of the Year for her single, "Wrecking Ball." But instead of giving a speech, she gave the spotlight to then-22-year-old Jesse Helt, who'd battled homelessness while living in Los Angeles.


Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images.

His heartfelt words went down in VMA history:

"I am accepting this award on behalf of the 1.6 million runaways and homeless youth in the United States who are starving, lost, and scared for their lives right now. I know this because I'm one of these people. ... I've survived in shelters all over the city. I've cleaned your hotel rooms. I've been an extra in your movies. I've been an extra in your life. Although I may have been invisible to you on the streets, I have a lot of the same dreams that brought many of you here tonight."

You may not be a fan of her twerking, her choice of wardrobe, or the ... unique ... name of her new album. But there's no denying Miley's heart of gold when it comes to an issue that should be a bigger priority to all of us.

To learn more about and support the Happy Hippie Foundation, visit the organization's website here.

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!

This article originally appeared on 11.21.16


Photographer Katie Joy Crawford had been battling anxiety for 10 years when she decided to face it straight on by turning the camera lens on herself.

In 2015, Upworthy shared Crawford's self-portraits and our readers responded with tons of empathy. One person said, "What a wonderful way to express what words cannot." Another reader added, "I think she hit the nail right on the head. It's like a constant battle with yourself. I often feel my emotions battling each other."

So we wanted to go back and talk to the photographer directly about this soul-baring project.

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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."