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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:

Joy

1991 blooper clip of Robin Williams and Elmo is a wholesome nugget of comedic genius

Robin Williams is still bringing smiles to faces after all these years.

Robin Williams and Elmo (Kevin Clash) bloopers.

The late Robin Williams could make picking out socks funny, so pairing him with the fuzzy red monster Elmo was bound to be pure wholesome gold. Honestly, how the puppeteer, Kevin Clash, didn’t completely break character and bust out laughing is a miracle. In this short outtake clip, you get to see Williams crack a few jokes in his signature style while Elmo tries desperately to keep it together.

Williams has been a household name since what seems like the beginning of time, and before his death in 2014, he would make frequent appearances on "Sesame Street." The late actor played so many roles that if you were ask 10 different people what their favorite was, you’d likely get 10 different answers. But for the kids who spent their childhoods watching PBS, they got to see him being silly with his favorite monsters and a giant yellow canary. At least I think Big Bird is a canary.

When he stopped by "Sesame Street" for the special “Big Bird's Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake” in 1991, he was there to show Elmo all of the wonderful things you could do with a stick. Williams turns the stick into a hockey stick and a baton before losing his composure and walking off camera. The entire time, Elmo looks enthralled … if puppets can look enthralled. He’s definitely paying attention before slumping over at the realization that Williams goofed a line. But the actor comes back to continue the scene before Elmo slinks down inside his box after getting Williams’ name wrong, which causes his human co-star to take his stick and leave.

The little blooper reel is so cute and pure that it makes you feel good for a few minutes. For an additional boost of serotonin, check out this other (perfectly executed) clip about conflict that Williams did with the two-headed monster. He certainly had a way of engaging his audience, so it makes sense that even after all of these years, he's still greatly missed.

Noe Hernandez and Maria Carrillo, the owners of Noel Barber Shop in Anaheim, California.

Jordyn Poulter was the youngest member of the U.S. women’s volleyball team, which took home the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year. She was named the best setter at the Tokyo games and has been a member of the team since 2018.

Unfortunately, according to a report from ABC 7 News, her gold medal was stolen from her car in a parking garage in Anaheim, California, on May 25.

It was taken along with her passport, which she kept in her glove compartment. While storing a gold medal in your car probably isn’t the best idea, she did it to keep it by her side while fulfilling the hectic schedule of an Olympian.

"We live this crazy life of living so many different places. So many of us play overseas, then go home, then come out here and train,” Poulter said, according to ABC 7. "So I keep the medal on me (to show) friends and family I haven't seen in a while, or just people in the community who want to see the medal. Everyone feels connected to it when they meet an Olympian, and it's such a cool thing to share with people."

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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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