Here's one way women can help shape the future. Because let's be honest: Men don't have the best track record.
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.
"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 experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.
Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.
Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:
Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug
Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."
Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.
Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.
Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates
According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.
Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."
She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.
Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.
To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.
Image courtesy of Julie Tarman
Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.
The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.
Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.
To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.
Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.
One of the biggest challenges deployed service members face is the feeling of being separated from their families, especially when they have children. It's also very stressful for children to be away from parents who are deployed for long periods of time.
For the past four years, the USO has brought deployed service members and their families closer through a wonderful program that allows them to read together. The Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program gives deployed service members the ability to choose a book, read it on camera, then send both the recording and book to their child.
Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program www.youtube.com
The program was created through a partnership between the Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation and the USO. Hope was one of the most beloved comedians of his generation, and he traveled the world for over six decades, putting on USO shows to boost the morale of the nation's service members.
In 2019, families shared more than 39,000 stories through the program.
The program has been an incredible way for U.S. Army Captain Justin Meredith to connect with his young son Jayden and express himself creatively. Just before he was set to be deployed to the Middle East, he checked into the local USO center where he was introduced to the program. At first, he felt a little awkward in front of the camera but soon took a real shine to making the videos.
When he arrived, he became a regular at USO Camp Buehring in Kuwait where he'd show up every day to read a new book to his son. He began to really liven things up by adopting funny voices, wearing costumes, and using props.
"The zanier that I am on the camera and the goofier the voices, the characters, the props, the more he just really engages with it," Justin said. "My son is so engaged, and he's so happy and he lights up seeing me."
Justin's nightly readings to Jayden had a profound effect on the family by keeping them close while he was away.
Justin Meredith's son and extended family members ended each day by listening to the latest book recording in their custom-made "Just-In-Time Center" while Justin was on deployment in the Middle East.via Courtesy Photo
"It became a life-changing thing, a better way to stay connected, and it was great because while my wife [was] technically raising him [while I was deployed], I could use the books to help influence and mold and help him out with some of the initial things that he's going through," Justin said.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Ruben Pimentel is a father of three and uses the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program to connect with his family while he's deployed. He loves that the recordings will live on long after he's returned from his service overseas.
"I know I'm not there, but I'm able to connect with my family. Even when I'm 60 years old, I'll be able to look back and see myself reading to my kids. It's a family heirloom," Pimentel said.
Sgt. Nick Masi reads a book to his four children while stationed in Afghanistan.via USO
The program is especially popular during the holidays. In 2019, the USO held a special event where service members read "The Night Before Christmas" in front of a festive, fake fire in a costume of their choice.
Sgt. Nick Masi, a father of four, thought the program helped him feel close to his loved ones during the holidays.
"It felt as though the reading program had transported me to be with my family, even if just for one story," he said.
The USO had to temporarily shut down in-person events in centers last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that didn't stop service members from keeping the tradition of reading to their families alive. Service members who are USO volunteers at USO Erbil in Iraq outfitted the back of a pickup truck with a trifold to make a "room" for them to read to their families.
A service member reads a book to his child in the back of a pickup truck. via USO Erbil
The USO team decorated their makeshift set, grabbed some books, and set up a chair.
Then, they hit the road, sharing their studio with service members on-base, stopping at popular places as well as remote areas. The USO's goal was to reach as many service members as possible.
Deployment is hard on service members and their families, but they do it so we can all enjoy peace and freedom at home. So, it's our job to keep them as happy and comfortable as possible during their times of sacrifice.
Click here to see how you can contribute to the USO and support services like the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program, which has helped over 100,000 service members and their families be together, or share a story, when they're miles apart.