This Anti-Bullying App Helps You Brighten Someone’s Day In Seconds

Austin Kevitch was in high school when he first came up with the idea for an app that would allow users to send compliments to each other anonymously. But it wasn’t until tragedy struck years later that he decided to turn that idea into reality. 

Kevitch was studying abroad in South Africa when his friend, Oliver Pacchiana, died in a rock climbing accident. Soon after, positive and loving messages flooded Pacchiana’s Facebook wall. The tributes moved Kevitch deeply, and he imagined how much they would have meant to his friend if he’d received them while he was alive.

“Just hearing one of those comments could change your life,” said Kevitch, now 25 and the CEO of the app Brighten. “I learned a lot about him just from what people were sharing. It was a wake-up call that the world needs something like [Brighten].”

Today, Kevitch runs Brighten out of Santa Monica, California, with a six-person staff. The app, downloaded over 1 million times since its 2015 release, allows users to send out anonymous compliments called “brightens,” although Kevitch says most people choose to identify themselves. Users can also send a snapshot of their smile to the person who complimented them. 

Social media can be a minefield of anxiety for many, so Kevitch has made it his mission to create a space that’s focused on spreading positivity.

“It’s all about establishing a positive culture,” he said. “No one is inherently bad. People just have bad days and project that negativity onto someone else.” 

The positivity is now spreading through communities and classrooms, with many educators embracing the app as an anti-bullying tool.

Lauren Naselli, a third-grade teacher in in Bridgewater, New Jersey, began using Brighten with co-teacher Courtney Rothkugel last year, after their principal encouraged them to test it out with students.

Since the school uses Chromebooks, students couldn’t work with the actual app (Brighten is currently available only to iOS users), but Naselli came up with a low-tech way to teach the concept.

Each day, a different group of students received pieces of paper with hand-drawn iPhones on them. The students would write their own “brightens” on the papers and hand them out to different students each day.

“They loved it,” Naselli said. “It created a warm and comfortable environment. … Our class really lifted each other up and supported one another.”

She reached out to Brighten to see if there was a version of the app she could use in her classroom. Kevitch said his team was so touched by her story that they sent Naselli’s students free Brighten t-shirts. An Android version of the app is currently in the works. 

Naselli said she’s “super sensitive” to bullying and was pleased to see how the Brighten-inspired activity created class unity. “There are people with good hearts everywhere,” she said. “And I think this app can help bring that out.” 

Tim Cannon, who has been friends with Kevitch since high school, left his corporate job in Chicago to lead Brighten’s community outreach program. He now works with more than 1,000 high school and college students who volunteer to promote the app on their campuses. 

“To know that I’ve at least given it my all to put something good out in the world ― I wake up every day feeling grateful and appreciative and happy,” he said.

Brighten recently partnered with the gun violence prevention organization Sandy Hook Promise for “Start With Hello Week,” a weeklong effort to fight social isolation. Students in more than 1,700 schools will be introduced to the app. 

More than 20 percent of students ages 12 to 18 report being bullied, according to a 2015 survey conducted by the Department of Education.

Anti-bullying expert Dr. Malcolm Smith is optimistic about Brighten’s “power to use social media to do good,” though he is hesitant to embrace the app’s anonymity feature as a way to combat cyberbullying.

“Anytime a child can say something positive to someone ― even if it’s someone they don’t know ― it causes a very positive brain interaction,” Smith said of the app. “But it’s so much better for a person’s soul to give a compliments in person.”

First lady Melania Trump announced her desire to tackle online bullying in November. Though President Donald Trump frequently engages in cyberbullying on Twitter, Kevitch said he would gladly partner with the White House if it would spark positive change in society at large. 

“I think it’s going to benefit the current generation of high schoolers,” Kevitch said. “Melania, if you’re reading this, text me. Send me a Brighten compliment.”

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Austin Kevitch was in high school when he first came up with the idea for an app that would allow users to send compliments to each other anonymously. But it wasn’t until tragedy struck years later that he decided to turn that idea into reality. 

Kevitch was studying abroad in South Africa when his friend, Oliver Pacchiana, died in a rock climbing accident. Soon after, positive and loving messages flooded Pacchiana’s Facebook wall. The tributes moved Kevitch deeply, and he imagined how much they would have meant to his friend if he’d received them while he was alive.

“Just hearing one of those comments could change your life,” said Kevitch, now 25 and the CEO of the app Brighten. “I learned a lot about him just from what people were sharing. It was a wake-up call that the world needs something like [Brighten].”

Today, Kevitch runs Brighten out of Santa Monica, California, with a six-person staff. The app, downloaded over 1 million times since its 2015 release, allows users to send out anonymous compliments called “brightens,” although Kevitch says most people choose to identify themselves. Users can also send a snapshot of their smile to the person who complimented them. 

Social media can be a minefield of anxiety for many, so Kevitch has made it his mission to create a space that’s focused on spreading positivity.

“It’s all about establishing a positive culture,” he said. “No one is inherently bad. People just have bad days and project that negativity onto someone else.” 

The positivity is now spreading through communities and classrooms, with many educators embracing the app as an anti-bullying tool.

Lauren Naselli, a third-grade teacher in in Bridgewater, New Jersey, began using Brighten with co-teacher Courtney Rothkugel last year, after their principal encouraged them to test it out with students.

Since the school uses Chromebooks, students couldn’t work with the actual app (Brighten is currently available only to iOS users), but Naselli came up with a low-tech way to teach the concept.

Each day, a different group of students received pieces of paper with hand-drawn iPhones on them. The students would write their own “brightens” on the papers and hand them out to different students each day.

“They loved it,” Naselli said. “It created a warm and comfortable environment. … Our class really lifted each other up and supported one another.”

She reached out to Brighten to see if there was a version of the app she could use in her classroom. Kevitch said his team was so touched by her story that they sent Naselli’s students free Brighten t-shirts. An Android version of the app is currently in the works. 

Naselli said she’s “super sensitive” to bullying and was pleased to see how the Brighten-inspired activity created class unity. “There are people with good hearts everywhere,” she said. “And I think this app can help bring that out.” 

Tim Cannon, who has been friends with Kevitch since high school, left his corporate job in Chicago to lead Brighten’s community outreach program. He now works with more than 1,000 high school and college students who volunteer to promote the app on their campuses. 

“To know that I’ve at least given it my all to put something good out in the world ― I wake up every day feeling grateful and appreciative and happy,” he said.

Brighten recently partnered with the gun violence prevention organization Sandy Hook Promise for “Start With Hello Week,” a weeklong effort to fight social isolation. Students in more than 1,700 schools will be introduced to the app. 

More than 20 percent of students ages 12 to 18 report being bullied, according to a 2015 survey conducted by the Department of Education.

Anti-bullying expert Dr. Malcolm Smith is optimistic about Brighten’s “power to use social media to do good,” though he is hesitant to embrace the app’s anonymity feature as a way to combat cyberbullying.

“Anytime a child can say something positive to someone ― even if it’s someone they don’t know ― it causes a very positive brain interaction,” Smith said of the app. “But it’s so much better for a person’s soul to give a compliments in person.”

First lady Melania Trump announced her desire to tackle online bullying in November. Though President Donald Trump frequently engages in cyberbullying on Twitter, Kevitch said he would gladly partner with the White House if it would spark positive change in society at large. 

“I think it’s going to benefit the current generation of high schoolers,” Kevitch said. “Melania, if you’re reading this, text me. Send me a Brighten compliment.”

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February 2, 2017

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LGBTQ Activists Organizing Massive Dance Protest At Trump Hotel

LGBTQ activists are planning to come together in a display of solidarity and resistance against the actions of President Donald Trump’s administration in one of the queerest ways possible: a massive dance party.

WERK for Peace, the same group of people who organized a queer dance party outside of Vice President Mike Pence’s home in January, are organizing a similar event, this time beginning at the Trump Hotel in Washington D.C. and then parading towards the White House.

According to WERK for Peace founding organizer Firas Nsar, this massive dance celebration is focused on solidarity, intersectionality, and resistance among marginalized people. 

“The executive orders that Donald Trump has passed in the mere week and half of being in office have further marginalized nearly all disenfranchised groups in the US,” Nsar told The Huffington Post. “We believe that any attempt to marginalize or attack any one community is a direct attack on all of the diverse communities in the US. In response, we choose to use love and connection to uplift our communities, celebrate our intersectionality and differences, and come together as one unified coalition. We want to send the message that we will not allow discrimination, bigotry, or hate against any community in our country to break us apart. We celebrate together.”

The last WERK for Peace dance party brought together hundreds of LGBTQ people and their allies, and here’s hoping that this event will have an even larger turnout. 

The event is slated to take place on Friday, Feb. 3 at 6:00 p.m. beginning at the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. Head here for more information. 

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LGBTQ activists are planning to come together in a display of solidarity and resistance against the actions of President Donald Trump’s administration in one of the queerest ways possible: a massive dance party.

WERK for Peace, the same group of people who organized a queer dance party outside of Vice President Mike Pence’s home in January, are organizing a similar event, this time beginning at the Trump Hotel in Washington D.C. and then parading towards the White House.

According to WERK for Peace founding organizer Firas Nsar, this massive dance celebration is focused on solidarity, intersectionality, and resistance among marginalized people. 

“The executive orders that Donald Trump has passed in the mere week and half of being in office have further marginalized nearly all disenfranchised groups in the US,” Nsar told The Huffington Post. “We believe that any attempt to marginalize or attack any one community is a direct attack on all of the diverse communities in the US. In response, we choose to use love and connection to uplift our communities, celebrate our intersectionality and differences, and come together as one unified coalition. We want to send the message that we will not allow discrimination, bigotry, or hate against any community in our country to break us apart. We celebrate together.”

The last WERK for Peace dance party brought together hundreds of LGBTQ people and their allies, and here’s hoping that this event will have an even larger turnout. 

The event is slated to take place on Friday, Feb. 3 at 6:00 p.m. beginning at the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. Head here for more information. 

— This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

February 2, 2017

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How Planned Parenthood has helped millions of women, including me

By Maureen Miller, Columbia University Medical Center

Planned Parenthood has allowed generations of low-income women to survive childbirth, to combat sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and to plan their pregnancies. However, the fact that women live healthier and longer lives is not Planned Parenthood’s ultimate superpower. No, that is reserved for the legions of low-income women, including me, who now have been given the opportunity to dramatically move up the economic ladder and prosper.

For millions of women, Planned Parenthood is at once a symbol of and a means to women’s empowerment. Since the organization helped topple cultural norms that held back women, it’s no surprise that men, many of whom feel excluded from this process, grasp familiar though outdated standards to justify defunding it.

Recently, Republican congressional leadership has tied the defunding of Planned Parenthood (along with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act) to the upcoming budget reconciliation bill, which needs only a simple majority of senators to pass. It is hard to say what will happen next. Although all sides acknowledge the odds favor Republican efforts, they also acknowledge that Planned Parenthood will not go down without a fight.

As a public health researcher with expertise in the social factors that influence disease transmission, especially sexually transmitted infections, I think it’s important to look at the history and the facts about Planned Parenthood. Many lies have been told about it, and it’s important to know the truth.

More than 100 years of promoting reproductive health

In 2016, Planned Parenthood celebrated its 100th year of existence. In 1916, Margaret Sanger opened the first Planned Parenthood, a birth control clinic, in Brownsville, Brooklyn to address the hardships that childbirth and self-induced abortions brought to low-income women. She and her colleagues were promptly arrested.

So began the many legal and political battles Planned Parenthood has waged over the control of women’s fertility. Yet it was men who had the strongest impact on the social acceptance of birth control at that time. World War I saw the largest global mobilization and deployment of populations in history. Since the populations were almost exclusively young men, this led, not surprisingly, to a massive increase in STIs, then called venereal disease. Suddenly, “birth control” seemed like a really good idea.

In fact, even today the largest percentage (41 percent) of Planned Parenthood’s budget is spent on testing and treating STIs, followed by contraceptive services (31 percent) for both women and men. The number of men who receive services such as testing for STIs and checkups for reproductive or sexual health issues from Planned Parenthood has grown steadily and has increased by almost 100 percent over the past decade.

All of these statistics are buried in data-filled documents that are hard to find and daunting to review. But here are some numbers readily available: In 2014 (the most recent year for which complete data are available) Planned Parenthood operated with a budget of US$1.3 billion, more than 40 percent of which came from the federal government (mostly in the form of Medicaid reimbursements). It provided almost 10 million clinical services to about two and a half million patients, the majority of whom were low-income.

Men have lobbied for the inclusion of men in maternal and child health (MCH) programs. Beginning in 1975, Alan Rosenfield, the former dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, established a series of sexual health clinics in Upper Manhattan, including one of the first “Young Men’s Health” clinics.

However, it was his groundbreaking and oft-cited piece in The Lancet, “Maternal mortality: a neglected tragedy,” that provided influential public support for Planned Parenthood missions to prevent women dying from pregnancy-related complications and the need for family planning.

It is perhaps no surprise that all of this attention on women’s sexual rights, combined with the widespread uptake of oral contraceptives – the “pill,” the first entirely female-controlled method of pregnancy prevention – found Planned Parenthood once again at the center of a firestorm, of which I was blissfully unaware on my first visit to Planned Parenthood.

A personal story

When I was 14 years old, my mother dropped me off at the local Planned Parenthood and told me she’d be back in an hour. Up until that day, she had been the only person willing to answer the myriad questions about sex posed by her breathless and curious all-girl 4-H troop, of which I was a member. (I doubt they would have approved her choice of troop leader topics.)

At the time, filmstrips of Roman gods and goddesses with strategically draped fig leaves passed for sex education at our school. Now, my mother had reached her limit. Despite my delusions of sophistication (I was the recent owner of two-inch heeled, cork-bottomed white clogs), the idea that I would actually have sex with someone – with a man! – was the farthest thing from my mind.

As I headed toward the entrance, head down and slump-shouldered, to attend a real sex education class, I searched for the words and the nerve to announce myself to the receptionist. I didn’t even have to open my mouth. I was whisked away to a room filled with eight other girls. None of us made eye contact, but my eyes were certainly opened that day.

Did I mention that my mother had me when she was 19 years old?

My mother, who was the first in her family to go to college, did not graduate. I have a Ph.D. I was given the privilege to determine the course and timing of my reproductive life. Though not without bumps, reproductive freedom allowed me to pursue academic and professional dreams. This was an opportunity not afforded to my mother, though one she made darn sure that both my sister and I would have.

Educational gains: A connection?

Over the last decade in the U.S., the number of women attending college has greatly eclipsed the number of men attending. This is true across communities: Among Latinos there is a 13 percent point gap in college enrollment between women and men, among African-Americans a 12 percent gap and among whites a 10 percent gap.

The result is economic independence for women, but at social cost. Highly educated women are being urged to date and marry “down,” given the dearth of equally educated men. This bucks the traditional norm in which the man is the primary breadwinner and the woman is the stay-at-home mom, a philosophy to which research shows both men and women continue to subscribe.

This cataclysmic shift of women’s economic independence, along with rapidly changing demographics in the U.S., has given rise to nostalgia for the “old days” as well as calls to challenge the morality of sexual harassment and discrimination implicitly associated with the old days. Fueling these divergent attitudes is a sense of real frustration on both sides and, perhaps more importantly, an inability to communicate and find common ground.

But there may be ways to take emotion out of the equation, especially for Planned Parenthood. Throughout the history of the organization, men have played an outsized role in support of the Planned Parenthood mission and now make up a larger percentage of patients than ever before.

As the name implies, Planned Parenthood is not only a woman’s organization, it is also a man’s organization that increasing numbers of men are beginning to recognize. Like parenthood itself, the success of the organization will require the actions and support of both women and men. It’s time that men know that they, too, benefit directly from Planned Parenthood.

The ConversationMaureen Miller, Professor, Columbia University Medical Center

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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February 2, 2017

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