Strong, confident, and loud, these women are fighting back against anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Like most friends, Amirah Aulaqi and Mariana Aguilera have a lot in common.

They live in New York City and have a passion for fashion. Amirah runs her own formal-wear company, Amirah Couture. Mariana runs The Demureist, a fashion and lifestyle blog. They also practice Islam and have experienced microagressions and street harassment in the wake of recent terrorist attacks.

"I started noticing people giving me these hateful stares all the time. On the street, on the train, everywhere," Mariana said in an interview with Vivala. "This hateful mentality has really impacted the Muslim community and it's really dangerous."


Mariana walks the streets of New York City. Image via Upworthy/YouTube.

It's true. The number of destructive, threatening, or violent incidents at U.S. mosques tripled from 2014 to 2015. And anti-Muslim rhetoric particularly from two of the leading Republican presidential candidates has only fanned the flames of intolerance.

But instead of letting fear and worry take hold, Amirah and Mariana decided to empower themselves and other Muslim women.

The duo developed self-defense classes for observant Muslim women, a particularly vulnerable group because their hijabs, or head scarves, often make them a target for harassment. With the help of Nicole Daniels, a trained martial arts instructor, Amirah and Mariana have hosted multiple self-defense workshops, attracting women not just from New York City, but Connecticut and New Jersey as well.

Participants cover the basics, including simple but effective strikes.

All GIFs by Upworthy/YouTube.

And using authoritative, commanding voices.


But the workshop also covers things like body language and maintaining a strong, confident presence in public.

A few simple changes can make all the difference. "[It] changes you from looking like a victim to looking like somebody who's empowered and not going to be messed with," Mariana told Upworthy.

Participants work with Nicole Daniels, an accomplished athlete and instructor. Image via Upworthy/YouTube.

The women who enroll don't take classes because they're victims. In fact, it's just the opposite.

The class offers an opportunity for women to come together and feel supported at a time when the mere idea of existing in your space is seen as a political act. Battling vitriol in the media and hatred or fear on the street is exhausting and can make anyone feel less-than or unworthy of kindness.

Dozens of demonstrators gathered at Columbus Circle in New York City to denounce the politics of Donald Trump and the treatment of Muslim refugees in America and Europe. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Amirah and Mariana hope these classes will empower Muslim women to stand up for themselves, not just in the case of physical attacks, but in everyday exchanges.

"We want you to go out and say, 'I'm a Muslim woman and nobody has the right to take my dignity or freedom within this country,'" Amirah told NPR.


Amirah shares her story. Image via Upworthy/YouTube.

Mariana and Amirah don't just have a lot in common with each other, they have a lot in common with all of us.

No matter our religion or background, we're all looking to carve out a space where we feel safe, welcome, and supported. It may be a self-defense class. It may be a gender-neutral bathroom. It may be a store that abandoned plus-size labels.

Whatever and wherever it is, we can do so much for one another by building, creating, and supporting places and resources that allow everyone to feel their best.

Hear Mariana and Amirah's story and see the class in action in this inspiring Upworthy original video.

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Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

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