After their BLM flag was torn in two, an anonymous neighbor left them the perfect note

This article originally appeared on 06.28.21


After Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black man, was pursued and shot by three white residents while jogging through a Georgia suburb, Ellen and Patrick Miller* of San Diego hung a Black Lives Matter flag in front of their house. It was a small gesture, but something tangible they could do.

Like many people, they wanted to both support the BLM movement and bring awareness about racism to members of their community. Despite residing in a part of the county notoriously rumored to be marred by white supremacists and their beliefs, their neighbors didn't say much about it—at first.

Recently, though, during a short window when both Ellen and Patrick were out of the house, someone sliced the flag in two and left the remains in their yard.

via Paula Fitzgibbons

They were upset, but not surprised.


"Nobody prior to May of 2020 said a word about our BLM flag," Ellen explains. "After George Floyd and the protesting started, we had about 50% positive interactions with our neighbors, quietly offering solidarity as they passed by on their morning and evening walks. Then 25% of interactions were a lot of older busybodies 'pearl clutching' and hoping that 'nobody takes this the wrong way and commits vandalism' against us." Then there were the men who would drive past and scream obscenities at Ellen while she unpacked groceries with her young child.

Instead of backing down, Ellen and Patrick grew more involved. They worked to educate themselves about racism. They attended and planned local BLM rallies—including a particularly turbulent one in the middle of their intolerant suburb where members of extremist groups suddenly appeared across the street to counter-protest. They donated to BLM and joined a leadership club that Ellen says "helps students of color with special needs navigate current society."

By the time Ellen and Patrick's flag was vandalized, they had already collected some back-ups. Undeterred, they replaced the flag with one that supports a broader mix of voices including the LGBTQ+ community, which they'd planned to hang for Pride Month in June.

via Paula Fitzgibbons

Though they felt the sting of violation, they understood there was no comparison to the indignities Black people in their area experience. As Ellen shares, it was mostly "a sad confirmation of the reputation of our town."

If the simple act of hanging a flag propelled Ellen and Patrick to lend greater support to the BLM movement, what happened next confirmed the need to continue working hard toward effective allyship.

Ellen explains that a couple of days after their BLM flag was vandalized, Patrick rushed into the house with tears in his eyes and handed her the typed note that was left at their front door along with two wrapped packages.

"I busted into an ugly cry as well," Ellen adds.

The note read:

"I saw your ripped BLM flag on Tuesday morning. I realize it could've been 'just the wind' but there are a fair number of other flags I see flying high in this neighborhood without tattering so suddenly…

So, just in case somebody vandalized it on purpose, I went ahead and made a $ donation to BLM on your behalf!

I also wanted to order you a replacement BLM flag in case you still wanted to fly it, then in a fit of passion I ordered two, so that there's another back-up, or a gift for another good person with a flag pole.

Also quick sidenote, I love your LGBTQ+ Ally flag too! As a "B," it gives me a sense of camaradery [sic]!

Do with these new flags as you will. It was simply my wish to 'fix' the torn flags the same way I wish to 'fix' some of the unkind acts against our fellow human beings. I saw it as a chance to remind you, remind myself, remind vandals and kind people alike that you can't tear away someone's humanity, you can't tear away their pride, you can't tear up love and compassion and good hearts the way you can tear up the fabric.

We'll continue to fly high!"

via Paula Fitzgibbons

The note confirmed Ellen and Patrick's hope that flying a simple flag might help people feel more welcome in their neighborhood.

"We no longer felt indignant, but happy that our flag symbol made another neighbor feel safe," Ellen says.

Flying a BLM flag in a neighborhood with ties to white supremacy allowed the Millers to make a statement against the prevailing racist attitudes in their town. It also moved them to act intentionally in support of BLM. They never imagined the vandalism of that same flag might someday invite more neighbors into solidarity as well.

As another resident of their town commented, "It's nice to know you aren't an island when it comes to compassion in your neighborhood."


*Names have been changed at their request.

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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