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Riz Ahmed performed a moving spoken-word song in response to Charlottesville.

The powerful performance of 'Sour Times' drew a roaring applause.

"It seems that we’re living in really, really divided times, and it really hurts," said rapper, actor, and activist Riz Ahmed on "The Tonight Show."

Just days after a white supremacist killed a protester at a Charlottesville, Virginia, march, the "Rogue One" star found himself seated next to Jimmy Fallon discussing his latest TV, film, and music projects. After a few minutes of standard talk show banter, the conversation turned serious, and Ahmed brought up a song he wrote a while ago, that he hoped would never be relevant.

[rebelmouse-image 19532426 dam="1" original_size="450x253" caption="GIFs from "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon"/YouTube." expand=1]GIFs from "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon"/YouTube.


"I wrote this piece 10 years ago. Every year, I keep hoping it’ll become irrelevant, but it seems to become more and more relevant, sadly," he told Fallon. "It’s my attempt to try and get behind the headlines and work out where all this extremism is coming from."

Then he asked for a microphone and walked to the middle of the stage.

Ahmed performed a phenomenal, heartfelt, powerful spoken-word rendition of "Sour Times" for the audience.

If there's a message we need to hear right now, this is it. If you have a spare four minutes, do yourself a favor and watch the video. If not, the lyrics are printed in full at the bottom of this story.

"So listen, terrorism isn’t caused by religion or an old school vision of Islam / It’s against the Quran, it’s a new innovation caused by mash-up situations / That’s what makes them turn to arms / The problem is modern and it’s all local factors / Dictatorships, injustices and wars cause fatwas."

Our goal, like Ahmed says, should be to better understand where extremism comes from. Islamophobia, bigotry, and xenophobia aren't the answer, and if anything, they might actually just make things worse. To root out extremism, we need to understand its cause, "what makes them turn to arms," as Ahmed says. Placing blanket blame on Muslims is a cop-out.

The situation is a lot more complex than that, and until we can respond to it in a smart, thoughtful, and nuanced way, things will only get worse.

"Sour Times" by Riz Ahmed, as performed on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon":

In these sour times
Please allow me to vouch for mine
Bitter taste in my mouth, spit it out with a rhyme
I'm losing my religion to tomorrow's headlines
Guantanamo — sorry bro?
Nah, nothing, it's fine.

And now it's post 7/7
Why they calling it that?
They're trying to link it to New York
Like we’re all under attack from the same big bad guy
But it's taking a piss
'Cause the truth is terrorism ain’t what you think it is
There ain’t no super villain planning these attacks from some base
The truth is so much scarier and harder to face
See, there's thousands of angry young men that are lost
Sidelined in the economy, a marginal cost
They think there's no point in putting ballots up in the box
They got no place in this system, and no faith in its cogs
They're easy targets, that be getting brainwashed by these knobs
Who say that spilling innocent blood is pleasing a god
Well, it sounds good when you don’t see no justice or jobs
The gas bills are piling up, but all the oil's getting robbed
So David's taking out Goliath, and his wife and his dog
Segregated, castrated, now we see who’s on top!
So see, it ain’t religious faith that’s causing these crimes
It’s losing faith in democratic free market designs
It’s no coincidence that bombers came from ghettos up north
And the way that Trump talks gives a lost boy a cause
Then double standards get 'em angered, both at home and abroad
There's a monopoly on pens that's why they forge their own swords
They're misguided, turned violent, strapped themselves up with bombs
But they're still cowards, 'cause they ain’t here when the backlash is on

In these sour times
Please allow me to vouch for mine
Bitter taste in my mouth, spit it out with a rhyme
I'm losing my religion to tomorrow's headlines
Abu Ghraib — sorry mate?
Nah, nothing, it's fine

So all the mans that want to say that my religion has to change
That we’re stuck in a bygone age
It's time to set the vinyl straight
Don’t you think it’s kind of strange that all this terror outrage
These last gasp castaways
These bastards that will blast away
Turned up in the last decade
When Islam has been the way for millions
From back in the day
Instead of thinking that we’re crazed
Investigate just what it says
Fast, help the poor, and pray
Go Mecca, feast, fast, and faith
That’s the basics, that the base
So how did we get here today?
Well, interpretations always change
Today, they're read with rage
Been jihad-ened up
Desperation's kinda f—
Makes you use a book of peace as weapons in Iraq
So listen, terrorism isn’t caused by religion or an old school vision of Islam
It’s against the Quran, it’s a new innovation caused by mash-up situations
That’s what makes them turn to arms
The problem is modern and it’s all local factors
Dictatorships, injustices, and wars cause fatwas

In these sour times
Please allow me to vouch for mine
Bitter taste in my mouth, spit it out with a rhyme
I'm losing my religion to tomorrow's headlines
But it's fine






































































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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