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More than 6 decades after his violent death, the story of Emmett Till lives on.

Black lives matter, and it's about time society got on board with that.

(Trigger warning: contains descriptions and images of violence against blacks.)

On Aug. 28, 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was visiting Mississippi relatives when the unthinkable happened.


Emmett Till. Photo from Till/Kickstarter.

He was in town from Chicago, visiting relatives in the small town of Money, Mississippi. Days earlier, Till, who was black, allegedly whistled at Carolyn Bryant, a 21-year-old white woman. On the evening of Aug. 28, Carolyn's husband, Roy Bryant, along with his half-brother John William Milam, kidnapped the 14-year-old from his great-uncle's home. The two men tortured and shot the boy before dumping his body in the nearby Tallahatchie River. Till's body was held down by the weight of a 70-pound fan that Milam and Bryant tied to the boy's neck with barbed wire.

Three days later, Till's lifeless body surfaced miles downstream.

Till's original gravesite in Alsip, Illinois. His body was exhumed in 2005 as part of an FBI investigation. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Till was buried in Alsip, Illinois, by his mother, who famously insisted her son have an open-casket funeral.

Emmett's mother, Mamie Till, held a viewing on Sept. 6. Her son's face had been brutally disfigured during the attack, but she maintained that there would be an open casket. She wanted the world to see the type of violence that was unleashed on her son for doing little more than existing. Just 14 years old, Emmett Till was an innocent child.

Even by today's standards, photos of Till in the casket are considered particularly gruesome. It was a vision of pure, unadulterated hate. That's why it was so important for the public to see what had become of young Emmett. Historian David Halberstam called these photos "the first great media event of the civil rights movement."

Image via MyTillMoment Kickstarter.

Weeks later, an all-white jury acquitted Till's killers after about an hour of deliberation.

During the trial, Bryant and Milam's defense team argued that the body Till's mother showed and buried was mutilated beyond recognition, therefore there was no way of knowing whether it was Till. In other words, the killers' brutality served as the perfect defense.

His killers later admitted their role in his death, but evaded jail time.

Bryant and Milam admitted to Till's murder in an interview with Look magazine the following year. Though the interview flew in the face of their own defense, they were free and clear, since double jeopardy prevented prosecutors from trying them again.

Till was buried at Burr Oak Cemetery. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Till's death helped spark the modern civil rights movement.

For context on where Till falls into the timeline of the fight for civil rights, here's a helpful paragraph from History:

"Coming only one year after the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education mandated the end of racial segregation in public schools, Till's death provided an important catalyst for the American Civil Rights Movement. One hundred days after Emmett Till's murder, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on an Alabama city bus, sparking the yearlong Montgomery bus boycott. Nine years later, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing many forms of racial discrimination and segregation, one year later it passed the Voting Rights Act outlawing discriminatory voting practices."

Filmmaker Keith Beauchamp wants to bring Emmett's life to the big screen.

Beauchamp directed the 2005 documentary "The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till." But now he's creating a feature-length docu-drama about Till's life and the role his horrific death played in the civil rights movement.

Keith Beauchamp. Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images.

Beauchamp launched a social campaign called #MyTillMoment asking people to reflect on his life.

The video diaries he received in response are poignant examples of personal growth and determination that can come as the result of a tragedy, and how a single event can shape the course of history.

The civil rights movement isn't past tense.

It's easy to look at Till's murder and think, "I can't believe that happened." It's more disheartening when you look at Till's murder and think, "I can't believe this is still happening." What Till experienced was in many ways similar to what Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and so many others continue to experience in modern-day America.

Looking back on Till's murder, it's clear that he was failed by a society that didn't value black lives and a justice system that delivered anything but. It's clear that something needed to change, but has it? "Stand your ground" defenses and police officers claiming that unarmed black men make them fear for their lives aren't that different from the excuses used by those who rallied for Till's murderers' acquittal.

How do we fix it? Let's look to how Black Lives Matter activists are continuing the fight.

The reason why people continue to assert "Black Lives Matter" is because our society is six decades removed from the brutality of Emmett Till's death, and we haven't learned a whole lot since.

In 2015, activist DeRay McKesson launched Campaign Zero, a program aimed at ending police violence. It's plans like these that leave hope for a better future. While it's easy to get disillusioned, it's important to remember that there are some great people with great ideas pushing for a better future.


More than 60 years later and the fight continues in memory of Emmett Louis Till.

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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