She wanted Muslim women like her to have the world. So she gave them an entire universe.

Rozan Ahmed’s career path took her from the music industry to the United Nations — and that was just in her 20s.

Though she was born in London, Ahmed was raised with a great appreciation for her parents’ native Sudan, as well as a fascination for how people both create and perceive stories and other content across the world. She was particularly interested in the way that the historical influences of the pharaohs, the Nubians, the Arabs, and so many others had contributed to the rich and multifaceted culture of the northern African nation.

Despite that robust history, she realized the entire African continent had still been lumped into a kind of "single story." Even the people she knew in Sudan bought into that same negative image. "How is this allowed to happen?" she wondered. "Is this purposeful? Surely there are more people than just me who are visiting the continent."


Sudanese women. Photo by David Stanley/Flickr.

She began to question her career path and the ways her identity as a black British Muslim woman fit within a local and global context. Then she met a prince.

Prince Fahad Al Saud, that is, the grandson of the brother of the king of Saudi Arabia.

A graduate of Stanford University, Al Saud was part of the original team behind Facebook in Arabic — and he was largely socialized around forward-thinking, independent women, according to Ahmed, and is a stark contrast to what some people might expect from a wealthy Arab prince. "Fahad is certainly aware that he's a man," she says, "but he leans on women because he believes in them more, and was raised around strong women."

Ahmed and Al Saud at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for IWC.

A mutual friend introduced Ahmed and Al Saud. Like her, he was frustrated by the way his culture was portrayed in media. This inspired him to create a new media company called Na3am, a play on the Arabic word for "yes."

Given Ahmed’s background in stories and culture, they were a perfect creative match.

In 2015, Na3am announced the launch of "Saudi Girls Revolution," a series of interconnected video games and comic books set in a post-apocalyptic world full of awesome Arab heroines.

Early character sketches from "Saudi Girls Revolution," provided courtesy of Na3am.

"It is the story of the girls breaking out and liberating the Arab empire by replacing its leaders," Al Saud said when the series was announced. "We're focusing on trying to represent different stories and demographics of Saudi women in the protagonists we have."

The seven protagonists — all Saudi women — travel the desert wastes with motorcycles and jetpacks, facing off against mutant enemies and an evil regime of oppressive men who control the last remaining resources in the land. In its earliest hype, "Saudi Girls Revolution" was already receiving favorable comparisons to American movies like "Mad Max: Fury Road."

A few of the "Saudi Girls Revolution" comic book covers, courtesy of Na3am.

"'Saudi Girls Revolution' is an attempt to show the rest of the world that there’s a lot more to us as Arab women," adds Ahmed, who serves as editor for the comics. "We’re strong. We’re powerful. We know we overcome. We’re badass. We’re so many other things."

Of course, some detractors have been eager to point out the ironies of the SGR universe, considering the real-life treatment of some Saudi women.

It is still illegal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia, and the country's workforce is still overwhelmingly male. But video games and comics featuring motorcycle-riding badasses aren't restricted by the same expectations.

"It's a fictional universe, and we're showing the world as we want it to be, not things as they are," Ahmed says.

Image from "Latifa #1" by Fahad Al Saud and Stan Berkowitz, illustrated by Sebastian Navas. Used with permission.

While things are far from perfect for women in Saudi Arabia, Arab women in other countries have made great gains in recent years. "The Arab world is so varied when it comes to female achievement. Of course there’s setbacks, but there’s setbacks everywhere you go," Ahmed adds.

"It comes down to choosing which problems you prefer. I prefer to celebrate the beauty that comes forth from the world, particularly Africa and Arabia, and I use that beauty to address the problems as well."

From "Latifa #1" by Fahad Al Saud and Stan Berkowitz, illustrated by Sebastian Navas. Used with permission.

"I believe that we are living in the future right now, and it is inclusive," Ahmed says. "'Saudi Girls Revolution' is a part of that future. So get on the ride and enjoy it with us, because it’s a beautiful ride."

The first chapter of the comic was released in November 2016 and focuses on a character named Latifa, whose name means "compassionate" in Arabic despite the fact that her story is one of vengeance. "For me, it represents the ability to be both. It raises the question of: When is it right to fight?" Ahmed says.

That's exactly why something like "Saudi Girls Revolution" is so exciting and so important for the world right now: It helps us to embrace the duality of our selves while inspiring greater change on a personal and global scale.

Courtesy of Creative Commons
True

After years of service as a military nurse in the naval Marine Corps, Los Angeles, California-resident Rhonda Jackson became one of the 37,000 retired veterans in the U.S. who are currently experiencing homelessness — roughly eight percent of the entire homeless population.

"I was living in a one-bedroom apartment with no heat for two years," Jackson said. "The Department of Veterans Affairs was doing everything they could to help but I was not in a good situation."

One day in 2019, Jackson felt a sudden sense of hope for a better living arrangement when she caught wind of the ongoing construction of Veteran's Village in Carson, California — a 51-unit affordable housing development with one, two and three-bedroom apartments and supportive services to residents through a partnership with U.S.VETS.

Her feelings of hope quickly blossomed into a vision for her future when she learned that Veteran's Village was taking applications for residents to move in later that year after construction was complete.

"I was entered into a lottery and I just said to myself, 'Okay, this is going to work out,'" Jackson said. "The next thing I knew, I had won the lottery — in more ways than one."

Keep Reading Show less
Public Domain

A very simple thing happened earlier this week. Dr. Seuss Enterprises—the company that runs the Dr. Seuss estate and holds the legal rights to his works—announced it will no longer publish six Dr. Seuss children's books because they contain depictions of people that are "hurtful and wrong" (their words). The titles that will no longer be published are And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot's Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super! and The Cat's Quizzer.

This simple action prompted a great deal of debate, along with a great deal of disinformation, as people reacted to the story. (Or in many cases, just the headline. It's a thing.)

My article about the announcement (which contains examples of the problematic content that prompted the announcement) led to nearly 3,000 comments on Upworthy's Facebook page. Since many similar comments were made repeatedly, I wanted to address the most common sentiments and questions:

How do we learn from history if we keep erasing it?

Keep Reading Show less
True

We're redefining what normal means in these uncertain times, and although this is different for all of us, love continues to transform us for the better.

Love is what united Marie-Claire and David Archbold, who met while taking a photography class. "We went into the darkroom to see what developed," they joke—and after a decade of marriage, they know firsthand the deep commitment and connection romantic love requires.

All photos courtesy of Marie-Claire and David Archbold

However, their relationship became even sweeter when they adopted James: a little boy with a huge heart.

In the United States alone, there are roughly 122,000 children awaiting adoption according to the latest report from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. While the goal is always for a child to be parented by and stay with their biological family, that is not always a possibility. This is where adoption offers hope—not only does it create new families, it gives birth parents an avenue through which to see their child flourish when they are not able to parent. For the right families, it's a beautiful thing.

The Archbolds knew early on that adoption was an option for them. David has three daughters from a previous marriage, but knowing their family was not yet complete, the couple embarked on a two-year journey to find their match. When the adoption agency called and told them about James, they were elated. From the moment they met him, the Archbolds knew he was meant to be part of their family. David locked eyes with the brown-eyed baby and they stared at each other in quiet wonder for such a long time that the whole room fell silent. "He still looks at me like that," said David.

The connection was mutual and instantaneous—love at first sight. The Archbolds knew that James was meant to be a part of their family. However, they faced significant challenges requiring an even deeper level of commitment due to James' medical condition.

James was born with congenital hyperinsulinism, a rare condition that causes his body to overproduce insulin, and within 2 months of his birth, he had to have surgery to remove 90% of his pancreas. There was a steep learning curve for the Archbolds, but they were already in love, and knew they were committed to the ongoing care that'd be required of bringing James into their lives. After lots of research and encouragement from James' medical team, they finally brought their son home.

Today, three-year-old James is thriving, filled with infectious joy that bubbles over and touches every person who comes in contact with him. "Part of love is when people recognize that they need to be with each other," said his adoptive grandfather. And because the Archbolds opted for an open adoption, there are even more people to love and support James as he grows.

This sweet story is brought to you by Sumo Citrus®. This oversized mandarin is celebrated for its incredible taste and distinct looks. Sumo Citrus is super-sweet, enormous, easy-to-peel, seedless, and juicy without the mess. Fans of the fruit are obsessive, stocking up from January to April when Sumo Citrus is in stores. To learn more, visit sumocitrus.com and @sumocitrus.

You know that feeling you get when you walk into a classroom and see someone else's stuff on your desk?

OK, sure, there are no assigned seats, but you've been sitting at the same desk since the first day and everyone knows it.

So why does the guy who sits next to you put his phone, his book, his charger, his lunch, and his laptop in the space that's rightfully yours? It's annoying!

Keep Reading Show less

When an earthquake and subsequent tsunami caused a nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011 most people who lived in the area fled. Some left without their pets, who then had to fend for themselves in a radioactive nuclear zone.

Sakae Kato stayed behind to rescue the cats abandoned by his neighbors and has spent the last decade taking care of them. He has converted his home, which is in a contaminated quarantine area, to a shelter for 41 cats, whom he refers to as "kids." He has buried 23 other cats in his garden over the past 10 years.

The government has asked the 57-year-old to evacuate the area many times, but he says he figured he was going to die anyway. "And if I had to die, I decided that I would like to die with these guys," he said.

Keep Reading Show less