What it's like to be black when your state is 94% white.

When Cherie Buckner-Webb was 5 or 6 years old, someone burned a cross in the front yard of her Boise home.

Buckner-Webb and her family had every reason to leave the neighborhood, or even Idaho, after that. Instead, her mother turned an act of bigotry into a powerful teachable moment.

"My father would've liked to taken it and hidden it away," Buckner-Webb says, "and my mom was saying 'Put it on the front porch. We've been living here a year in this neighborhood, and they are late.'"


Boise in the spring. Photo by iStock.

Buckner-Webb is a black face in a white space. And like her mother before her, she's not going anywhere.

She is a fifth-generation black Idahoan, and her family has deep roots in the state. One of her great-grandfathers even founded and built the first black church in the Boise area. Her parents were active in the community, with the NAACP chapter and other local initiatives.

But numbers don't lie: less than 1% of Idaho residents — about 13,250 people — identify as black or African-American, and Buckner-Webb recalls a childhood tinted with the hypervisibility that comes with being the only black face in the group.

"I was very well-behaved and probably because there was a small number of us," she says. "I tell the same thing to my children, 'Nobody will notice anybody that you're with, but they'll notice the one black kid in the group.'"

Image via iStock.

Buckner-Webb credits her mother for telling her the honest truth about the "the way things were."

"It was really important to her that her children had an awareness and understanding of what it is to be black and walk in the world." Buckner-Webb says. "I realized quickly that our way of being was different and unique to the kids I went to school with."

She made connections and built a lot of her community at church.

"It seemed like almost everybody black in Idaho, whether it was for the National Guard or whatever, we all met up [in church]," she says. "It had a lot to do with religion, but it had a lot to do with a place you saw people who look like you, a gathering place."

Image by iStock.

Across the country, Curtiss Reed is working on building community and gathering places for all Vermonters, but especially people of color.

Reed was living in St. Louis but working on a consulting project in Washington, D.C., when a friend invited him up to Vermont for a ski weekend in 1978.

"I found it picture postcard perfect," he says. "And six months later, I moved — relocated to Vermont."

Reed lived and worked in the Green Mountain State for five years, then spent nearly two decades traveling and working abroad. He lived and worked in France, Tunisia, Burundi, and more. But when it was time to return to the states in 2001, there was only one place Reed wanted to be: Vermont.

Vermont in the fall. Photo by iStock.

"When I was overseas, I voted absentee ballot, got the newspapers three or four weeks after the fact, paid my taxes, etc. This has always been home," he says.

But much like in Idaho, Vermont's black population is staggeringly small. There are approximately 8,100 black people (1.3% of the population) in the entire state. That's about .84 of a black person per square mile. To put it in perspective, there are approximately 52 black people per square mile in Florida. States like Vermont are blinding whiteness, and black people in these regions are truly few and far between.

Today, Reed lives in Brattleboro and is executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity.

"We are the organization people turn to when they want to address issues of equity in the public sphere," he says. Recruiting employees and visitors of color is more than a "nice-to-have." For Vermont, it's now or never.

The state's low birth rate and large percentage of people over 65 (17.6%) means Vermont is in desperate need of more people. Not just skilled workers to replenish the work force, but visitors to keep the state's thriving outdoor tourism industry afloat.

"Vermont's future is inextricably tied to it's ability for the state to be an attractive destination for folks of color," Reed says.

It's a snowy day in Burlington, Vermont. Photo by Jordan Silverman/Getty Images.

To build community and foster new relationships, both Buckner-Webb and Reed have tapped into local black history.

Buckner-Webb is on the board of the Idaho Black History Museum. Housed in the church founded by her great-grandfather, the building was lifted off its foundation and moved to a local park. Since 1995, guests have enjoyed exhibits, guest lectures, musical performances, and community programs.

"It's possibly the first black history museum in the Pacific Northwest," she says.

Reed partnered with the Department of Tourism to develop the Vermont African-American Heritage Trail. The route takes visitors of all ages to 20 different museums and cultural and historic sites throughout the state. The governor of Vermont even named February 2017 Vermont African-American Heritage Trail Month. After all, "Black history is Vermont history," Reed says.

A marker outside the Old Constitution House, one of many historic sites on the Vermont African-American Heritage Trail. Photo by Doug Kerr/Flickr.

For Buckner-Webb and Reed, their love for their state is more than hometown pride — it's a calling.

In 2010, after being asked off and on for more than 25 years, Buckner-Webb decided to run for state office. She didn't know if she'd have the patience to make it happen, but a friend ultimately convinced her.

"[She told me] you have some work to do. One woman can make a difference," Buckner-Webb recalls.

She filed the next day.

Buckner-Webb was elected to the Idaho House of Representatives that year and to the State Senate in 2012, 2014, and 2016. A Democrat in a conservative stronghold, she is used to standing up to adversity. And she's had decades of practice.

The Idaho Capitol. Photo by iStock.

"I'm a super-minority in a super-minority party in Idaho, so I have a lot of experience that way," she says.

Buckner-Webb is the first and only black person to be elected to the state legislature in Idaho, and she currently serves as assistant minority leader. While Buckner-Webb is used to sticking out, she'd rather have some company in the state house.

"One of my legacies I hope to leave is that there will be many more after me — or right now would be fine. With me, with me," she says with a laugh.

Meanwhile, Reed travels almost every day across Vermont, reaching out to employers, community leaders, and more about the importance of recruiting, hiring, and building community for people of color.

From signal boosting resources and personal stories and planning an annual conference for leaders of color and executive and legislative leadership, to talking with police departments and local municipalities about implicit bias, Reed's work is never done.

"We spend a considerable amount of time building community by example," he says.

Being a black face in a white space is a universally specific experience that's neither all good nor bad.

I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, a college town less than three hours from Chicago and 78% white. Since college, I've lived in Tennessee, Florida, Missouri, and now Portland, Oregon. In every stop, save for my brief stint in Jacksonville, Florida, I felt out of place as a black woman. I was both hypervisible and invisible simultaneously. I'd go from being followed around a department store to being brushed off and ignored by waitstaff at dinner.

Image by iStock.

That notion of hypervisibility and invisibility are themes I noticed in both Buckner-Webb's and Reed's experiences. But like them, I also have a sense of pride and passion for the place I grew up. Madison is, for better or worse, my hometown.

For black Americans, home is not limited to certain zip codes, cities, states, or regions of the country. Though black people in majority white spaces face the additional challenge of lacking critical mass, our lived experiences aren't any less valid or "black" than anyone else's. (Did you hear that, Donald Trump?)

In fact, both Reed and Buckner-Webb said their smaller communities have their own advantages.

"My husband is from Atlanta, Georgia, and I think the opportunities to succeed might be a little bit easier [here]," Buckner-Webb says. "Probably because there's not a critical mass here to scare people. People are not comfortable with people that don't look like them, you know what I mean? It is a relatively welcoming place. There are opportunities to make your way here."

Boise in the fall. Photo by iStock.

For Reed, Vermont's small towns foster community and collaboration in a way other regions simply can't.

"We have 251 towns in the state. They're small. On a day like today — it looks like we have about two feet of snow — you need your neighbor to help shovel, or plow, or move your car out of a ditch. I think in that case, the weather, geography, living in smaller communities really focuses people on what it means to be neighborly."

Horses dine in Putney, Vermont. Photo by iStock.

Black people helped lay the foundation for this country, and today, we are everywhere.

Whether home is Boise, Brattleboro, Portland, Chicago, or Atlanta, black people are building communities, fostering relationships, and making a difference from coast to coast. Whether invisible or hypervisible, we are here. And we will continue to live, love, and contribute to our communities for generations to come.

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."