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My white parents adopted African-American twins when I was young. This is our story.

I'm white. My adopted brothers are black. This is how their world differs from mine.

My white parents adopted African-American twins when I was young. This is our story.

In 1969, my white parents adopted twin, 4-month-old African-American and Mexican-American baby boys.

I was born a year later, making us three children under 3 years old. And, boy, were we a handful.

This was just two years after the landmark United States Supreme Court decision invalidating laws prohibiting interracial marriage, and just five short years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, forbid racial discrimination in schools, and allowed people of color to drink from the same water fountains as white people.


Many people over the years have asked me what it was like growing up with my African-American brothers as my “real” brothers.

The boring truth is that this was my “normal.” My brothers and I bickered and fought like the close-in-age siblings we were.

Image courtesy of Elena Kennedy.

Our circle of friends included other families who were also interracial. I didn’t even notice at the time that I was the only white kid in my first grade class until years later when I saw my class picture, and there I was  — the only white kid, with a white teacher.

We lived in a pretty progressive town, Montclair, New Jersey. That year, the school system was creating “magnet schools” to help integrate the schools. So while I walked to our neighborhood school, my brothers were bused to the area of town that was primarily white to desegregate and improve integration.

I didn’t really like that my big brothers and I wouldn’t be at the same school. I think, to this day, there are acquaintances of ours that know us separately and don’t put it together that we’re brothers and sister even though we have the same last name.

Although we were being raised in the same family, their experiences were separate and different from mine.

Out in the world, they were being treated differently than I was.

When we went to the same middle school, I remember us walking home together and noticing that one of my brothers said someone was looking at us funny. Billy and Toby would always notice who was looking at us funny, and I never ever noticed.

One time, my brother Billy was chased in a store for taking a shirt off the rack and running back to us to say this was the shirt he wanted our mother to buy. The store clerk followed in hot pursuit, thinking a theft was in progress.

Later, when Billy could drive, I remember him getting stopped by police on the parkway driving home, and the police looked over to the passenger side where my white dad sat and asked if everything was all right. My dad replied: “Yes, my son is just driving us home. Was he speeding?” We knew this was an odd traffic stop because, no, he wasn’t speeding.

Last year, I asked my brother to do me a huge favor and drive my son from New Jersey where we were visiting family to our home in Dayton, Ohio, (where I live now) — a 10-hour drive.

In order to drive my son home, we agreed it would be best to write and sign a letter saying my brother had permission to drive my car and was taking my son home to Ohio and include a picture of my driver’s license in case there was any trouble.

It made all of us feel better to know he had that note. It also made us miserable to write it. And we held our breath the whole way they drove to Ohio and until Billy returned safely back to NYC.

Image courtesy of Elena Kennedy.

My brothers go into the world as African-American men, and the world treats them as African-American men  —  with implicit bias, prejudice, and fear. I go into the world a white woman and I am afforded the benefit of the doubt and second chances.

When I went away to college in Ohio, people were surprised to learn that I grew up with African-American brothers.

“What was it like?” The question stumped me. It was just my normal. I didn’t know anything different to compare it to. Yet, I do know that it’s not everyone’s normal, and in some circumstances, people don’t interact with people of color in their daily lives.

Under different circumstances, I might have been a white person who didn’t regularly interact with people of color. I could have had an understanding of race taken from books, biased news reports, from TV or movies. Instead, I have agonized over my brothers “driving while black,” and I worry for their lives when they come to visit me.

I want to make the world safer and more fair for my family and yours.

Maybe now you’ll speak up when you witness something that seems unjust.

Maybe now you will see an uncomfortable interaction involving a person of color and you’ll think, "What if that were my brother or sister?"

What can you do? You can talk to your friends and neighbors about how you feel about injustices in the world. You can join a racial justice group in your town, your school, or your place of worship.

I am sharing this because I hope my story starts just one constructive conversation today that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

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!

Woman shares breakup letter to foot before amputation.

It's amazing how even the most harrowing of decisions can be transformed with a good sense of humor.

After suffering an ankle injury during a horseback riding accident at age 13, Jo Beckwith had exhausted all other options to escape from the lingering pain from the fracture, leaving her with no better choice than to amputate.

She could have buckled under the weight of such life-altering news (no one would blame her). Instead, Jo threw a farewell party the day before her surgery. Some of her friends showed up to write a goodbye letter, fun and lighthearted messages scribbled directly onto the ankle.

@footlessjo

The messages that came into #amputation with me! #funny #therapeutic #disability #amputee #fypシ


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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."