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Image by David Jay/ David Jay Photography.

Maj, Matt Smith at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.


Photographer David Jay specializes in fashion and beauty, stuff that's "beautiful and sexy — and completely untrue," as he puts it. But that's not all he photographs.

Three years ago, Jay began to take pictures of young, severely wounded soldiers returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Trigger warning: These portraits don't shy away from wounded bodies.


Be prepared. I found them shocking at first. But keep looking. The more I looked, the more beauty and humanity I found reflected here. (The photo captions are from the Jay's Unknown Soldier Project Facebook page. All images used with permission.)

military, body image, disabilities

Lt. Nicholas John Vogt, U.S. Army

Image by David Jay/ David Jay Photography.

This is 1st Lt. Nicholas John Vogt, U.S. Army. On Nov. 12, 2011, he was severely injured by an IED while on a foot-patrol in Panjwaii, Afghanistan. We took these pictures this past weekend in the swimming pool at Walter Reed Medical Center. I asked Nicholas for his permission to post these images and this was his response: "The only thing that I want to pass on is this: Losing limbs is like losing a good friend. We wish we could still be with them, but it wasn't 'in the cards.' Then we get up, remember the good times, and thank God for whatever we have left." Image by David Jay/ David Jay Photography. All images used with permission.

In a National Public Radio interview about his project, Jay said, "You can imagine how many times each of these men and women have heard a parent tell their child, 'Don't look. Don't stare at him. That's rude.'"

"I take these pictures so that we can look; we can see what we're not supposed to see. And we need to see them because we created them." — David Jay
photography, mental health, veteran rights

Taking a swim.

Image by David Jay/ David Jay Photography.

Jay wants us to see, to become even a little familiar with the tragic loss of limbs and burned skin of wounded vets — his portraits are 4 feet wide — but he also wants us to see them as people and to think about their experiences and those of people in their lives.

health, David Jay, The Unknown Soldier

Bobby Bernier with daughter Layla.

Image by David Jay/ David Jay Photography.

This past week, I went to San Antonio, Texas. There I had the privilege of photographing both Daniel Burgess and Bobby Bernier. They are friends. Daniel stepped on a IED, losing one leg and destroying the other. Bobby was hit by incoming artillery, sustaining burns over 60% of his body. He is pictured here with his daughter Layla.

IED, Maj. Matt Smith, Afghanistan

Maj, Matt Smith at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Image by David Jay/ David Jay Photography.

This is Maj. Matt Smith. This past week, Matt allowed me to photograph him in his room at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Less than three months ago, on June 8, 2013, in Paktika province, Afghanistan, Matt was shot along with five others by a member of the Afghan National Army. The bullet severed his femoral artery, resulting in the amputation of his leg. A private and soulful man, it was an honor to photograph him. Thank you, Maj. Smith.

disabled, war, amputee

Spc. Marissa Stock injured by an IED.

Image by David Jay/David Jay Photography.

burn victim, roadside bomb, survivor

Jerral Hancock survived a roadside bomb.

Image by David Jay/ David Jay Photography.

This is Jerral Hancock. He was driving a tank in Iraq. A roadside bomb pierced the armor, breaching the interior. We shot these pics two weeks ago at his home in Lancaster, California, where Jarral lives with his two beautiful children. We ended up hanging out into the night, smokin' ciggys ... so I kept taking pictures.

"To the men and women of The Unknown Soldier, I can't thank you enough for your courage and sacrifice ... both on and off the battlefield. It is an honor to photograph you." — David Jay
swimming, photography, internal injuries, Airborne Ranger

SFC Cedric King floats in the pool.

Image by David Jay/David Jay Photography.

On July 25, 2012, SFC Cedric King, an Airborne Ranger, was severely injured by an IED while serving his country in Afghanistan. Due to the explosion, Cedric sustained a multitude of internal and external injuries, losing both his legs. Cedric was doing his laps while I was photographing 1st Lt. Nicholas Vogt in the pool at Walter Reed Medical Center last week. Cedric kept watching, so I had to ask. Cedric said, “That man (Nicholas) doesn't know it, but he changed my life. There was a point when I was so down that I thought I couldn't go on. And then one day I saw him swimming ... and I just thought, wow ... if he can go on like that, then I can go on too." Cedric will also change people's lives. Already has.

Marine, foot-patrol, Afghan Army

Michael Fox, 27-year-old Marine.

Image by David Jay/David Jay Photography.

This is Michael Fox, a 27-year-old Marine and an amazing man. On Nov. 15, 2011, Michael was on foot-patrol in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. His is the first picture of "The Unknown Soldier."

The SCAR Project, battle-scarred, therapy

Staff Sgt. Shilo Harris in Houston, Texas.

Image by David Jay/David Jay Photography.

This past weekend, I photographed Staff Sgt. Shilo Harris in Houston, Texas. He came up from San Antonio to see one of my other exhibitions, The SCAR Project (www.thescarproject.org). Shilo was severely burned on Feb. 19, 2007, by a roadside bomb estimated at 700 pounds. He lost three men out of a crew of five. Only Shilo and his driver survived the blast. Shilo has a book coming out soon. He is truly an amazing man, and I am honored to call him a friend.

"The Unknown Soldier is about neither war or politics ... but rather something infinitely simpler and more powerful." — David Jay
healing, medicine, remedy, hope

Thomas Young in Kansas City, MO.

Image by David Jay/ David Jay Photography.

The Library of Congress has acquired images from Jay's The Unknown Soldier project as part of its documentation of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This speaks to the power of these images in capturing war's aftermath. But they are so much more than documentation.

Pictures like these help those of us who remain at home to begin to comprehend the true human cost of war.


This article originally appeared on 05.31.15

The Preussen Munster square off against the Würzburger Kickers

As a soccer match between German teams Preussen Munster and Würzburger Kickers went into its final minutes, a defender from the Kickers, 23-year-old Leroy Kwadwo, stopped to point out a problem in the stands.

A Munster fan was making monkey noises at Kwadwo, a black player of Ghanaian descent. It was a clearly racist heckling—an issue that has publicly plagued the international sport in various venues, even as recently as last week. But this time, the response from the crowd far outshined the racist in the stands.



First, the man was quickly identified by his fellow Munster fans and ejected from the game. While stewards escorted him from the stadium, the crowd chanted, "Nazis out! Nazis out!"

Some fans also stood and applauded Kwadwo and the player received supportive pats on the back from opposing team members as well.

This is how it's done, folks.

Kwadwo thanked fans via social media the next day for their "exemplary" reaction, the Associated Press reported:

"I was racially abused by one single spectator. It just makes me sad. I indeed have a different skin color, but I was born here in this wonderful land that has given my family and I so much and made so much possible. I am one of you. I live here and can live my calling as a professional with the Würzburger Kickers.

Something like yesterday just makes me sad and angry because everyone has to know, racism does not belong in OUR world. We all have the opportunity to oppose it and stop it if it happens."

Munster said it would seek to ban the racist fan from all German stadiums for three years, which is the toughest sanction the sport itself can implement. However, the man also faces legal consequences and is being charged with incitement.

"As repulsive as the monkey noises against the player were, the subsequent response from the rest of the spectators were so impressive," the Preussen team said in a statement.

According to CNN, Preussen Munster president Christoph Strasser said of the heckling: "It is not something that belongs on the soccer field and certainly not in our stadium. We don't want and need people like that here. We clearly distance ourselves from such statements and I apologized to the Würzburgers immediately after the game."

If we have to live with nasty racists in our midst, it's at least encouraging to see a huge crowd reject it with such immediacy and fervor. Nazis out, indeed.


This article originally appeared on 3.1.23

Family

9 things to know about kids in foster care. Plus an unforgettable view into their lives.

Foster care is a nightmare for some kids and their foster parents. For others, it's a blessing.

A clip from "ReMoved Part Two"



Zoe's story, "Removed," has been seen by millions of people.

It was previously shared by my amazing Upworthy colleague Laura Willard. We got just a tiny taste of what it was like for kids in foster care, right after being removed. Specifically, a little girl named Zoe and her little brother Benaiah.

My wife and I, foster parents for the past year, even shared the original with our adoption worker, who passed it along to the entire agency and, then, it took off like wildfire among those people as well.

This is part 2 of that story, and it hits hard.

(Yes, the video's on the long side at about 20 minutes. But it's worth the watch to the end.)

She describes her life as a cycle, interrupted by a tornado. She's a foster child. I don't think I need to say any more.


So ... let's accompany that with 9 uncomfortable — but enlightening — facts below. There are only nine bolded, but within those headers, there are several more facts.

1. There are an estimated 400,000 kids in foster care right now.

Some are awaiting adoption. Some will go back to their parents. Others will age out or, sometimes, run away.

2. Foster kids can suffer from PTSD at almost two times the rate of returning veterans.

And PTSD can mimic a lot of other mental illnesses, and it can manifest as nightmares, flashbacks, fight-or-flee responses, anger outbursts, and hyper-vigilance (being on "red alert" at all times), among other symptoms.

Image via Nathaniel Matanick.


3. The average age of a foster child is 9 years old.

They're just on that edge of childhood, and chances are, it's been a pretty messed up childhood at that. Trauma does that.

4. About half of all foster kids are in non-relative foster homes.

8% are in institutions, 6% are in group homes, and only 4% are in pre-adoptive homes. Read that again — only 4% are in pre-adoptive homes.

5. Some of foster children experience multiple placements. In some cases, eight or more.

That's eight homes that they move into — and out of. And just consider ... that means they lose not just adults and other kids with whom they are establishing a bond, but friends, schoolmates, pets.

Clip via Nathaniel Matanick


6. The average foster child remains in the system for almost two years before being reunited with their biological parents, adopted, aging out, or other outcomes.

8% of them remain in foster care for over five years. Of the 238,000 foster kids who left the system in 2013, about half were reunited with parents or primary caregivers, 21% were adopted, 15% went to live with a relative or other guardian, and 10% were emancipated (aged out).

7. In 2013, more than 23,000 young people aged out of foster care with no permanent family to end up with.

And if you add that up, year after year, hundreds of thousands of foster youth will have aged out of the system. What does that look like? "You're 18. You've got no place to live and no family. Good luck — buh-bye now!" One-quarter of former foster kids experience homelessness within four years of exiting the system.

8. Foster "alumni" (those who have been in foster homes and either adopted, returned to parents, or aged out) are likely to suffer serious mental health consequences.

They are four-five times more likely to be hospitalized for attempting suicide and five-eight times more likely to be hospitalized for serious psychiatric disorders in their teens.

Based on that set of statistics alone, it's in the public's interest (ignoring, for a second, the interests of those kids) to help them through their lot in life and spend resources making it all work much better for everybody before it gets to that point. Right?

So there's a lot to be angry about in this whole messed up situation. But this next thing? My blood boils.

What's one of the biggest risk factors in families whose children are placed in foster care?

Your guess?

Cruelty?

Drugs?

Sexual abuse?

Neglect?

The answer is ...

9. Poverty

Together with homelessness and unemployment, it's a main contributing factor. It happens all the time. The fact that it's far easier for a parent to be accused and investigated for neglect or abuse because of simple things like lack of access to a vehicle, or a working refrigerator, or the ability to get a kid to a doctor's appointment — that has a lot to do with this. Tie that to the link between drug abuse and poverty and between poverty and child abuse ... well, you can see where this is going.

And in a country where one-third of children are living in poverty (hint: the good ol' U.S. of A.), imagine how that affects the number of kids being removed and placed into foster care.

I'll end this with a bit of hope through my story.

My kids went through something a lot like the kids in the clip above before they came to live with us. We've been through the ringer in ways that we're going to have to talk about one day because it's not just that the kids have been challenging — they have — it's that the system itself has been more challenging.

The entire system — from agencies to government entities to social workers to even the schools — seems like it's designed to fail these kids and the families who are attempting to help. It's almost designed not to work. There, I said it.

But that doesn't mean we won't fight to make it better for everybody. We most definitely will.

Image from a photo by my wife, Robin.

As for us, we're just a few weeks away from becoming the legal parents to these kids, and we're extremely happy to be right here, making it happen. And they seem quite happy to be our kids. Along the way, we fell in love with them, and we can't imagine life without them.

But to be totally honest ... if we'd have known how hard it was going to be when we started this journey, and if we could somehow turn back the clock and NOT do it ... well, would we have actually gone forward with the process?

I take that back. I won't be totally honest here. I will simply let you decide.

Here are some places to help, if you're so inclined.

        • AdoptUsKids.org is a place to start if you're considering fostering or adopting.
        • My Stuff Bags is a really cool and inexpensive way to help foster kids by gifting them actual luggage, duffel bags, and more, so that they don't travel from home to home with garbage bags for their belongings — or nothing at all.
        • CASA for Children offers legal help and advocates for foster kids through a network of volunteers.

        This story was written by Brandon Weber and originally appeared on 07.17.15

        mage from Everyday Feminism, used with permission by creator Alli Kirkham.

        There are many different scenarios where consent is necessary.



        In 2013, Zerlina Maxwell ignited a firestorm of controversy when she strongly recommended we stop telling women how to not get raped.

        Here are her words, from the transcript of her appearance on Sean Hannity's show:

        "I don't think that we should be telling women anything. I think we should be telling men not to rape women and start the conversation there with prevention."

        So essentially — instead of teaching women how to avoid rape, let's raise boys specifically not to rape.


        There was a lot of ire raised from that idea. Maxwell was on the receiving end of a deluge of online harassment and scary threats because of her ideas, which is sadly common for outspoken women on the Internet.

        People assumed it meant she was labeling all boys as potential rapists or that every man has a rape-monster he carries inside him unless we quell it from the beginning.

        But the truth is most of the rapes women experience are perpetrated by people they know and trust. So fully educating boys during their formative years about what constitutes consent and why it's important to practice explicitly asking for consent could potentially eradicate a large swath of acquaintance rape. It's not a condemnation on their character or gender, but an extra set of tools to help young men approach sex without damaging themselves or anyone else.

        news, campaigns, young men, cultural norms

        Zerlina Maxwell is interviewed on "Hannity."

        Image from “Hannity."

        But what does teaching boys about consent really look like in action?

        Well, there's the viral letter I wrote to my teen titled "Son, It's Okay If You Don't Get Laid Tonight" explaining his responsibility in the matter. I wanted to show by example that Maxwell's words weren't about shaming or blaming boys who'd done nothing wrong yet, but about giving them a road map to navigate their sexual encounters ahead.

        There are also rape prevention campaigns on many college campuses, aiming to reach young men right at the heart of where acquaintance rape is so prevalent. Many men are welcoming these efforts.

        And then there are creative endeavors to find the right metaphors and combination of words to get people to shake off their acceptance of cultural norms and see rape culture clearly.


        This is brilliant:

        consent, rape prevention, community, consent culture

        A comic about different types of consent.

        Image from Everyday Feminism, used with permission by creator Alli Kirkham.

        There you have it. Seven comparisons that anyone can use to show how simple and logical the idea of consent really is. Consent culture is on its way because more and more people are sharing these ideas and getting people to think critically. How can we not share an idea whose time has come?

        This article originally appeared on 06.27.15