They were targeted by a cruel TikTok challenge. How they responded is an example to us all.

As kids have prepared to go back to school in recent weeks, a cruel prank has circulated on TikTok. Dubbed the #NewTeacherChallenge, parents are sharing videos of them telling their kids that they have a new teacher, showing the kids the face of someone who is disabled or who has a facial deformity or disfigurement, and then filming the child's reaction.

If that sounds horrible, it's because it is.

The people whose faces are being used in this challenge have every right to be angry and hurt. There is no excuse for this kind of behavior, and no one would blame them if they colorfully told the whole internet to shove it.

But two of the targets in these challenges are well-known disability activists who somehow manage to always take the high road, serving as an example to the rest of us. Their ability to respond to people's basest behaviors with dignity and strength, calling out the cruelty with clear and calm eloquence, saying over and over again, "It is absolutely not okay to treat me or any other human being this way and here's why," is awe-inspiring. If you want a role model for your kids, look to these ladies.


Lizzie Velasquez was born with a rare congenital disease called Marfanoid–progeroid–lipodystrophy syndrome, which prevents her from putting on weight, among other physical symptoms After being dubbed "The World's Ugliest Woman" at age 17, she became a popular of advocacy for people who are different, for anti-bullying, and for teaching empathy and compassion. She continues to be an ongoing target of horrible memes and jokes, and yet she continues to respond by teaching valuable lessons and showing her own kind heart with her motivational speaking.

She shared a video when the New Teacher Challenge first started surfacing, explaining how the prank was not okay:

This week, she posted another video showing how not to teach your kids about empathy utilizing this challenge. Some parents might use it as a teaching opportunity, getting kids to see why their own reactions are unkind, but if the parent's own reaction to the reaction is to laugh, then kids can get confused and the lesson gets lost.

Responses to Velasquez's videos have been largely positive, but of course she has also received even more cruel messages. And again, she reacts by stating that these people "need help figuring out how to channel their own anger/hate in a way that doesn't hurt someone else." (I would personally like to tell these people to shove it on her behalf, but I will try to follow her example.)

Melissa Blake is another disability activist and writer who has been the subject of countless jokes, memes, and pranks on social media. She wrote an article for Refinery29 about her face being used as a prop for unkindness-as-entertainment in the New Teacher Challenge.

One thing she pointed out was that the parents making these videos aren't just being cruel to her and others with disabilities, but also to their own children.

"I can't help but feel sorry for their children," she wrote. "Imagine your mom filming a vulnerable moment, one where you can't help but burst into tears, and they actually post it for the whole world to see. How is humiliating your child, or watching other children go through that, a source of amusement?"

She was also direct about the impact this cruel treatment has on her personally:

"I want to be clear: I am violated. Every single time. Each photo, taunt, and cruel word is a clear violation of my dignity and my worth as a human being. And every time these platforms fail to take action, they're sending the message that this bullying is okay. So many disabled people have become inured to our appearance being mocked. That's not something we should ever have to get used to."

Blake battles the trolls in a delightfully subversive way—by insisting she be seen in all her glory, refusing to hide away the way some tell her she should, and letting bullies know they will not win in her world.

Not only should we be teaching our kids to understand and embrace that some people are going to look different or move differently or have different abilities, but we should also show our kids outstanding examples of strength, resilience, and respect they can look up to. These women fit that bill to a tee.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Welcometoterranova and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Welcometoterranova-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.