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.

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

A simple solution for all ages, really.

School should feel like a safe space. But after the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, many children are scared to death. As a parent or a teacher, it can be an arduous task helping young minds to unpack such unthinkable monstrosities. Especially when, in all honesty, the adults are also terrified.

Katelyn Campbell, a clinical psychologist in South Carolina, worked with elementary school children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. She recently shared a simple idea that helped then, in hopes that it might help now.

The psychologist tweeted, “We had our kids draw pictures of scenery that made them feel calm—we then hung them up around the school—to make the ‘other kids who were scared’ have something calm to look at.”



“Kids, like adults, want to feel helpful when they feel helpless,” she continued, saying that drawing gave them something useful to do.

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It can be hard to find hope in hard times, but we have examples of humanity all around us.

I almost didn't create this post this week.

As the U.S. reels from yet another horrendous school massacre, barely on the heels of the Buffalo grocery store shooting and the Laguna Woods church shooting reminding us that gun violence follows us everywhere in this country, I find myself in a familiar state of anger and grief and frustration. One time would be too much. Every time, it's too much. And yet it keeps happening over and over and over again.

I've written article after article about gun violence. I've engaged in every debate under the sun. I've joined advocacy groups, written to lawmakers, donated to organizations trying to stop the carnage, and here we are again. Round and round we go.

It's hard not to lose hope. It would be easy to let the fuming rage consume every bit of joy and calm and light that we so desperately want and need. But we have to find a balance.

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