Here are the questions:

  1. My parents had __ friends of a different race.
  2. I have __ friends of a different race.
  3. My children have __ friends of a different race.
  4. __ members of a different race live on my block or apartment building.
  5. I most often talk to someone of another race: __ at work__ at church__ at home__ shopping__ at school
  6. In my Facebook stream __% are of a different race.
  7. In the past year, I have been to the home of someone of a different race __ times.
  8. In the past year, someone of a different race has been in my home __ times.
  9. At work, we have managers of __ different races.
  10. In the past year, I have eaten a meal with someone of a different race __ times.

"I'd like a skinny venti triple vanilla cappuccino and a pumpkin-spiced discussion of racial bias in Ferguson, Missouri."


The sanctity of the coffee moment of peace is real. But so is racism. Is the answer ... awkwardness?

So, in the spirit of all awkward things that help the world, I answered these goofy #RaceTogether questions myself.

Here goes.

Read'em, skip'em, but think about it.


When did you first become aware of your race?

I don't actually remember when I knew I was white, but I think it was when I started asking my mom about my classmate's hair.

To mom's credit she kept it pretty focused on like, "hair is different!" vibes and not like, "THAT IS A BLACK PERSON, LORI, AND YOU ARE NOT BLACK." So go, mom.

I also remember hearing the n-word when I was younger and living in the South and repeating it to my mom and she was like, "WHAT? NO." And then she explained about why the n-word was a sad word and I shouldn't say it. And then I kind of learned more about "race" and not just "people are different." I've never really thought about that difference!

But when you learn about race, it's usually a kind of sad moment. I vaguely remember being like, why are people mean?!


10 RACE CONVERSATION STARTERS

1. My parents had __ friends of a different race.

My parents both had a friend who was black that they talked about being GREAT friends with but only during school. My mom actually was really good school-friends with my friend's mom.

I remember Mom talking to me about how she wanted to invite her black friend to her slumber party, but my grandma (who is a wonderful and tolerant person) was just like, "We don't do that" — so mom's friend didn't come to the slumber party.

This friend of my mom passed away when I was a young teenager, and that's when I heard about all of this stuff, as my mom was grieving her friend's death. It took my mom's friend dying for her to bring up race.

2. I have __ friends of a different race.

Do I get to answer this with, kind of a lot? It's not like I count ... but I'm not colorblind. I see what my friends look like, and I know their backgrounds.

I don't want a cookie, a latte, or congratulations, but there. OK. Fine. There! I see color and I notice my friends' family histories; I'm not going to apologize for it.

That being said, I probably do have more white friends than not.

3. My children have __ friends of a different race.

I don't have any children, but I will say it's very rare that the children I do know have friends who are not the same race as them. I'm talking like, my little kid cousins, etc., etc., etc.

4. __ members of a different race live on my block or apartment building.

From what I see when I walk down my street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NYC ... maybe five-ish?

Again, I'm going to have to acknowledge that I look at people's faces and see a face that's different than mine here. Here goes.

There's an Asian family two doors down, and the dad is always playing trucks with his son on the steps, and it's cute. And there's an elderly Asian man who sits on his stoop and smokes a pipe almost every day, and he looks like he has life figured OUT. Cool Asians on my street! That's it!

5. I most often talk to someone of another race:


I don't have a church that I attend now, but when I was young there were a LOT of white people at my church.

6. In my Facebook stream __% are of a different race.

Let's look!

...

OK, well that did not go well. I scrolled for a few minutes, and only a couple not-white folks showed up.

:-/

7. In the past year, I have been to the home of someone of a different race __ times.

I'm going to say ... five-ish times?

8. In the past year, someone of a different race has been in my home __ times.

Also five-ish times, possibly more, since I'm kind of the party-haver of my group.

*UPDATE: A friend of mine who is not white says he's been to my house more than 5 times. Just an update. There it is. Conversations. Happening live.

9. At work, we have managers of __ different races.

Upworthy is one of the most diverse places I've ever worked, and that's including my public high school band class, which was maybe THE most diverse place I've ever worked in my life.

Upworthy's second.

10. In the past year, I have eaten a meal with someone of a different race __ times.

At least 20 times. I'm really, REALY not counting off what my dinner dates look like because THAT would be a little much, but 20, sure.

So there you have it. I talked about race. I learned a bit about MYSELF, and I feel scared but OK sharing these awkward answers with you!

Talking about race is scary.

But the alternative world ...

... is scarier.

So I say ... bring on the awkward.

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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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.

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