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Ashley Thomas, a Harlem native and senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, never thought she'd end up in the Midwest.

When she started looking for schools, she was interested in diversity. But according to UW's website, over 70% of the school's students identify as white.

So, why did Ashley choose UW?


Because of a hip-hop and urban arts program called First Wave. UW is the only school in the country with anything like it.

UW-Madison senior and First Wave member Ashley Thomas. Photo courtesy of Ashley Thomas.

Providing about 14 full, four-year scholarships per year, the First Wave program targets incoming freshmen who have a passion for the program's three pillars: arts, academics, and activism.

The First Wave program was launched 10 years ago by Willie Ney, the executive director of the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiative. He was troubled by the lack of diversity at the school and wanted to find a way to reach students like Ashley — talented in both arts and academics — who weren't considering UW-Madison.

"If you complain about something, you have to do something about it," Ney said in a phone interview. So, in 2005, he worked with the school to find room in the budget. The goal was for First Wave students to attend the university and graduate with little to no debt.

Willie Ney. Photo courtesy of the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiative.

"This is an experiment," he said.

So far, it seems like a pretty successful one. Ney says they're bringing in amazing students from all over the country.

First Wave students can pursue any major they want, but Ney says they tend to gravitate toward science and social justice studies. Ashley, for example, is majoring in social work with a focus on community organization and theater. But it's her passion for and skill in poetry that helped land her in the program.

The First Wave Touring Ensemble poses after their performance at the NCAA National Convention in San Diego 2014. From left: Eli Lynch, Shamaeca Moore, Marvin Gutierrez, Ashlyn Akins, and Jonathan Williams. Photo courtesy of the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiative.

In addition to their regular classes, First Wave students take workshops on subjects like music, poetry, and acting, and they discuss issues related to race, culture, and identity.

The goal of addressing these topics head-on isn't just to ease the transition to UW; it's to get a real dialogue going.

In a 2013 performance at UW-Madison, First Wave students performed a spoken-word piece called "Intersectionality" in which they tackled perceptions of identity:

"Where I'm from, I never had to explain myself," said First Wave student Thiahera Nurse. "My name came out of the cracks of the concrete like air. It was as normal as reading a street sign."

Thiahera Nurse performing. Image via creatingcommunityUW/YouTube.

Another First Waver, Amy Riedel, asked: "Why can't gay marriage just be marriage or an interracial couple just a couple? There is more power when we include all our differences than when we separate."

First Wave students don't just work their magic on campus, either. In 2012, students — on their own initiative — started teaching workshops for local high schoolers as part of the JVN Project (in honor of student John "Vietnam" Nguyễn, who passed away earlier that year). The workshops use hip-hop music, rapping, poetry, and writing to help teach students the importance of community, teamwork, compassion, and creativity.

"The impact is really big in the community," Ney said.

And the impact on the students is big, too.

"I would not be here if it were not for First Wave," Ashley said.

She says cost and diversity were issues for her everywhere she looked, but UW-Madison would have been out of the question without the program.

First Wave graduate Sofia Snow. Image from uwmadison/YouTube.

First Wave students have gone on to do some incredible things.

Ney says many graduates continue with arts and activism. Sofia Snow, part of the initial class of First Wave students, is now the associate program director for Urban Word NYC, a program dedicated to helping youth in New York City to succeed through spoken word and college prep workshops.

The next generation of graduates is just as promising. "I hope to open my own theater company in Harlem," Ashley said. She plans to attend grad school for theater and combine her studies to help students in Harlem express themselves through spoken word and acting.

Ney hopes other schools will follow in their example from First Wave to create better opportunities for students.

"If you tap into this gold mine, it'll be a renaissance in higher education," Ney said. "Why not invest in the best and the brightest?"

Watch a video about the First Wave program:

Hold on, Frankie! Mama's coming!

How do you explain motherhood in a nutshell? Thanks to Cait Oakley, who stopped a preying bald eagle from capturing her pet goose as she breastfed her daughter, we have it summed up in one gloriously hilarious TikTok.

The now viral video shows the family’s pet goose, Frankie, frantically squawking as it gets dragged off the porch by a bald eagle—likely another mom taking care of her own kiddos.

Wearing nothing but her husband’s boxers while holding on to her newborn, Willow, Oakley dashes out of the house and successfully comes to Frankie's rescue while yelling “hey, hey hey!”

The video’s caption revealed that the Oakleys had already lost three chickens due to hungry birds of prey, so nothing was going to stop “Mama bear” from protecting “sweet Frankie.” Not even a breastfeeding session.

Oakley told TODAY Parents, “It was just a split second reaction ...There was nowhere to put Willow down at that point.” Sometimes being a mom means feeding your child and saving your pet all at the same time.

As for how she feels about running around topless in her underwear on camera, Oakley declared, “I could have been naked and I’m like, ‘whatever, I’m feeding my baby.’”

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Joy

Tea time: how this boutique blends cultures from around the world

Ethically sourced, modern clothes for kids that embrace adventure, inspire connections and global thinking.

The Tea Collection combines philanthropic efforts with a deep rooted sense of multiculturalism into each of their designs so that kids can grow up with global sensibilities. They make clothes built to last with practicality and adventure in mind. But why "Tea"?

Let's spill it. Tea is a drink shared around the world with people from all different cultures. It is a common thread that weaves the world together. The Tea Collection was born from a love of travel and a love of sharing tea with different people in different places. Inspired by patterns from around the world, these clothes help children develop a familiarity with global communities.

Tea sources their materials ethically and ensures that each of their partners abide to strict codes of conduct. They have a zero-tolerance policy for anything "even slightly questionable" and make sure that they regularly visit their manufacturing partners to ensure that they're supporting positive working conditions.

Since 2003, The Tea Collection has partnered with the Global Fund for Children and has invested in different grassroots organizations that create community empowered programs to uplift kids in need. They donate 10% of their proceeds and have already contributed over $500,000 to different organizations such as: The Homeless Prenatal Program (San Francisco, CA, USA), Door of Faith Orphanage (Baja California, Mexico), Little Sisters Fund (Nepal) and others in Peru, Sri Lanka, India, Italy and Haiti.

But the best part about the Tea Collection? They're also an official member of the Kidizen Rewear Collective, which believes that clothes should stretch far beyond one child's use. They have their own external site for their preloved clothes that makes rewearing affordable. Families can trade in gently used Tea clothes and receive discounts for future products. Shopping the site helps keep clothes out of land fills and reduces the environmental impact of the fashion industry.

By creating heirloom style clothing made to last families can buy, sell, and trade clothes that can be reworn again and again. Because "new to you" doesn't always have to mean never been worn. And let's be honest, we all know how fast kids grow! Shopping preloved clothes is a great way to keep styles fresh without harming the environment or feeling guilty about not getting the most out of certain styles.

But don't just take our word for it! Head over to the Tea Collection and see for yourself!

Upworthy has earned revenue through a partnership and/or may earn a portion of sales revenue from purchases made through links on our site.

Education

Teacher of the year explains why he's leaving district in unforgettable 3-minute speech

"I'm leaving in hopes that I can regain the ability to do the job that I love."

Lee Allen

For all of our disagreements in modern American life, there are at least a few things most of us can agree on. One of those is the need for reform in public education. We don't all agree on the solutions but many of the challenges are undeniable: retaining great teachers, reducing classroom size and updating the focus of student curriculums to reflect the ever-changing needs of a globalized workforce.

And while parents, politicians and activists debate those remedies, one voice is all-too-often ignored: that of teachers themselves.

This is why a short video testimony from a teacher in the Atlanta suburb of Gwinnett County went viral recently. After all, it's hard to deny the points made by someone who was just named teacher of the year and used the occasion to announce why he will be leaving the very school district that just honored him with that distinction.

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