On Feb. 7, 2017, Elizabeth Warren began reading a letter by Coretta Scott King on the Senate floor.

The senator from Massachusetts read the letter, written three decades ago, in which the widow of Martin Luther King Jr. expressed her opposition to the nomination of Jeff Sessions — now a senator from Alabama — for a federal judgeship.

Sessions, whose work to suppress black voters prevented him from becoming a federal judge in 1986, is expected to be confirmed as the next attorney general of the United States by the Republican-controlled Senate on Feb. 8.


Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Warren, however, didn't make it through the whole letter — on the Senate floor, that is.

Republicans, claiming she had violated Senate rules by impugning a colleague, voted to silence her. Warren was no longer allowed to speak out against Sessions' nomination.

Of the decision to bar Warren from reading the letter, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell explained: "She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted."

But Warren refused to be silenced. Instead, she read the letter in its entirety on Facebook Live in the hallway outside the Senate chamber. As of Dec. 21, 2017, the video has amassed a staggering 13 million views:

During the debate on whether to make Jeff Sessions the next Attorney General, I tried to read a letter from Coretta Scott King on the floor of the Senate. The letter, from 30 years ago, urged the Senate to reject the nomination of Jeff Sessions to a federal judgeship. The Republicans took away my right to read this letter on the floor - so I'm right outside, reading it now.

Posted by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The letter illustrates why Sessions' past behavior makes him unfit to be our attorney general.

"Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge," King wrote, citing Sessions' partisan voting-fraud prosecutions to suppress black voters. "This simply cannot be allowed to happen."

While King outlined the progress that led up to and followed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, she also outlined why having a man like Sessions in a position of power is so dangerous:

"However, blacks still fall far short of having equal participation in the electoral process. Particularly in the South, efforts continue to be made to deny blacks access to the polls, even where blacks constitute the majority of the voters. It has been a long, up-hill struggle to keep alive the vital legislation that protects the most fundamental right to vote. A person who has exhibited so much hostility to the enforcement of those laws, and thus, to the exercise of those rights by black people should not be elevated to the federal bench."

King concluded:

"Based on his record, I believe his confirmation would have a devastating effect not only on the judicial system in Alabama, but also on the progress we have made everywhere toward fulfilling my husband’s dream that he envisioned over twenty years ago."

The choice to silence Warren backfired spectacularly for Senate Republicans.

Within hours, hashtags like #LetLizSpeak and #ShePersists started trending.

In silencing Warren, Senate Republicans drew even more attention to King's letter, reminding many why Sessions is simply unfit to hold the position. It also didn't help that Sen. Jeff Merkley was allowed to read the same letter hours later; allowing a man to do the same exact thing you just barred a woman from doing is, at best, just bad optics.

If you're outraged over Warren's — and King's — silencing on the Senate floor, speak out.

Regardless of whether Sessions is confirmed, you should call your senator and tell them if you approved of their vote. Donate to organizations like the ACLU that will be crucial in protecting civil rights for years to come. And share your thoughts online using hashtags like #LetLizSpeak and #ShePersists to amplify the message.

Even if one senator is silenced, your voice can still be heard.

Read King's letter in full below:

Coretta Scott King 1986 Letter on Jeff Sessions by German Lopez on Scribd

[scribd https://www.scribd.com/embeds/336276003/content?start_page=1&view_mode=scroll&access_key=key-5QIfp3wHqFdOEpQMN56k&show_recommendations=true expand=1]
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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