Family

The moving reason a mom and daughter teamed up to tackle bullying in schools.

'So many kids are afraid to tell for fear it will get worse. I always tell them it won’t get better if they don’t ask for help.'

The moving reason a mom and daughter teamed up to tackle bullying in schools.
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Hasbro Be Fearless Be Kind

When Morgan Guess was 8 years old, she began to be bullied mercilessly by another third grade girl.

Mary — what Morgan calls the girl to protect her identity — was new in school, but immediately started tormenting her. She'd pinch Morgan's neck, pull her hair, she'd even lead her around everywhere. It was like Mary had claimed Morgan as her personal pet.

And despite the obvious distress the situation was causing her, Morgan didn't tell anyone about her tormentor.


Morgan Guess. Photo courtesy of Susan Guess.

"I didn't tell anyone because I thought it would get worse," admits Morgan in an email.

However, faltering academic performance and a string of panic attacks and stomach spasms put her mom, Susan, on high alert.

"She was afraid and so was I," shares Susan. "Morgan had never experienced violence and she didn't know what to do with it."

Susan called the school, and together they came up with a plan that mainly consisted of keeping the two girls apart. Needless to say, it wasn't full-proof.

The school never addressed the issue outright, and as such, the plan just ended up isolating Morgan, and Mary still found ways to get to her. This sent Morgan down a depressive spiral for which she was prescribed antidepressants, all before reaching age 10.

When Morgan's doctor suggested she leave school, Morgan knew she had to come at the issue from a different direction.

Morgan wearing a T-Shirt from the Guess Anti-Bullying Foundation. Photo courtesy of Susan Guess.

"My parents told me pretty early on that bad things are going to happen and I could choose to ignore them, I could blame others, or I could choose to do something about it," writes Morgan.

So, together with her mom, Morgan decided to find a way to change how bullying is addressed in schools.

They did this by focusing on the overarching problem rather than a specific bully or school system, and that started with getting kids to open up about their bullying experiences. To get the ball rolling, they brought a few speakers to their town who are well-versed on the subject, including Jodee Blanco, author of "Please Stop Laughing at Us," and Lee Hirsch, director of the documentary "Bully."

Slowly but surely, kids began to feel comfortable sharing their stories. And the response lit a fire under mom and daughter.

Morgan Guess. Photo courtesy of Susan Guess.

"We saw kids stand up and talk about cutting, about not being heard, not being believed, and we knew we had to do more," writes Susan. "Morgan wasn't alone and these kids were waiting for someone to speak up, to stand up for them."

While Mary transferred to another school after third grade thereby ending Morgan's personal bullying crisis, she was now committed to protecting as many kids as possible from a similar experience.

Morgan and her mom knew the issue was much bigger than their small town of Paducah, Kentucky. That's why they began petitioning their governor to make a change.

Over the next three years, they worked on getting the state to appoint a statewide task force to study the effects of bullying and share best practices for coping with it. At the end of it, both Morgan and Susan served as members on it. Morgan was by far the youngest at just 11 years old.

Eventually the task force introduced the official Kentucky anti-bullying bill to the House of Representatives, and asked Morgan to give her personal testimony as support for it. The bill clearly defines bullying as any unwanted verbal, physical, or social behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance and is repeated or has the potential to be related. This makes it harder for bullying to go undetected. It passed the house with an overwhelming 39 votes to 1.

Morgan speaking on behalf of anti-bullying at a Commonwealth of Kentucky press conference. Photo courtesy of Susan Guess.

It was a pivotal experience for Morgan.

"I think she will run for office one day, and I think she will propose additional legislation," says Susan.

Until then, however, she's doing what she can in her hometown.

On the local front, mom and daughter have been spearheading a number of bold anti-bullying initiatives.

Every August, they run a Kindness Color Walk to remind the community the importance of being kind at the start of the school year.

Two participants in the Kindness Color Walk. Photo courtesy of Susan Guess.

In 2016, they got their community to write 12,000 letters of encouragement to kids in school. They also hosted a #bekindpaducah mural tagging event, which allowed people all over the world to write positive messages and tag anyone who might need them.

And today, Morgan's working on opening a mental health drop-in center for kids who need counseling.

It's no surprise, considering all of the above, that Morgan was named one of ten Hasbro Community Action Heroes, part of the company's BE FEARLESS BE KIND initiative to empower kids to have the empathy, compassion and courage to stand up for others and be inclusive throughout their lives. The award recognizes young people who are doing just that, and making a difference in their communities.

Morgan (center) with Hasbro Community Action Heroes Josh Kaplan (Left), and Zachary Rice (Right) in New York City. Photo courtesy of Hasbro.

Earlier this year, Morgan joined the nine other Hasbro Community Action Heroes in New York City where they developed a pledge to inspire others to “be fearless and kind.” Youth, parents and caring adults can now take that pledge and learn about ways to put their empathy into action as part of the YSA’s Kindness Rising campaign.

And Morgan's work is far from finished.

When she first started this, Kentucky led the nation in teen suicide attempts. She hopes their efforts have helped lower that number, but more specifically, she hopes they've helped give kids the courage to speak out.

Morgan at the #bekindpaducah mural event. Photo courtesy of Susan Guess.

"So many kids are afraid to tell for fear it will get worse," says Morgan, "I always tell them it won’t get better if they don’t ask for help."

No one knows that better than Morgan herself.

"We have to work together to make schools kinder places, but we also have to know our rights and we need to insist on safe and inclusive schools and communities," she explains.

No doubt Morgan will continue to advocate against bullying as she comes into adulthood, and her mother couldn't be prouder.

"We often talk about how when we push through our fears, there is something beautiful on the other side. My hope is that she will take risks and dig deep to find the courage, always, to stand up for someone in need"

Learn more about the Be Fearless Be Kind pledge here:

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!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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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."