The 7 best lines from Obama's Mandela-inspired pep talk.

Speaking in Johannesburg, South Africa, former President Barack Obama gave the world a much-needed pep talk.

The speech — part of the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture — centered on a theme of "creating conditions for bridging divides, working across ideological lines, and resisting oppression and inequality." Sounds like something we could all use, especially lately. Speaking for nearly an hour and a half, Obama avoided any direct critiques of Donald Trump and his policies. Indirectly, however ... that's a different story.

Photo by Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images.


1. "Maybe it would be useful to step back for a moment and try to get some perspective."

With so much happening in the world, it's good to look to our past for advice. Very few of the problems facing us today are actually new. We've seen what toxic leaders look like, what their rise to power entails, and how they've fallen. We've seen what happens when pseudo-democracies use propaganda on their own people. We've seen how the world slips into war. Knowing that, we can learn how to fight back.

"But in the strange and uncertain times that we are in — and they are strange, and they are uncertain, with each day's news cycles bringing more head spinning and disturbing headlines — I thought maybe it would be useful to step back for a moment and try to get some perspective, so I hope you'll indulge me," Obama said during the speech's opening.

Photo by Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images.

2. "You have to believe in facts. Without facts, there's no basis for cooperation."

This is an important point and one that probably doesn't get talked about nearly enough. If two (or more) groups with opposing goals want to work together, it's important they're at least able to agree on a common set of facts. During his speech, Obama used the example of climate change and opposition to the Paris Climate Agreement, calling on politicians to no longer "reject the very concept of objective truth."

"I can find common ground for those who oppose the Paris Accords," he said. "Because, for example, they might say, 'It's not going to work. We can't get everybody to cooperate.' They might say, 'It's more important for us to provide cheap energy for the poor, even if it means in the short term that there's more pollution.' At least I can have a debate with them about that, and I can show them why I think clean energy is the better path, especially for poor countries. That you can leap-frog old technologies. I can't find common ground if somebody says, 'Climate change is just not happening' when almost all the world's scientists tell us it is."

Photo by Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images.

3. "We have to stop pretending that countries that hold an election where the winner somehow magically gets 90% of the vote ... is a democracy."

Democracy is a fragile thing, and we can't take it for granted. Too often, even now, countries host sham elections that make it all but impossible for the government's chosen candidates to lose. This is a democracy in name only, and it's time we stopped accepting this version of rule.

"Democracy depends on strong institutions. It's about minority rights and checks and balances and freedom of speech and freedom of expression and a free press and the right to protest and petition the government and an independent judiciary, and everybody having to follow the law."

4. "I am not being alarmist. I'm simply stating the facts."

There is a lot happening in the world that we should be worried about, and there will be people who try to make you feel like you're delusional for noticing it. The truth is that if we want to actually address the problem, we have to first acknowledge that it exists. Putting our heads in the sand won't save us.

"Look around — strongman politics are ascendant, suddenly, whereby elections and some pretense of democracy are (maintaining) the form of it, where those in powers seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning," he said, noting that the spread of these political actors is moving "at a pace that would have seemed unimaginable just a few years ago."

Photo by Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images.

5. "We now stand at a crossroads."

If there's hope of coming out of all this conflict unscathed, we absolutely have to reject cynicism in favor of hope. It's worked before, and it can work again.

"How should we respond? Should we see that wave of hope that we felt with [Mandela]'s release from prison? From the Berlin Wall coming down? Should we see that hope that we had as naive and misguided?"
"Let me tell you what I believe. I believe in Nelson Mandela's vision. I believe in a vision shared by Gandhi and King, and Abraham Lincoln. I believe in a vision of equality and justice and freedom and multiracial democracy built on a premise that all people are created equal and are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. And I believe that a world governed by such principles is possible and that it can achieve more peace and more cooperation in pursuits of a common good. That's what I believe."

6. "If [people] can learn to hate, they can be taught to love."

This is an easy and important lesson to remember. It's also pretty hopeful. There are a lot of hateful people in this world, but they weren't always like that, and they don't always have to be like that moving forward.

"[Mandela] reminds us that no one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate. And if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart — love comes more naturally to the human heart. Let's remember that truth. ... Let's be joyful in our struggle to make that truth manifest here on earth. So that 100 years from now future generations will look back and say, 'They kept the march going — that's why we live under new banners of freedom.'"

Photo by Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images.

7. "Keep believing. Keep marching. Keep building. Keep raising your voice."

In uncertain times, it's easy to give in to apathy, to feel helpless. It's easy to shrug and tell yourself that you're just one person and ask what good one person can really do. Obama rejects this, especially now, quoting Mandela in defense of optimism.

"Every generation has the opportunity to remake the world. Mandela said 'Young people are capable when aroused of bringing down the towers of oppression and raising the banners of freedom.' Now is a good time to be aroused. Now is a good time to be fired up."

Watch Obama's entire speech below.

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Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."