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Nigerian schools cut history classes — so these comic books are picking up the slack.

They say, 'Those who don't learn history are doomed to repeat it.'

Most Americans know as much about George Washington as they do about Spider-Man.

We all know the deal — guy with false teeth learns all about great power and responsibility while crossing the Delaware, then gets bitten by a radioactive spider that turns him into the first president of the United States, and so on. Somehow, the enduring legacy of some floppy four-color comic book pages is as ingrained in our collective cultural mind as our country's foundational history.


All images from Panaramic Entertainment, used with permission.

But things are different in Nigeria, where recent changes to the national curriculum mean that history class is, well, history.

The country as a whole decided to shift its educational focus more toward technology and engineering — which certainly makes sense, given the current state of their world. As a result, “history” as a subject has been folded into the larger civics and government curriculum, with maybe a few details touched on here and there in religion or English class.

It's not that Nigerians can't study history; it still exists at the university level, and there are plenty of scholarly texts and award-winning novels written about the country's rich and complicated past, and all of the important lessons that go along with that. But unless it's something you actively seek out, you're left with the short summaries that are covered in civics class, or the oral histories passed down from the elders in your village or family.

And while that kind of storytelling is great for folklore like Anansi and Hercules, it's … not so good for the accurate, objective details that teach important lessons from the past.

Clearly there's only one solution to this problem: comic books!

That's why a group of Nigerian comic book creators founded Panaramic Entertainment in 2007, with a mission "to tackle the high illiteracy rate in Nigeria and enable Nigerians and the rest of the world engage in our rich history & culture, helping to promote and preserve it."

"I got into reading proper through comic books at about age 5," said editor-in-chief Tunji Anjorin. "I feel like the combination of images and words creates a story in still image format capable of entertaining and teaching readers/audience in a fun way. It's an affordable form of low-income entertainment that can bring value to both the readers and creators, and the next edition is always something to look forward to."

Their flagship comic book series, "Okiojo's Chronicles," recounts the history of a different Nigerian culture in each issue.

The publisher has so far released three quarterly issues chronicling the struggles of the Yoruban emperor Oduduwa, the fall of the Benin Empire at the hands of the British, and the legendary exploits of Amina, the warrior queen of Zazzau.

"A 10-year-old who grows up reading 'Okiojo's Chronicles' for 10 years would have read 40 different ethnic groups comics and he would have a better understanding of the people who are left and right to him and [of] Nigeria as a whole," Anjorin told U.S. News.

But even those 40 comic books would barely scratch the surface of the more than 250 ethnic groups recognized in Nigeria.

And yet, that daunting challenge is not enough to keep Panaramic from pursuing their ultimate goal of publishing a comic book for every single ethnic group, so that future generations can learn about and from the histories of each splendid culture. (Even if it does take 60 years or more.)

"If you just look at the past, if you look at when we started democracy, we seem to be making the same mistakes over and over again," said Oriteme Banigo, the series' creator. "In our stories we emphasize ... why this has happened, why we should remember it, and how we could stop ourselves from going through the same issues moving forward."

Comics aren't just a sneaky-clever way to get kids into history. For Nigerians, they also represent an opportunity to reclaim their country's narrative and share their own stories with the world.

Another new publisher called the Comic Republic recently launched the first-ever all-African superhero universe, full of colorful heroes of color to rival the massive world building of companies like Marvel and DC.

And a Nigerian creator named Roye Okupe also founded his own YouNeek Studios and launched a sci-fi comic called "E.X.O."

"I want [audiences] to see a different side of Nigeria, our booming tech industry, amazing city architecture, unique culture, African humor, Afrofuturism … a side that is not regularly shown in mainstream media," he told The Guardian.

From Tunji Anjorin's upcoming Panaramic superhero comic "Omo Boy."

Comic books are surprisingly effective tools for education, empowerment, and change. They engage readers with their stunning visuals, and challenge different parts of our minds to work in tandem to comprehend the combination of words and images.

It doesn't hurt that they're affordable and accessible to everyone. "A reader of any age can usually interpret the message," Anjorin told Upworthy over email. "Comics are also easier to share through digital format."

Currently, Panaramic's comics are available in print at schools, bookstores, newsstands, and even through a local restaurant chain in Lagos. But as the company tries to break through to the international market, they're also offering their books online for the low, low price of $1.

"Every comic book industry has their own signature, so we would be bringing in our own way of depicting ourselves and the rest of the world as well as our culture and ideologies," Anjorin said in an interview with Spaceboy Nigeria. "So I took it upon myself to create my own comic book universe and introduce the average Nigerian and the rest of world."

Preserving history. Changing a global narrative. All with nothing but paper and pencil.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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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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