“Promise me,” she pleaded, “you won’t tell anyone until after I die. How will I hold my head up with my friends?”

For two years, I’d waited for the right moment to confront my mother with the shocking discovery I made in 1995, while I was scrolling through the 1900 Louisiana census records.

In the records, my mother’s father and his entire family were designated black. With her pale olive skin and European features, my mother had kept her ethnicity concealed for nearly a lifetime.


The discovery had left me reeling, confused, and in need of answers. My sense of white identity had been shattered. My mother’s visit to my home in Illinois seemed like the right moment to bring it up. This was not a conversation I wanted to have on the phone.

But my mother’s fearful plea for secrecy only added to my confusion about my racial identity.

Reluctantly, I agreed to keep my mother’s secret. For 17 years, I told no one except my husband, my two children, and two close friends that my mother was passing as white. It was the longest and most difficult secret I’d ever held.

Over the course of those 17 years, I tried unsuccessfully to break through my mother’s wall of silence. Her refusal to talk about her mixed race only fueled my curiosity. How had she deceived my racist, white father? Why was she so fearful and ashamed of her black heritage?

The author's mother, Alvera Fredric. Photo via Gail Lukasik.

Using my skills as a mystery author, I started sifting through the details of her life, looking for clues that would help me understand her. But this real-life mystery only intensified as I tried to sort truth from fiction.

My mother had always told me that she didn't visit her family in New Orleans because there were just too many sad memories — now I wondered if she was really just afraid that if we visited we’d meet family members who were not passably white. On several occasions, her mother and her sister visited us in Ohio, but they appeared white and no one hinted otherwise. But my uncle never visited — was it because he was darker than the rest? Was the reason my mother had never shown me photographs of my grandfather growing up because he was visibly black?

Piecing my mother's life together, I marveled at how she endured living in a predominantly white suburb with a racist husband.

My father’s racism was a reflection of his upbringing in a close-knit Cleveland ethnic neighborhood. Though he never used the n-word, he was still vocal about his bigotry, referring to African-Americans using other racial slurs, deriding black people for what he perceived as their lack of ambition and their criminality. He had no idea that he was in fact deriding his wife, my mother.

My mother reprimanded him with little vigor. Was she afraid of bringing too much attention to the race issue? Or had she convinced herself that she deserved it for the lie that sat at the heart of their marriage? In escaping the Jim Crow South, coming North and marrying my father, she must have thought gaining white privilege was worth the price of losing family ties and her authentic self.

The irony was that in gaining white privilege, the onslaught of racism was splayed open to her.

Its ugly face could now be shared with her, a “white” woman. Every day she had to live with the paradox of what W.E.B. Du Bois called “two-ness,” the ambivalence of people of mixed European and African ancestry. If a mixed-race person is white enough to pass, how do they deal with the trappings of a racist culture where you’re forced to choose a side?

As if in self-defense, or maybe retaliation, for my father’s racism, she imbued me with a moral imperative to respect all people regardless of their color. As a child, I listened with rapt attention to the story of the old black woman on Canal Street burdened with packages who didn’t move off the sidewalk for a white man. He shoved her aside like so much trash and called her the n-word. “That wasn’t right,” my mother told me. “But that’s how it was in New Orleans back then.”

Now I understood the clues concealed in that story, that she was hinting at her hidden self or maybe preparing me to accept the part of her she’d left behind in New Orleans.

The author, Gail Lukasik. Photo via Gail Lukasik.

After my mother’s death in 2014, I was freed of my vow.

In what can only be called serendipity, I was presented with an opportunity to solve the uncertainly of my racial heritage on PBS’s Genealogy Roadshow.” I traced the Frederic family back to 18th-century Louisiana. I discovered slave-owners, enslaved women, and free people of color. Through the centuries, I saw how shifting racial laws had affected my family, boxing them into racial categories that hindered them.

Three days after my appearance on the show, my mother’s family found me. My “new” family welcomed me with generosity and love, neither judging my mother nor rejecting me. At a welcome home party in New Orleans, I met my new uncle, two aunts, and slews of cousins. We were every shade of skin from darkest ebony to whitest white and all the shades in between. Suddenly, I was part of a multiracial family.

Although I could check “other” or “multiracial” when asked my race on a form, I still identify as a white woman.

At this late point, it would be disingenuous of me to claim any other identity. I’ve enjoyed white privilege my entire life. I will never forget my mother’s haunted look as she said, “How will I hold my head up with my friends?” I bear no rancor toward her for not telling me of her mixed-race heritage. I feel only sorrow that, even after I knew, she was unable to share with me her feelings about who she really was and the life she had lived.

Even so, I find solace and pride in finally knowing the truth of my own heritage and the mixed-raced family I am a part of.

This story originally appeared on The Lily, a publication of Washington Post, and is reprinted here with permission.

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.

That first car is a rite of passage into adulthood. Specifically, the hard-earned lesson of expectations versus reality. Though some of us are blessed with Teslas at 17, most teenagers receive a car that’s been … let’s say previously loved. And that’s probably a good thing, considering nearly half of first-year drivers end up in wrecks. Might as well get the dings on the lemon, right?

Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

Here are 22 responses with the most horsepower:

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Joy

10 things that made us smile this week

Upworthy's weekly roundup of joy.

From magical musical masterpieces to awesome animal awwww moments, here's this week's roundup of delight.

Last week's 10 things that made us smile post included a disproportionate number of dogs, and this week's post includes an unusual amount of music. Not sure how these things happen exactly, but I'm gonna go ahead and blame The Algorithm.

I love music. How could anyone not love music? Humans have made music since time immemorial, in every culture around the world. Few things unite people like music can, without having to speak one another's languages, without having to say a word. We hear a well-performed piece of music and we are transformed, like magic.

In this week's list, we have music being played and enjoyed by young and old as a reminder of the wonderful things humans can create. We need that reminder in the face of destruction that we are builders of beauty when we choose to be.

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via Pexels

If you know how to fix this tape, you grew up in the 1990s.

There are a lot of reasons to feel a twinge of nostalgia for the final days of the 20th century. Rampant inflation, a global pandemic and political unrest have created a sense of uneasiness about the future that has everyone feeling a bit down.

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.

But, you gotta admit, that TV is still pretty damn good.

A lot of folks feel Americans have become a lot harsher to one another due to political divides, which seem to be widening by the day due to the power of the internet and partisan media.

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