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Meet Ash-Lee Henderson-The Affrilachian Activist and Organizer Fighting for Racial Equality

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Ash Lee Henderson with big dark curly hair and glasses wearing a beige jacket, with a grey shirt and jewelry while standing in a building with long beige drapes and windows.

 

 

Source: Ash-Lee Henderson

Ash-Lee Henderson is the first Black woman to serve as the Executive Director of the Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee. She identifies as Affrilachian (Black Appalachian) and was born and raised in Southeast Tennessee, attending East Tennessee University. Henderson is an active participant in the Movement for Black Lives and a strong member of the Southern Freedom Movement and resistance of black liberation struggles in the U.S.

I grew up in a family that believed that part of our requirement for being on this earth is making sure that the other people in our neighborhood and in our communities are taken care of,” declared Henderson with pride.

Even when Henderson’s family had barely anything, they made sure to put others first, and they lived through Black liberation theology. The main idea of this theology is that people are born with the purpose to do good work for others. The Tennessee River Valley is where the Black struggle and liberation struggle have had a long legacy.

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“It’s a place where people have been struggling against Capitalism and White supremacy and homophobia and transphobia.”

Henderson’s life changed drastically when she visited a voter registration table at her school and noticed that they were not talking to Black students; instead, they were only talking to the White students.

This was when she realized that she needed to do something about the separation between students at her school. She contacted a man named Johnny Holloway, the Chair of the Rainbow Clutch Coalition, who told her stories about the civil rights movement.

“I was sitting at the feet of some of the greatest activists I’ve ever known.”

Holloway then gave Henderson an opportunity to get involved and take action. She was offered participation in the reenactment of the Freedom Ride of the sixties. He told her that if she organized the Chattanooga stop, she could have a seat on the bus.

Henderson enthusiastically agreed and organized the voter registration drive in Chattanooga. Over the month-long tour, Henderson got to meet inspirational people and developed a stronger passion for activism.

“It changed my life. It started a lifelong commitment in a self-chosen way. I found my calling and have been doing it ever since.” 

In May, Holloway got involved in the Mountain Justice organization, which is a grassroots movement that raises awareness of mountaintop removal mining and its effects on the environment and the peoples of Appalachia.

“It was the first time I had participated in an environmental direct action.”

Henderson reflected on the community that the Mountain Justice organization built and how each individual was fully committed to the mission of the movement. 

“Do I think it has been easy? No, but do I think it has been worth it? Absolutely.” 

The Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee is working on many different programs that make sure there is a physical space that people participating in social movements can go to for whatever they need. This could be for rest, security, conversation, or learning about the methodologies surrounding proper education and place-based organizing.

A few programs that are currently active include a youth fire safety program, a land liberation program, and a program working to build social solidarity economies through a curriculum facilitating a discussion about how the economy could be improved. Henderson is also supporting other organizations, making sure they have access to the resources they need to succeed.

Henderson listed the three main aspects of the organization. The first, transformative justice, is done by transforming communities through educating and supporting individuals in creating change in society. The second, movement accompaniment and support, is done with lifelong support for those doing radical work to transform their society. The third is incubating and innovating radical work.

By fiscally sponsoring organizations, the Highlander Research and Education Center has helped them sustain their work and win in their movement to change society for the better.

“The Movement for Black Lives has been committed to making possible today what was impossible yesterday.”

According to Henderson, what people can do to dismantle White supremacy and anti-Black racism includes everything from signing petitions to marching to spreading awareness, among other things. There is space for everyone to step up and participate in this movement.

Even though everything is online and social distancing has also taken precedence, conversations can still be held on social media. There are still protests in all 50 US states and 18 different countries. It’s just about keeping it up and breaking the boundaries that may get in the way.

“So much of the cultural expression of the U.S., so much of the infrastructure of the U.S., so much of the heart and soul that has built this country is actually a part of the Black tradition.”

Henderson brought attention to the connection between what makes America what it is and the Black experience. The promise of the U.S. is to embody a place where each person is able to work together equally. The role of members of society is to use activism to prevent the state from allowing injustice to occur. She spoke about the consistent failure of the criminal legal system to fix the social harms that have been deemed accountable.

“The call for abolition is one that not only is fiscally smart, is strategically and tactically smart, but is one that we know is possible.”

Henderson urges everyone to join an organization that focuses on what they want to change in the world. Committing to an organization can help support activism not only in your community, but in communities all over the world. Though cultures all over the world differ in many ways, standing up for what you believe in is a way to merge all those cultures together to form a united world.

“My goal is to love Black people, to love women, to love LGBTQ+ folks, to love working-class people with everything I’ve got, and every word and action that I take. That is actually the commitment of building a new world.” 

Through her faith and support from her friends and family, Henderson has and will continue to work and fight for the Movement for Black Lives and the Southern Freedom Movement. She is leading the resistance of Black liberation struggles in the US.

Credits:
Host & Producer: Cielo
Lead Producer: Alla Issa
Developer: Nick Murrin
Editor & Writer: Sydney Murphy

MYVOS Talks

How Johnny Ward Made Millions Travelling Around the World And Inspiring People Through His Travel Blog

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A portrait of Johnny Ward

Johnny Ward is a famous travel blogger that has traveled to every single country on the planet. 

He has built an empire blogging with his site, “One Step 4Ward.” After growing up on welfare in Ireland, attending university and moving to the United States after graduation, Ward dreamed of traveling the world country by country. 

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“I wanted to show people from around the world that you can still do what you want to do even without the proper financial support in the beginning, said Ward” 

Ward found different ways to earn his own funds to financially support his dream. In the end, he became an English teacher in Thailand, traveled around Asia, and landed jobs teaching English in other countries such as South Korea. In Australia, he realized that he wanted to share with others his experience stepping into the world. 

Johnny Ward leaning against a blow-up globe

Ward created a blog in order to teach others what he had done and how he was still able to achieve his dream of traveling the world. While traveling from Cape Town to Syria using public transport, he blogged many of his traveling days. When Ward began to earn money for the posts he was creating, he realized how much his work was appreciated by viewers and decided to continue blogging full time. Traveling came with amazing experiences and baffling stories that Ward now shares with people all over the world. 

Ward has made over 2 million blog posts, and throughout his journey, he overcame many challenges and learned how to work through trial and error. It took him a lot of self-motivation to realize that his upbringing did not have to define the rest of his life or his success. 

“People think that victimhood is some sort of currency. They argue about who’s had it hard rather than getting on with it. There is nothing stopping you from being a success.” 

After Ward grew to love each community he visited, he created a way to give back to those communities that had given him so much joy. He created Mudita Adventures, a nonprofit organization to help others take opportunities to participate in service projects all over the world. Ward’s favorite place in the world is Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he is now building a villa to celebrate his success.

A portrait of Johnny Ward.

Ward has learned a lot about the media market and has shared many of his findings with his supporters. Ward advises listeners and readers to steer clear from the idea that the marketplace is saturated. There is space for any quality product. Believe in the success that you will have in your venture. 

“Don’t get hung up on your shortcomings.”
Ward has also written an e-book, which he is offering for free on his blog website. Blogging Brought Me Here is a first-hand account of how blogging and traveling changed Ward’s life and how they can change yours as well. It even includes tips on how to start your own blog!

Credits:
Host & Producer & Editor: Cielo
Developer: Mark Starbinski
Editor & Writer: Sydney Murphy

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MYVOS Talks

Meet Grace Strobel-The Down Syndrome Model Elevating Empathy In the Modeling World

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Grace Strobel wearing a white shirt and jeans smiling.
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Grace Strobel is a Down syndrome model taking the modeling industry by storm.  At 24, she has signed with three modeling agencies and recently became the first American model with Down syndrome to represent a skincare line. Grace, through her career, strives to promote acceptance and the illumination of gifts and talents of all people. She is also committed to being a light for people with disabilities

The Grace Effect is a 45-minute presentation that Grace created in 2017 to educate others on what it is like for her to live with Down syndrome, and the importance of practicing kindness, respect, and overcoming struggles. When Strobel was working in the lunchroom, other kids made fun of her for not being able to do certain tasks at school. Through the victimization, Strobel realized that the other kids didn’t understand what it was like for her to live with Down syndrome, especially through the lack of fine motor skills that make her syndrome more apparent. Her mother, Linda Strobel, has been incredibly supportive throughout her daughter’s journey of launching The Grace Effect

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“Sometimes people fear what they don’t understand,” said Linda 

Through her projects and her modeling career, Strobel has been given a voice and a chance to change peoples’ understanding of disabilities. Strobel began by posting photos on her Instagram and Facebook accounts, and she was soon discovered by a modeling agency. She has now walked the runway in St. Luis and Atlantic City, N.J., and virtually in Runway of Dreams and New York Fashion Week. Strobel’s parents are proud of how much she has been able to accomplish this early in her career and how strong she has been in getting over her challenges. 

“Our biggest triumphs are our biggest struggles,” said Linda.

Strobel’s father, Jeff, appreciates all of the kindness people have shown his daughter and family. He has also supported her in her career. Strobel is now just 24 years old, and has paved the way for many other people to step into the spotlight and break more barriers in the fashion industry, and many other industries with limited career opportunities for those with disabilities. 

“I knew she was beautiful and I always knew that she had value and worth to the world,” said Linda

Strobel believes that she was called to advocate for herself and others. When speaking to others who feel ostracized, or feel that they don’t have the worth to be in the spotlight, Strobel encourages them to “speak for themselves, be confident, work hard, and never give up.” 

“I’m a model, I’m a speaker, I’m an advocate,” said Grace

Confidence is an important factor in modeling and Strobel has practiced positive affirmations and body positivity to build up her confidence. Everyone has their own insecurities, and the message that Strobel is spreading shows people that no matter who you are or what you are living with, no one deserves negative judgment.

The Grace Effect also addresses the danger of cyberbullying and the importance of kids hiding behind computer screens putting themselves in the shoes of the kids they are attacking. She is not only helping those who are victims of bullying, but she is also helping bullies see the harm that they are inflicting. 

“I know she is changing minds and hearts one speech at a time. She is helping people see others in a valued way,” said Linda

Strobel is overcoming the standards of the modeling world. She is part of the movement that is breaking down race, body image, accessibility, and many other stereotypes of the modeling/fashion industry. The world still has a long way to go with its acceptance of disabilities. Strobel has learned of the importance of surrounding herself with a support system.

Credits:
Host & Producer & Editor: Cielo
Developer: Mark Starbinski
Editor & Writer: Sydney Murphy

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MYVOS Talks

Outliving Cancer and Changing Lives Through Exploration-Meet Angelina Mangiardi

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Angelina Mangiardi sitting outside, laughing

Angelina Mangiardi (aka “Katniss”) grew up in Western Massachusetts on a farm where she grew to love nature and thrived in the open countryside. At just nineteen, her life completely turned upside down after she was diagnosed with bone cancer. At the time of her diagnosis, she was attending the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in NYC to pursue her dream of entering the fashion industry as a stylist but she had to put her dreams on hold to start chemo treatment.

Mangiardi’s battle with cancer was a tough one but she never lost hope. Mangiardi’s treatment plan involved six 21-day cycles of chemotherapy, with a 96-hour infusion and five-day hospital stay required with each treatment. After finishing chemo, Mangiardi completed nineteen grueling rounds of radiation. After six painful months of treatment, the cancer was gone.

“Everything happened so quickly that I just went into survival mode,” explains Mangiardi. 

While in the hospital, Angelina started researching cancer resources, and she stumbled upon First Descents, an outdoors program for cancer patients that completely changed her life. She got to experience the healing power of spending time outdoors, and she formed a passion for bringing people closer to nature. With her shifting dreams, Mangiardi studied environmental science and worked as the Environmental Education Program Assistant at Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) in Fairbanks, Alaska.

After experiencing many adventures in Alaska, she went to work as the Farm-to-School Coordinator for Mālama Kaua’i, a non-profit organization working for sustainability across Kaua’i. Mangiardi kept up with her leadership responsibilities and later on, decided to continue where she had left off with her passion for introducing others to the natural world. She returned to First Descents after her first year in remission and joined the team as the Program Coordinator to help introduce others to the power of adventure that she had discovered while she was a participant in the program. 

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Mangiardi’s motto is, “outliving it” because she has connected with the importance of surviving cancer and going outside of her comfort zone to live whatever life she wants for herself no matter what may challenge her along the way. 

“Everything in my life, the career path, and things that fulfill me all stem from the lessons I learned from surviving cancer.”

As Mangiardi reflects on what it was like in the moment of being told that she was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, she remembers how she needed to understand how to cope. That she did not need to stay perfectly strong the entire time. She needed to live positively, but also accept that there would be times when it was okay to not be okay. When she did need to break down and let out the negative emotions that she may try to hold in. Mangiardi has gotten to meet and connect with many other young adults dealing with similar challenges as she has. 

“There is this unspoken bond and instant connection between us. Everyone in the cancer community understands it.”

First Descents is one of the ways Mangiardi has felt this bond with others. She has gotten to go climbing, boating, surfing, and reclaim her life through the First Descents program. She has transitioned from a participant to a Program Coordinator. 

Discovering the rock climbing program at First Descents changed Mangiardi’s perspective on the challenges she faced. She focuses on accessibility and adaptability at First Descents to make sure that no matter the medical situation people are in, they are welcome in the program. First Descents offers outdoor experiential programming, skill development, and aims to improve the long-term survivorship of young adults living with serious health conditions. Mangiardi sees the importance of keeping nature in our daily lives and the impact it can have on our mental health. 

“Find ways to connect with your environment and what is around you.” 

The power that this program has had on so many young peoples’ lives is being spread through social media for others to discover. Check out their Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and share about this amazing opportunity with anyone you know who may appreciate this program as much as Mangiardi. Help more people discover the beauty of nature and outlive their own challenges. 

Credits:
Host & Producer: Cielo
Editor & Writer: Sydney Murphy

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