The University of Wisconsin wasn't attracting diverse applicants. So it did something bold.

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:

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan
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Growing up in Indonesia, Farwiza Farhan always loved the ocean. It's why she decided to study marine biology. But the more she learned, the more she realized that it wasn't enough to work in the ocean. She needed to protect it.

"I see the ocean ecosystem collapsing due to overfishing and climate change," she says. "I felt powerless and didn't know what to do [so] I decided to pursue my master's in environmental management."

This choice led her to work in environmental protection, and it was fate that brought her back home to the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia — one of the last places on earth where species such as tigers, orangutans, elephants and Sumatran rhinoceros still live in the wild today. It's also home to over 300 species of birds, eight of which are endemic to the region.

"When I first flew over the Leuser Ecosystem, I saw an intact landscape, a contiguous block of lush, diverse vegetation stretched through hills and valleys. The Leuser is truly a majestic landscape — one of a kind."

She fell in love. "I had my first orangutan encounter in the Leuser Ecosystem," she remembers. "As the baby orangutan swung from the branches, seemingly playing and having fun, the mother was observing us. I was moved by the experience."

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

"Over the years," she continues, "the encounters with wildlife, with people, and with the ecosystem itself compounded. My curiosity and interest towards nature have turned into a deep desire to protect this biodiversity."

So, she began working for a government agency tasked to protect it. After the agency dismantled for political reasons in the country, Farhan decided to create the HAkA Foundation.

"The goals [of HAkA] are to protect, conserve and restore the Leuser Ecosystem while at the same time catalyzing and enabling just economic prosperity for the region," she says.

"Wild areas and wild places are rare these days," she continues. "We think gold and diamonds are rare and therefore valuable assets, but wild places and forests, like the Leuser Ecosystems, are the kind of natural assets that essentially provide us with life-sustaining services."

"The rivers that flow through the forest of the Leuser Ecosystem are not too dissimilar to the blood that flows through our veins. It might sound extreme, but tell me — can anyone live without water?"

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

So far, HAkA has done a lot of work to protect the region. The organization played a key role in strengthening laws that bring the palm oil companies that burn forests to justice. In fact, their involvement led to an unprecedented, first-of-its-kind court decision that fined one company close to $26 million.

In addition, HAkA helped thwart destructive infrastructure plans that would have damaged critical habitat for the Sumatran elephants and rhinos. They're working to prevent mining destruction by helping communities develop alternative livelihoods that don't damage the forests. They've also trained hundreds of police and government rangers to monitor deforestation, helping to establish the first women ranger teams in the region.

"We have supported multiple villages to create local regulation on river and land protection, effectively empowering communities to regain ownership over their environment."

She is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year. The donation she receives as a nominee is being awarded to the Ecosystem Impact Foundation. The small local foundation is working to protect some of the last remaining habitats of the critically endangered leatherback turtle that lives on the west coast of Sumatra.

"The funds will help the organization keep their ranger employed so they can continue protecting the islands, endangered birds and sea turtle habitats," she says.

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen. Do you know an inspiring woman like Farwiza? Nominate her today!

Tired of avocados turning brown? Try this simple trick.

Ah, the delicious, creamy avocado. We love it, despite its fleeting ripeness and frustrating tendency to turn brown when you try to store it. From salads to guacamole to much-memed millennial avocado toast, the weird berry (that's right—it's a berry) with the signature green flesh is one of the more versatile fruits, but also one of the more fickle. Once an avocado is ready, you better cut it open within hours because it's not going to last.

Once it's cut, an avocado starts to oxidize, turning that green flesh a sickly brown color. It's not harmful to eat, but it's not particularly appetizing. The key to keeping the browning from happening is to keep the flesh from being exposed to oxygen.

Some people rub an unused avocado half with oil to keep oxidation at bay. Others swear by squeezing some lemon juice over it. Some say placing plastic wrap tightly over it with the pit still in it will keep it green.

But a YouTube video from Avocados from Mexico demonstrates a quick, easy, eco-friendly way to store half an avocado that doesn't require anything but a container and some water.

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Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
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Marcella Lopez didn't always want to be a teacher — but once she became one, she found her passion. That's why she's stayed in the profession for 23 years, spending the past 16 at her current school in Los Angeles, where she mostly teaches children of color.

"I wanted purpose, to give back, to live a life of public service, to light the spark in others to think critically and to be kind human beings," she says. "More importantly, I wanted my students to see themselves when they saw me, to believe they could do it too."

Ms. Lopez didn't encounter a teacher of color until college. "That moment was life-changing for me," she recalls. "It was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin as a student. Always remembering how I felt in that college class many years ago has kept me grounded year after year."

It's also guided her teaching. Ms. Lopez says she always selects authors and characters that represent her students and celebrate other ethnicities so students can relate to what they read while also learning about other cultures.

"I want them to see themselves in the books they read, respect those that may not look like them and realize they may have lots in common with [other cultures] they read about," she says.

She also wants her students to have a different experience in school than she did.

When Ms. Lopez was in first grade, she "was speaking in Spanish to a new student, showing her where the restroom was when a staff member overheard our conversation and directed me to not speak in Spanish," she recalls. "In 'this school,' we only speak English," she remembers them saying. "From that day forward, I was made to feel less-than and embarrassed to speak the language of my family, my ancestors; the language I learned to speak first."

Part of her job, she says, is to find new ways to promote acceptance and inclusion in her classroom.

"The worldwide movement around social justice following the death of George Floyd amplified my duty as a teacher to learn how to discuss racial equity in a way that made sense to my little learners," she says. "It ignited me to help them see themselves in a positive light, to make our classroom family feel more inclusive, and make our classroom a safe place to have authentic conversations."

One way she did that was by raising money through DonorsChoose to purchase books and other materials for her classroom that feature diverse perspectives.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

The Allstate Foundation recently partnered with DonorsChoose to create a Racial Justice and Representation category to encourage teachers like Ms. Lopez to create projects that address racial equity in the classroom. To launch the category, The Allstate Foundation matched all donations to these projects for a total of $1.5 million. Together, they hope to drive awareness and funding to projects that bring diversity, inclusion, and identity-affirming learning materials into classrooms across the country. You can see current projects seeking funding here.

When Ms. Lopez wanted to incorporate inclusive coloring books into her lesson plans, The Allstate Foundation fully funded her project so she was able to purchase them.

"I'm a lifelong learner, striving to be my best version of myself and always working to inspire my little learners to do the same," she says. Each week, Ms. Lopez and the students would focus on a page in the book and discuss its message. And she plans to do the same again this school year.

"DonorsChoose has been a gamechanger for my students. Without the support of all the donors that come together on this platform, we wouldn't have a sliver of what I've been able to provide for my students, especially during the pandemic," she says.

"My passion is to continue striving to be excellent, and to continue to find ways to use literature as an anchor, depicting images that reflect my students," she says.

To help teachers like Ms. Lopez drive this important mission forward, donate on DonorsChoose.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

This story was originally published on The Mighty and originally appeared here on 07.21.17


Most people imagine depression equals “really sad," and unless you've experienced depression yourself, you might not know it goes so much deeper than that. Depression expresses itself in many different ways, some more obvious than others. While some people have a hard time getting out of bed, others might get to work just fine — it's different for everyone.

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Jennifer Lawrence

After being a Hollywood staple, Jennifer Lawrence vanished from the public eye following the release of "X-Men Dark Phoenix" in 2019.

Sure, the pandemic had something to do with that … in addition to the usual way our society treats Hollywood "it" girls, once it grows accustomed to the flavor. But in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Lawrence opens up about some other reasons she chose to step away for a time.

Lawrence went from being a highly sought-after Oscar-winning actress to starring in less-than-successful films like "Passengers," "Mother!" and "Red Sparrow." The films were not only poorly received among critics, but commercially as well.

"I was not pumping out the quality that I should have," she told VF. "I just think everybody had gotten sick of me. I'd gotten sick of me. It had just gotten to a point where I couldn't do anything right. If I walked a red carpet, it was, 'Why didn't she run?'"

So then, why do it? As any workaholic would know, it's about so much more than money.

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