When you think of American diversity, you might think of big melting-pot cities like New York or Los Angeles. The truth is, people of all nationalities are woven into the fabric of American life across the entire country; from small towns to midwest metros and everywhere in between.

To celebrate its own immigrant roots, the city of St. Paul, Minnesota, recently commissioned a public art project called "Speaking of Home," featuring photos from many of the diverse citizens that help make the city what it is today.


Artist and photographer Nancy Coyne sought out dozens of first-generation immigrants who call St. Paul home.

Those who participated in the project loaned their own photos and prized possessions from their home countries to the exhibit. Through interviews with Coyne, they shared what brought them to America and to St. Paul. Their photos and stories are now on proud display around the city.

Coyne shows off the project. Photo by David Turner, used with permission

"I became interested in what 'home' means to people," Coyne says, of the interviews. Some told her they came for a better education. Some for economic opportunity. Others to find long lost family. Others still came to escape persecution in their home countries.

There were as many reasons for immigrating as there were nationalities, with St. Paul having a surprisingly diverse ethnic makeup; including over 13,000 Ethiopian and 26,000 Vietnamese residents in the Twin Cities,  along with one of the largest Hmong populations in the country.

58 photos in total, and the stories behind them, now line a portion of St. Paul's famous skyways.

St. Paul features miles of enclosed skyways. Photo by David Turner used with permission.

These elevated, enclosed bridges cover miles of the city and allow commuters to escape the cold. Thousands of people traverse the skyway each and every day.

Thanks to the 10-feet wide, partially translucent photos, anyone who enters the skyway can't help but to literally see St. Paul through the eyes of its immigrants.

At night the photos are even more prominent. Photo by Peter Von De Linde used with permission.

The photos cover four bridges in total. Photo by Peter Von De Linde, used with permission.

The project couldn't have launched at a more important time.

In recent months, we've seen travel bans, ruthless immigration raids, and a rise in a hateful brand of nationalism. It's almost as if we've forgotten America was quite literally built by immigrants.

"The situation we find ourselves in now goes against everything this country is and was supposed to be about," Coyne says.

The project has been a big hit so far. Photo by Peter Von De Linde used with permission.

"Speaking of Home," has been well-received by the thousands who walk St. Paul's skyways each and every day.

Passersby often stop to consider the photos and read the accompanying stories. Each photo is paired with a bright orange sign that juts from the wall: It says "home," in the subject's native language.

[rebelmouse-image 19531715 dam="1" original_size="1200x801" caption=""Home." Photo by Peter Von De Linde, used with permission" expand=1]"Home." Photo by Peter Von De Linde, used with permission

"People want to know if it will stay up forever," Coyne says. It won't. The project is only scheduled to last about six months.

But the people at its core aren't going anywhere. They will continue to fill the city, to drive its economy, to shape its culture.

St. Paul will continue to be their home.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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