This delightful photo series highlighting young Muslims is so wonderfully pure.

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.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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via Fox 5 / YouTube

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But at about the 1:50 mark, he was interrupted by an unaccompanied puppy running down the street towards the news crew.

The dog had a collar but there was no owner in sight.

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Courtesy of CeraVe
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"I love being a nurse because I have the honor of connecting with my patients during some of their best and some of their worst days and making a difference in their lives is among the most rewarding things that I can do in my own life" - Tenesia Richards, RN

From ushering new life into the world to holding the hand of a patient as they take their last breath, nurses are everyday heroes that deserve our respect and appreciation.

To give back to this community that is always giving so selflessly to others, CeraVe® put out a call to nurses to share their stories for a chance to be featured in Heroes Behind the Masks, a digital content series shining a light on nurses who go above and beyond to provide safe and quality care to patients and their communities.

First up: Tenesia Richards, a labor and delivery nurse working in New York City who, in addition to her regular job, started a community outreach program in a homeless shelter that houses expectant mothers for up to one year postpartum.

Tenesia | Heroes Behind the Masks presented by CeraVe www.youtube.com

Upon learning at a conference that black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, one of the widest of all racial disparities in women's health, Richards decided to take further action to help her community. She, along with a handful of fellow nurses, volunteered to provide antepartum, childbirth and postpartum education to the women living at the shelter. Additionally, they looked for other ways to boost the spirits of the residents, like throwing baby showers and bringing in guest speakers. When COVID-19 hit and in-person gatherings were no longer possible, Richards and her team found creative workarounds and created holiday care packages for the mothers instead.

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