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As a professional photographer, Mark Bennington looks at thousands of photographs a day. But there was something he wasn't seeing.

The 47-year-old Bennington rarely saw images in the news or media that showcased Muslim people smiling, laughing, having fun, or simply being themselves. Instead, they're often portrayed as sullen, serious, or even violent. The canon of images do little to show the full spectrum of emotions and needs of Muslim people.

Muslims meet with an immigration attorney during a town hall meeting in Virginia. Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images.


Lack of positive, affirming representation can stoke the flames of anti-Muslim representation, which can lead to more negative portrayals in the media. It's a vicious cycle with serious consequences.

Bennington, like many people, desperately wanted to change the conversation and highlight the people behind Islam, a religion of kindness, love, and peace.

In the summer of 2016, after reading a piece in The New York Times documenting a Muslim family in New York, Bennington was inspired by the photography of photojournalist Chang Lee, who had captured the images. This was a Muslim family simply living their lives, and Bennington wanted to see more of it.

"I really thought, let me see if I can do something here and get some images that would normalize that dialogue," he says.

So Bennington decided to use his art to help change the conversation.

Bennington took a circuitous path to find his subjects, reaching out through Muslim friends and friends of friends. He was finally introduced to students in a Muslim student group at a local high school who were excited to take part in the project.

All photos by Mark Bennington for "America 2.0" unless otherwise noted. Photos used with permission.

"It just so happened that when I was reaching out to the community, the response back was from the youth," Bennington says. "My original intention was not to focus on youth, but that's who responded back."

His project, "America 2.0," focuses on Muslim millennials.

It's a picture-perfect celebration of what it means to be a part of the next generation of leaders of a country at a crossroads.

"This is next gen America — that just happened to be Muslim," Bennington says. "This is a community that deserves representation and deserves to be celebrated."

So far, Bennington has taken around 50 portraits for "America 2.0," and he's not done yet.

Along the way, he's met Muslim people of a variety of different backgrounds. Some were raised in the faith; some converted. Some of the young women wear hijabs; others don't. Each young person is unique, joyful, and determined — exactly what we need in strong leaders.

He hopes to travel around the country taking more pictures for the project. He's currently considering crowdfunding for an outdoor exhibition in Washington, D.C.

"I really feel that the more people see these images ... the more it will start to make these 'micro-differences,' and hopefully that will turn into action. Hopefully that will create a humble movement," Bennington says.

No matter your faith or background, it's important to stand with Muslims against hate, harmful rhetoric, and violence.

Bigotry and discrimination against the Muslim community is not OK, and it's not normal. Now more than ever, we need to support Muslim people in our community by signal-boosting the voices that are making a difference and shouting down anti-Muslim rhetoric.

People with or without faith traditions should have a safe place to reflect or worship, smile, laugh, and be themselves in every corner of the country.

And until that's true, we've all got work to do.

Let the humble movement begin.

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.

This article originally appeared on 08.21.18


Addie Rodriguez was supposed to take the field with her dad during a high school football game, where he, along with other dads, would lift her onto his shoulders for a routine. But Addie's dad was halfway across the country, unable to make the event.

Her father is Abel Rodriguez, a veteran airman who, after tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, was training at Travis Air Force Base in California, 1,700 miles from his family in San Antonio at the time.

"Mom missed the memo it was parent day, and the reason her mom missed the memo was her dad left Wednesday," said Alexis Perry-Rodriguez, Addie's mom. She continued, "It was really heartbreaking to see your daughter standing out there being the only one without their father, knowing why he's away. It's not just an absentee parent. He's serving our country."

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Pop Culture

She bought the perfect wedding dress that went viral on TikTok. It was only $3.75

Lynch is part of a growing line of newlyweds going against the regular wedding tradition of spending loads of money.

Making a priceless memory

Upon first glance, one might think that Jillian Lynch wore a traditional (read: expensive) dress to her wedding. After all, it did look glamorous on her. But this 32-year-old bride has a secret superpower: thrifting.

Lynch posted her bargain hunt on TikTok, sharing that she had been perusing thrift shops in Ohio for four days in a row, with the actual ceremony being only a month away. Lynch then displays an elegant ivory-colored Camila Coelho dress. Fitting perfectly, still brand new and with the tags on it, no less.

You can find that exact same dress on Revolve for $220. Lynch bought it for only $3.75.
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