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Photo pulled from video

Texas dad giving heartfelt speech.

A baseball cap on his head, his hands tucked snugly in his front blue jean pockets, Ken Ballard stood in front of a room of onlookers, admittedly a little out of his element.

But the issue at hand was so critical, Ballard said, he couldn't keep quiet.


Ballard was speaking during Texas' 85th Legislative Session this past winter about his 14-year-old transgender son, Ashur, who attempted suicide twice.

Ashur, like many trans people, had wrestled with his identity in a world where ignorance and irrational fear-mongering continue harming people like him.

"Was I going to be his bully?" an emotional Ballard said in response to his son's coming out. "Was I going to try and put him back into a box that fit the rules of my world at the time or wait it out and see if it would just pass and go back to the way it’d use to be?"

Advocacy group Equality Texas, who's worked with Ballard in fighting for LGBTQ rights in the state, recently shared a video of him speaking during the session. Although it was captured on video several months ago, Ballard's emotional plea in front of his fellow Texans is just now making waves online.

Since Equality Texas shared the video on Facebook, the comment section has filled with loving messages of support and admiration.

The comments, although mostly positive, are a bit bittersweet to Ballard.

"I ... see comments that too many parents missed out on what could have been an amazing journey for them and their child by not accepting them," Ballard explains. "Be as excited about your kid's life as you were at the sonogram, when 'we are having a baby' was enough."

The ongoing debate over trans rights isn't isolated in Ballard's home state. Legislatures at both the state and local level across the country are pushing forward with harmful bills this very moment.

A recently proposed Texas "bathroom bill" — which would have forced trans Texans to use the restroom that corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth (not the gender they identify) — was just rejected by House Speaker Joe Straus, which was great news for human rights groups like Equality Texas.

But there's still much at stake in the Lone Star State and in jurisdictions from coast to coast.

A handful of states, including Montana, Virginia, and Minnesota — as well as local school boards spanning the U.S. — deliberating similar bathroom bills. Research shows these laws leave trans people even more vulnerable to dangerous circumstances in their own communities — yet, their passing doesn't protect anyone.

Chances are, equality — and trans lives — might be at stake in your own region of the country.

As for Ballard and Ashur, they're living proof that acceptance and inclusion save lives.

And, as Ballard's moving speech illustrates so well, it's important our laws reflect that critical reality.

"I've watched a kid go from someone who, 26 months ago, was in despair," Ballard says of his son's mental health. "Now, [he's] flourishing."


This article originally appeared on 07.06.17

Joy

Two awesome strangers brought gifts for a newborn baby after receiving a misdirected text

A text directed to the wrong person brought two families together in a very heartwarming way.

via Deorick Williams/Facebook

Mark and Lindsey Lashley welcome their child with new friends.


What happens when the proudest moment of a parent's life is also the strangest?

Just ask Mark and Lindsey Lashley from Georgia.

On March 19, they welcomed their first child Cason, a healthy baby boy, into the world. Nothing out of the ordinary there.


Then Cason's grandmother decided to send a text to family members about her newest bundle of joy. Again, nothing unusual there either.

But when that text went to a stranger named Dennis Williams, and he decided to join in on the celebration, things became even more interesting. Check out the exchange below.

friendship, kindness, family, inspirational, comedy, babies

The group text that started it all.

Photo from Deorick Williams's Facebook page.

And just like that, the Williams brothers arrived at the hospital with gifts and well-wishes for the new mom and dad.

The following note from the Lashley family was posted on Williams' Facebook page praising the brothers' kindness and generosity for providing a small token to a family they didn't even know a few hours beforehand.

The best sentiment from the Lashleys:

"If we all only had this kind of heart.”

This hilarious and heartwarming story is going viral for all the right reasons.

Plenty of stats and polls point to a depressing truth: Our world is becoming more and more divided by racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural lines.

But it's easy to forget just how far we've come:

Two random black dudes showed up in the hospital room of a white family to provide gifts and love to their newborn baby, and the Internet universally loved it. That, in itself, is an epic feat.

These families will be connected forever due to a random act of kindness that warmed the hearts of millions.

Not to mention, when baby Cason grows up, his parents will have one amazing birth story to share with him.

But first, let's share this great story with everyone who needs a smile.


This article was originally published on 3.22.16


On May 28, 2014, 13-year-old Athena Orchard of Leicester, England, died of bone cancer. The disease began as a tumor in her head and eventually spread to her spine and left shoulder. After her passing, Athena's parents and six siblings were completely devastated. In the days following her death, her father, Dean, had the difficult task of going through her belongings. But the spirits of the entire Orchard family got a huge boost when he uncovered a secret message written by Athena on the backside of a full-length mirror.



After removing the mirror from the wall, Dean discovered a 3,000-word letter written all the way down its backside in black pen. "She never mentioned it, but it's the kind of thing she'd do," her father told People magazine. "She was a very spiritual person, she'd go on about stuff that I could never understand – she was so clever." The moving letter revealed her deepest feelings about her fight with the dreaded disease. "Every day is special, so make the most of it, you could get a life-ending illness tomorrow so make the most of every day," she wrote. "Life is only bad if you make it bad."

via YouTube

Although Athena is gone, the mirror now serves as a powerful memory of her undying spirit. "We're keeping the mirror forever, it is a part of her we can keep in the house, it will always be in her room," her mother, Caroline, said. "Just reading her words felt like she was still here with us, she had such an incredible spirit."



Athena's full message:

"Happiness depends upon ourselves. Maybe it's not about the happy ending, maybe it's about the story. The purpose of life is a life of purpose. The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra. Happiness is a direction not a destination. Thank you for existing. Be happy, be free, believe, forever young. You know my name, not my story.

You have heard what I've done, but not what I've been through. Love is like glass, looks so lovely but it's easy to shatter.

Love is rare, life is strange, nothing lasts and people change. Every day is special, so make the most of it, you could get a life ending illness tomorrow so make the most of every day. Life is only bad if you make it bad. If someone loves you, then they wouldn't let you slip away no matter how hard the situation is. Remember that life is full of ups and downs.

Never give up on something you can't go a day without thinking about. I want to be that girl who makes the bad days better and the one that makes you say my life has changed since I met her!

Love is not about how much you say I love you – it's about how much you can prove it's true. Love is like the wind, you can feel it but you can't see it. I'm waiting to fall in love with someone I can open my heart to. Love is not about who you can see spending your future with, it's about who you can't see spending your life without… Life is a game for everyone but love is the prize. Only I can judge me.

Sometimes love hurts. Now I'm fighting myself. Baby I can feel your pain. Dreams are my reality. It hurts but it's okay, I'm used to it. Don't be quick to judge me, you only see what I choose to show you… you don't know the truth. I just want to have fun and be happy without being judged.

This is my life, not yours, don't worry about what I do. People gonna hate you, rate you, break you, but how strong you stand, that's what makes you… you!

There's no need to cry because I know you'll be by my side."


This article originally appeared on 04.15.19

Identity

6 beautiful drawings by LGBTQ inmates that illustrate life in prison

Their artwork shows their strength, resilience, and talent.

"Acceptance" by Stevie S.


Tatiana von Furstenberg laid out more than 4,000 works of art on the floor of her apartment and was immediately struck by what she saw.

The pieces of artwork were submitted from various prisons across the country in hopes of being featured in "On the Inside," an exhibition of artwork by currently incarcerated LGBTQ inmates, curated by von Furstenberg and Black and Pink, a nonprofit organization that supports the LGBTQ community behind bars. The exhibit was held at the Abrons Arts Center in Manhattan toward the end of 2016.

"I put all the submissions on the floor and I saw that there were all these loving ones, these signs of affection, all of these two-spirit expressions of gender identity, and fairies and mermaids," von Furstenberg said.


She noticed the recurring topics throughout the works of different artists — eye contact, desire, fighting back, alienation, and longing — and these shared struggles became the themes of the art exhibition.

"These artists feel really forgotten. They really did not think that anybody cared for them. And so for them to have a show in New York and to hear what the responses have been is huge, it's very uplifting," she said.

Plenty of people turn to art as a means of escape. But for the artists involved in On the Inside, the act of making art also put them at risk.

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people are incarcerated at twice the rate of heterosexuals, and trans people are three times as likely to end up behind bars than cisgender people. During incarceration, they're also much more vulnerable than non-LGBTQ inmates to violence, sexual assault, and unusual punishments such as solitary confinement.

Not every prison makes art supplies readily available, either, which means that some of the artists who submitted to "On the Inside" had to find ways to make their work from contraband materials, such as envelopes and ink tubes. And of course, by drawing provocative images about their identities, they also risked being outed and threatened by other inmates around them.

But sometimes, the act of self-expression is worth that risk. Here are some of the remarkable examples of that from the exhibition.

(Content warning: some of the images include nudity.)

1."A Self Portrait" by B. Tony.

inmates, jail, sketching

“A Self Portrait” by B. Tony

2. "Rihanna" by Gabriel S.

relationships, identity, rehabilitation

“Rihanna” by Gabriel S.

"Rihanna is who I got the most pictures of," von Furstenburg said. "I think it's because she is relatable in both her strength and her vulnerability. She's real.”

3. "Acceptance" by Stevie S.

body art, tattoo, mental health

"Acceptance" by Stevie S.

"This series is sexy and loving and domestic," von Furstenberg said about these two portraits by Stevie S. "A different look at family values/family portrait.”

4. "Michael Jackson" by Jeremy M.

celebrity, art, paintings

“Michael Jackson” by Jeremy M.

assets.rebelmouse.io

This was another one of von Furstenberg's favorites, because of the way it depicts a struggle with identity. "[MJ] was different, he was such a unique being that struggled so much with his identity and his body image the way a lot of our artists, especially our trans artists, are struggling behind bars," she said.

5. "Unknown" by Tiffany W.

pixies, fairie, fantasy

“Unknown” by Tiffany W.

6. "Genotype" and "Life Study," by J.S.

anatomy, Michaelangelo, nudes

“Genotype” and “Life Study” by J.S.

"This is the Michelangelo of the group," von Furstenberg said. "To be able to draw this with pencil and basic prison lighting is astounding. One of the best drawings I've ever seen in my life.”

When the exhibition opened to the public on Nov. 4, 2016, visitors even had the chance to share their thoughts with the artists.

The exhibit included an interactive feature that allowed people to text their comments and responses to the artist, which von Furstenberg then converted to physical paper and mailed to inmates.

Some of the messages included:

"I have had many long looks in the mirror like in your piece the beauty within us. I'm glad you can see your beautiful self smiling out. I see her too. Thank you."
"I am so wowed by your talent. You used paper, kool aid and an inhaler to draw a masterpiece. I feel lucky to have been able to see your work, and I know that other New Yorkers will feel the same. Keep creating."
"I've dreamed the same dreams. The barriers in your way are wrong. We will tear them down some day. Stay strong Dear."

Many people were also surprised at how good the artwork was — but they shouldn't have been.

Just because someone's spent time in prison doesn't mean they can't be a good person — or a talented artist. They're also being compensated for their artwork. While business transactions with incarcerated people are technically illegal, $50 donations have been made to each artist's commissary accounts to help them purchase food and other supplies.

"We're led to believe that people behind bars are dangerous, that we're safer without them, but it's not true," von Furstenberg said. "The fact that anybody would assume that [the art] would be anything less than phenomenal shows that there's this hierarchy: The artist is up on this pedestal, and other people marginalized people are looked down upon.”

Art has always been about connecting people. And for these incarcerated LGBTQ artists, that human connection is more important than ever.

Perhaps the only thing harder than being in prison is trying to integrate back into society — something that most LGBTQ people struggle with anyway. These are people who have already had difficulty expressing who they are on the inside and who are now hidden away from the world behind walls.

On the Inside's art show provided them a unique opportunity to have their voices heard — and hopefully, their individual messages are loud enough to resonate when they're on the outside too.


This article originally appeared on 11.14.16