If I close my eyes, I can still hear it.

Nat King Cole plays quietly from the living room, the faint smell of cigarettes wafting in with perfume from the balcony where my grandma had taken a quick smoke break, far away from me and my baby sister.


She is now in the kitchen, draped in her blue silk robe, snapping her fingers, nodding her head, and turning steaks on the stove. She cracked open an ice cold Pepsi and began our secret ritual of her talking to me about life like I was her oldest, closest girlfriend and not her 12-year-old granddaughter.

On this particular day, she turned to me and said "People, do what they want, dear heart. Never let them tell you otherwise." Her best life-lesson gems came while she was in the kitchen, sometimes with no context at all and always with the nickname "dear heart."

I listened, wide-eyed as she stopped, this time pointing her finger, and said, "People will tell you they can't. They will make excuses, they will give you reasons, but the truth is that if they want to change something bad enough they will do it. People do what they want."

"People, do what they want, dear heart. Never let them tell you otherwise." — Mary Elizabeth Flack

On Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015, 27-year-old artist Antonio Ramos was painting a mural on a highway underpass in Oakland, California, as part of a public art project aimed at fighting violence in the community. Ramos was to be joined later that day by schoolchildren as part of the nonprofit project — but that never happened.

He was shot multiple times in a random altercation in that underpass by a shooter who is still at large.


Antonio Ramos was shot and killed while painting for peace.

Two days later, on Oct. 1, pandemonium erupted as shots rang out on the campus of Oregon's Umpqua Community College. Students huddled in classrooms of the North Umpqua River Valley school, called 911 and their loved ones and feared for their lives as a gunman shot 10 students dead and left 20 more injured.

It was the 294th mass shooting this year.

In Oakland, Oregon, and communities all across the country, the death toll from gun violence rises day by day. In spite of our nonprofits, our institutions of learning and our values, the epidemic rages on. And whether the death of one or the death of many, we shake our heads at the insanity of it all.


Candelight vigil in Rosen, Oregon. Photo by Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty.

How can this happen, we ask? We hold up our hands, helpless and hamstrung. We rant on Facebook and write columns like this one and stand amazed at how we could have let things get this bad. Why can't we stop it?

"This a political choice we make to allow this to happen every few months in America. We are collectively answerable to those families, who lose their loved ones, because of our inaction." — President Obama

For seven years, I had a thriving career in Washington politics, but secretly, I never really fit in. I understood the inner workings of Capitol Hill and the painful bureaucracy of Congress yet never quite adopted the cynicism and resignation of many of my colleagues. I never believed that a government that orchestrated putting a man on the moon — that masterminded the subjugation of an entire people and then somehow remained standing when those same people rose up and abolished the system that sustained its economy — couldn't figure out how to get a simple bill passed.

I believed that if those in power cared enough about people and their lives, they'd figure out a way to make whatever needed to work work. I guess I took my grandma's words to heart.

She didn't think that much else was stronger than the human will. And history confirms her hunch. When we — as a nation or as people — want to change something badly enough, we make it happen. It might take a while, the progress might be painfully slow, it might cost blood, sweat, and tears, but progress will be made.

Now, far away from my old life in politics, I find myself with the same thoughts as we meet, yet again, at the national altar of grief and outrage to watch President Obama's address, pray for the victims and cry, "We must stop this!" before turning around and doing nothing. We blame politics and money for our inaction.

President Obama during yesterday's address. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty.

America, as a nation of power, pride and privilege does what it wants. And today, as individuals, so must we.

If my grandma were here today, she would say she doesn't buy it. America, as a nation of power, pride and privilege does what it wants. It protects who it wants, educates who it wants, operates how it wants. It begins what it wants (see War on Drugs), and it ends what it wants (see polio). And when America the state doesn't, America the people rise up time and time again.

We've been taught that grit and determination are "the American spirit" but it is also, to some extent, the human spirit. We are driven to make choices, prioritize, fight for what we believe is necessary, determine what matters most, and then act — or not act — as a result.

So what does that logic mean for us today in the face of staggering amounts of gun violence?

It means that our legacy as it stands, shows that we do not care enough about human life to stand up and do what most experts agree it takes to protect it. And those of us who do care enough must start acting like it.

A Facebook status or tweet when 10 whole, precious lives are snatched at once will not do. We must also make the same impassioned cries for reform every time an Antonio Ramos is killed just as senselessly.

We must put our money where our mouth is and invest in organizations that lobby for bold legislation, violence prevention programs, and mental health support.

We must ask politicians the hard questions at every turn and say to them, "Do not talk to me today about political realities. Do not tell me about limitations and restrictions. Talk to me about possibility and how we can help you realize it."

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

And we must each personally make a commitment to work to end gun violence. Because when enough of us do, with enough effort and sacrifice, we will succeed. Why am I so sure?

Because the same power of human will that indicts us today for allowing our lives and the lives of our children to be put at risk in this way is the same power that points towards endless possibility.

Somehow, someway, this country will do what it really wants. And so, dear hearts, in the aftermath of our grief and frustration, will we.

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.

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

And '80s hair? With the feathered bangs and the terrible perms and the crunchy hair spray? What, why and how?

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Pets

Ginger the dog reunited with family 5 years after being stolen

Ginger's family never gave up hope, and it payed off.

Ginger the dog was missing for five years before being reunited with her family.

A sweet pup is finally home with her family where she belongs after way too many years away.

Ginger the dog was stolen from her family back in 2017. Her owner, Barney Lattimore of Janesville, Wisconsin, never gave up the hope that his sweet girl was out there somewhere. Whenever he'd see a dog listed on a rescue website or humane society website that even remotely resembled his Ginger, he would inquire about the dog. Unfortunately, it was never her. You'd think that after a while he would stop, but if he had, he likely wouldn't have gotten the sweetest reunion.

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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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