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The woman leading this world-renowned orchestra is one of a kind. She's so fun to watch.

I'm not used to seeing a woman in this job, and it's so fun to see.

The woman leading this world-renowned orchestra is one of a kind. She's so fun to watch.

Maestra.

It's not a word that's used very often. Less than a dozen women lead major U.S. orchestras. Which is why I'm stoked to introduce you to Alondra de la Parra!


Image via Steven Pisano/Wikimedia Commons.

Maestra de la Parra first caught my attention in a video of her conducting.

GIFs via Orchestre de Paris.

It was spellbinding! I could just feel her zippy joy for life and love for her job.

So, of course, I had to find out more!

Turns out she was just appointed, at 34, as the music director of Queensland Symphony Orchestra in Australia.

Sophie Galaise, CEO of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, said, "The appointment of Alondra de la Parra is a turning point for the Queensland Symphony."

And de la Parra? She's pretty happy about it, too: "It's something very exciting because I have been preparing and working all my life, to be director of a fine institution. ... It's definitely a dream come true."

Maestra de la Parra was born in New York City and raised in Mexico City. She's been trained in conducting, piano performance, and cello.

With moves like this, you better believe she was up to some truly awesome things well before she got the Queensland gig.

De la Parra started her own orchestra in NYC at age 23 — the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas — to showcase young performers across the Americas.

Zing!

Classical music has always been a little Euro-centric, so forming an orchestra that highlights non-European talent? That's a really cool way to change perception in the classical music world.

What else was she up to?

De la Parra's own classical album made it to the top 10! NBD.

The first album she conducted, "Mi Alma Mexicana" ("My Mexican Soul"), was in the top 10 on the U.S. Billboard Classical Chart in 2010. It was also the first classical recording in a decade to go platinum in Mexico, just two months after its release.

She's also collaborated with cool celeb artists like Geoffrey Rush, Robert Redford, Michel Gondry, and Gloria Estefan!

Thinkin' about cellos.

And she frequently works with Plácido Domingo, who's a big fan of hers.

She's got an amazing passion for music, and she's kiiiinda not here for your labels.

When asked about being a female conductor, here's what she said:

"Music doesn't have a gender, and isn't gender-oriented. Every time I'm on the podium, I'm thinking of music — how I'm going to make this work better, how I'm going to make this sound cohesive, and how I'm going to communicate with the musicians — but I'm never thinking about how people will perceive me as a woman."

No, but seriously. Not here for those simplistic labels:

"I am a woman, I am a Mexican but that is just part of the many ingredients that make me who I am. It's more three dimensional than the particular labels."

Her reasons for loving conducting? You know, just the stuff that could lead to world peace.

"There's probably nowhere else in the world where you can share with 100 people something so precious and harmless and noble at the same time, with everyone. I don't think there's another activity where there are so many people engaged in something so pure and good. Simply good."


And she's spreading those good conducting vibes around the world. In 2003, she started a music program in schools in Harlem and Washington Heights, NYC.

Through this program, she's taking music down to the level where kids — even those with no music background — can participate.

"It ends where the kids actually compose a whole piece for orchestra, even kids who don't know how to read and write music. They do it by instinct, by singing and drawing and clapping."


Where are all the people who want to be involved in music? I must find them!

Based on de la Parra's thoughts about the skills orchestral music brings out in humans, the world definitely needs more of it:

"Anyone who knows how to play in an orchestra, and has been part of one, gets tools for life. Teamwork. Giving part of yourself for the other. Listening. Opening your ear and soul to take in everybody else's sound and ideas. Creating one unified idea. "

Um, can we get our politicians to play in an orchestra?

De la Parra knows that being yourself is the best thing you can do when it comes to conducting....

"We bring to the podium everything that one is. ... One can only be who one is and nothing else, it's the experiences of your life that you share with others."

...but let's be honest, also in life:

"I don't think there's any way that anyone can do wrong with good music. It's the concept of let's all get together and do something beautiful together. It's already a human statement that I think is unparalleled."



This move can only be described as "catch a bug and smile about it" — and it's great.

She's so cool!

And if you wanna listen to her orchestra while she conducts, here's your chance!

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!

The year 2018 was a pivotal one in the produce industry, the Red Delicious was supplanted as the most popular apple in America by the sweeter, crisper Gala.

It was only a matter of time. The Red Delicious looked the part of the king of the apples with its deep red, flawless skin. But its interior was soft, mealy, and pretty bland. The Red Delicious was popular for growers because its skin hid any bruises and it was desired by consumers because of its appearance.

But these days it's having a hard time competing with the delectable crunch provided by the Gala, honeycrisp, and Fuji.

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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."