As a member of the Bloods, Trinidad Ramkissoon never expected to make it to Broadway.

Ramkissoon was the youngest of seven children, and while his immigrant parents worked hard to provide for them, the family still struggled, even enduring a bout of homelessness after their Cambridge, Massachusetts, apartment burned down.

With his father working 16-hour days and his only brother in prison for a violent crime, Ramkissoon was on the lookout for role models — and on the streets of Cambridge, gang life was the best option he could see.


“This was a family connection for me for a long time,” he told the Boston Globe in 2012. “Sometimes I [still] wear [the gang flag] just to own that — to, like, acknowledge it.”

[rebelmouse-image 19345920 dam="1" original_size="640x400" caption="Central Square, Cambridge, near where Ramkissoon grew up. Photo by Tony Webster/Flickr." expand=1]Central Square, Cambridge, near where Ramkissoon grew up. Photo by Tony Webster/Flickr.

By the age of 12, Ramkissoon had already been arrested, which led to a school suspension.

From the start, he wasn't set up for success.

[rebelmouse-image 19345921 dam="1" original_size="1240x769" caption="Trinidad Ramkissoon. Photo via Huntington Theatre Company/YouTube." expand=1]Trinidad Ramkissoon. Photo via Huntington Theatre Company/YouTube.

It comes as no surprise, then, that Ramkissoon would be caught skipping class as a high school freshman. But it was a mistake that would change everything.

He and his friends were reprimanded by Elaine Koury, the director of the arts program at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, who also worked with a local company called Underground Railway Theater. She was struck by how apologetic — and charismatic — Ramkissoon was and decided to recruit him into a youth theater program.

It was there that Ramkissoon began to learn how to let his guard down.

“It opened something up in me,” he says. “And even more it connected me with Vincent [Siders, one of the teaching artists], who took on a father role with me and started saying what I needed to hear — even when the words have been tough and I haven’t liked what he was saying.”

[rebelmouse-image 19345922 dam="1" original_size="1337x769" caption="Ramkissoon on stage. Photo via Huntington Theatre Company/YouTube." expand=1]Ramkissoon on stage. Photo via Huntington Theatre Company/YouTube.

High school theater programs are known to reduce dropout rates by giving students a shared sense of purpose and responsibility — and a reason to continue attending school.

Theater wouldn't stop Ramkissoon from dropping out at first, but it did help bring him back.

After about a year out of school, he enrolled in Boston Day and Evening Academy, a unique program that helps students re-engage in academics on a personalized education track.

As a student there, he also discovered the plays of August Wilson through a partnership with another local theater company.

[rebelmouse-image 19345923 dam="1" original_size="1024x809" caption="August Wilson. Photo via Huntington Theatre Company/Flickr." expand=1]August Wilson. Photo via Huntington Theatre Company/Flickr.

Wilson was an African-American renowned for “Century Cycle,” a series of 10 interconnected plays that explore the black experience in America, each across a different decade of the 21st century. Ramkissoon was particularly drawn to the character of Troy Maxson in the award-winning play (and now movie) “Fences.”

“I was a high school dropout. I know what it means to feel like you’re on first base,” Ramkissoon said, referring to one of Maxson’s monologues in the play. “I thought it was amazing that [the character] had the courage to want to make it to second base — not to get home, but just to go to second base.”

Ramkissoon got involved in the August Wilson Monologue Competition, a national theater contest organized by Tony Award-winner Kenny Leon.

His performance of Troy Maxson’s moving monologue was good enough to earn him a spot in the national finals — on the set of Leon’s Broadway production of “A Raisin in the Sun,” where he got to perform for people like Denzel Washington.

"For many of our students through the city, being invisible is the way of safety and surviving," said one teacher from Boston Day and Evening Academy. "Yet these young people [like Trinidad] ... find their voices and courageously say, 'see me and hear the truth that I have to tell.'"

“The fact that my voice gets to be heard on this platform… These are all opportunities that kids like us don’t get,” he told the Boston Globe on the eve of the finals. “I already won.”

[rebelmouse-image 19345924 dam="1" original_size="500x509" caption="Trinidad Ramkissoon, in back, on his way to the August Wilson Monologue Competition. Photo via Huntington Theatre Company." expand=1]Trinidad Ramkissoon, in back, on his way to the August Wilson Monologue Competition. Photo via Huntington Theatre Company.

Ramkissoon didn’t end up winning the national competition  — but he did get to be the speaker when he graduated high school.

Students like Ramkissoon who come from lower socioeconomic statuses are more than 30% more likely to pursue a bachelor’s degree if they’ve experienced a high-arts education. They’re also twice as likely to choose a major that aligns them with a professional career, even if it’s not related to the theater.

But, perhaps most importantly, a theater education can mean the difference between a life on the streets and a life fulfilled, where talented people like Trinidad Ramkissoon can live up to their potential and become a part of something bigger than themselves.

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.

That first car is a rite of passage into adulthood. Specifically, the hard-earned lesson of expectations versus reality. Though some of us are blessed with Teslas at 17, most teenagers receive a car that’s been … let’s say previously loved. And that’s probably a good thing, considering nearly half of first-year drivers end up in wrecks. Might as well get the dings on the lemon, right?

Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

Here are 22 responses with the most horsepower:

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Photo by TR on Unsplash

Companies and organizations are on the side of their employees in light of stricter abortion laws.

The leak from the Supreme Court about overturning Roe v. Wade caused many people with uteruses to go into a tailspin. People began scheduling appointments for long-term birth control. Some opted for permanent birth control. Others stocked up on Plan B or called in preemptive prescriptions for the abortion pill mifepristone. In addition to making tangible plans for what the future might hold in some of these trigger states, people took to the streets to make their voices heard. Protests were held across America against the proposed overturning of Roe v. Wade, which protects people’s right to abortion under the 14th Amendment.

People are also organizing over social media. They’re helping locate nonprofits that will help cover the cost of travel from a restricted state to states where abortion will remain legal. Secret Facebook groups are popping up to help arrange transportation and accommodations for those who need access to safe reproductive care. People are coming together in ways you see in movies, all in an effort to prevent inevitable deaths that would occur if people attempt home abortions. It’s both heartwarming and heart-wrenching that this is something that needs to be done at all. It doesn’t stop with determined activists and housewives across the country, this fiery spirit has reached corporations as well.

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via Pexels

If you know how to fix this tape, you grew up in the 1990s.

There are a lot of reasons to feel a twinge of nostalgia for the final days of the 20th century. Rampant inflation, a global pandemic and political unrest have created a sense of uneasiness about the future that has everyone feeling a bit down.

There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

But, you gotta admit, that TV is still pretty damn good.

A lot of folks feel Americans have become a lot harsher to one another due to political divides, which seem to be widening by the day due to the power of the internet and partisan media.

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