The inspiring reason this former foster kid is helping underserved kids make movies.
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Johna Rivers spent most of her young life with the cards stacked against her.

She was put into foster care at the age of 9, and that's where she stayed until she was a legal adult.

"Everything around me was traumatic from the time I was a baby up until I was 19,” says Rivers.


Kids in front of the housing project where Rivers grew up. All photos via Extra.

But her hardships didn't stop there. Rivers was homeless for three years after she left foster care. This is an unfortunate reality for many kids who age out of the system. According to a recent NPR study, approximately 25% of former foster children become homeless after exiting foster care. The sudden absence in shelter and support also results in much higher incarceration and teen pregnancy rates.

And, not surprisingly, very few of these young people (6%) ever make it through college.

But Rivers was determined to flip the script on foster kid statistics.

She started by making education a priority.

Even though she says her high school was rated one of the worst in Los Angeles, she pushed through it and managed to graduate by 2011.

“I was extremely blessed and humbled to make it out of the environment, and be able to not allow those circumstances to define me," says Rivers.

And, thanks to the help of her mentor, Syd Stewart, she set herself up for a success in a career in the arts.

Stewart (left) and Rivers (right).

Stewart is a filmmaker and also the founder of Better Youth, a nonprofit that mentors disadvantaged youth like Rivers in media arts.

She showed Rivers her first film set over 10 years ago. “She introduced me to a whole new world that I never knew about," recalls Rivers.

Through Stewart's guidance, Rivers learned that she had not only compelling stories to tell, but a powerful voice to tell them with. Aside from her film work, Rivers is a spoken word artist who has performed all over the world.

However, she wanted to do more than just make art for the world. Following her mentor's example, Rivers decided to help others like her reach for their creative dreams too.

She co-founded the Real to Reel Global Youth Film Festival to help raise up the voices of underserved kids.

Rivers (center) with kids from the Real to Reel Film Festival.

Launched in October 2015, Real to Reel showcases films produced by youth ages 14 to 23 that shine a light on often overlooked social issues. The foster system is one of those issues — in 2017, Real to Reel's film offerings were all produced by current and former foster kids.

Rivers hopes the festival will help kids like her realize they deserve a place at the creative table. She wants to remind them that, with a little extra effort, anything they can dream up is achievable.

"You gotta put in the work, you gotta show up, you gotta believe in yourself, because if you don’t, nobody else will," says Rivers.

Rivers working on a film.

But, of course, you'll get further with people like Rivers and Stewart standing behind you. Few people know that better than Rivers, which is why she continues to give a little extra back whenever she can.

When she's not making movies, Stewart is a foster youth outreach liaison for the Spirit Awakening Foundation, which helps underserved youth find their spiritual identity through creativity. Clearly, she's made helping kids like her tell their stories a big part of her life's mission.

After all, her own story helped her realize her purpose. If she hadn't found a way to share it, she wouldn't be where she is today.

To learn more about Rivers and her festival, check out this video:

When You Give Extra, You Get Extra: Johna Rivers

After a mentor opened up a whole new world for this young filmmaker, she wants to do the same for others.

Posted by Upworthy on Friday, April 20, 2018

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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