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NBC's Rise

When Stamy Paul started traveling for work over a decade ago, she fell in love with urban art in all its forms — including graffiti.

"It was really fascinating to me because it was evident in every culture and country I visited," Paul says.

That's why she was determined to figure out how to bring it into her own home. Unfortunately that was easier said than done.


Paul scoured her hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, for a local graffiti artist to paint a mural in her house, but even though the city's covered in graffiti, she couldn't find anyone. It seemed that graffiti simply wasn't an art form that people often commissioned in Cleveland.

Sure the artists were out there, but they weren't profiting from their work.

After all, it's rare for graffiti artists to be counted in the more mainstream art world.  But Paul decided to help change that.

In 2013, she started Graffiti HeArt — a nonprofit dedicated to promoting graffiti and street art through urban community revitalization via volunteer artists.

A portion of project commissions as well as donations go toward funding education opportunities for underserved kids who're interested in pursuing art as a profession.

Eileen and Ish at work 🎨 with @Graffiti Heart ❤️ #wallsforscholarships Gordon Square Arts District community partner 👍🏽

Posted by Graffiti HeArt on Sunday, September 10, 2017

The idea is to show these kids that art, including graffiti art, can not only improve public spaces, but also lead to legitimate careers.

Graffiti HeArt has a partnership with the Cleveland Institute of Art Pre-college Program — a two-week intensive course designed to help kids with sights on a career in the arts hone their skills and build up their portfolio.

Paul says a huge percentage of the kids who attend the program go on to pursue art in college. In order to help them continue on that trajectory after they graduate, Graffiti HeArt is developing an internship program where young artists will be able to shadow more established artists as they create commissioned work.

Graffiti HeArt is showing these aspiring artists there can be a future in graffiti — it just starts with exposure.

Even though the artists mainly create murals on a volunteer basis, they're work is being elevated not only through the nonprofit's mission, but because it's improving the local community.

[rebelmouse-image 19346716 dam="1" original_size="700x350" caption=""Greetings from Cleveland" mural by Victor Ving. Photo via Stamy Paul." expand=1]"Greetings from Cleveland" mural by Victor Ving. Photo via Stamy Paul.

Take the "Welcome to Cleveland" mural created by Brooklyn artist Victor Ving. Because it's part of the "Welcome to" murals that Ving's painted in major cities across the country, it's become one of the most iconic images associated with the city.  It's a prime example of how graffiti art can bolster a neighborhood rather than mark it as derelict or unsafe.

These artists are gaining notoriety, higher commissions, and cool project offers because of art they've made for Graffiti HeArt.

As a result, whenever Paul puts out a call for artists, she's often met with a deluge of responses.

[rebelmouse-image 19346717 dam="1" original_size="1420x1064" caption="Artist Garrett Weider finishing a Graffiti HeArt mural at Cleveland-based company Avalution. Photo via Graffiti HeArt/Facebook. Used with permission." expand=1]Artist Garrett Weider finishing a Graffiti HeArt mural at Cleveland-based company Avalution. Photo via Graffiti HeArt/Facebook. Used with permission.

Paul credits the organization's glowing reputation with the fact that they always upheld their mission from the get-go.

"I think [the artists] saw that what we said we were going to do, not only did we do it, but we were truly in it for the artists, the art, and the youth."

What's more, the community loves the art these artists make. That's why they're getting to work on bigger and cooler projects.

[rebelmouse-image 19346718 dam="1" original_size="960x778" caption="Graffiti HeArt mural done during Gay Games 9 in 2014, in Cleveland, Ohio. Artist Jim Gair "The Rev" (left), Stamy Paul (center), and Randy Crider, artist (right). Photo via Stamy Paul." expand=1]Graffiti HeArt mural done during Gay Games 9 in 2014, in Cleveland, Ohio. Artist Jim Gair "The Rev" (left), Stamy Paul (center), and Randy Crider, artist (right). Photo via Stamy Paul.

Their first gig was creating the sole art installation at the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland. A few of their artists made a number of interactive graffiti and giant murals for the occasion.

Today, they're about to embark on a huge mural project in Cayey, Puerto Rico, as part of the revitalization movement after Hurricane Maria.

Participating artists will not only create street art, they'll work with students from the nearby arts college, bolstering community involvement and inspiring the next generation of creators.

The collaboration all started through a reach out on social media. Now Paul's in talks with the mayor of Cayey to make sure this project goes off without a hitch.

"We’re working with a lot of strangers who are now friends," she says.

Having her mission welcomed by a community in dire need of inspiration is a huge deal for Paul. She's seeing the stigma surrounding graffiti be stripped away firsthand.

Shout out to Shani Shih and her DC artists crew, bringing their #waterislife tour to Cleveland on their way to Standing Rock! #graffitiheart @GraffitiHeArt ❤️

Posted by Graffiti HeArt on Thursday, December 1, 2016

However, she hopes the art form retains some of its rebelliousness. After all, that's what captured her heart in first place.

"The fact that graffiti is gritty, it is contentious. There’s a lot of friction with it — that’s what makes it exciting."

The more prevalent it is above ground, though, the more the stigmas surrounding it fall by the wayside, which is Paul's ultimate goal. The more art Graffiti HeArt puts out there, the clearer the path from street artist to professional artist will become for future generations.

That said, they need your help in order for them to continue doing what they do. Please consider donating to the Puerto Rico project or the organization as a whole, so they can keep inspiring communities and aspiring artists.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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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.

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Connections Academy

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

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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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Johnny Depp and Amber Heard Trial Cold Open - SNL www.youtube.com

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