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She suffered abuse as a child. Now she's a cop dedicated to making kids' lives better.

Proof that a traumatic past does not have to dictate your future.

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State Farm

As a child, Lakesha Burton had dreams of becoming an Olympic runner — but life took her on another course.

It had nothing to do with her athletic abilities: She was faster than all the boys in elementary school, and her coach told her she had definite promise.

Her dream was derailed because she was sexually abused by her stepfather when she was only 11 years old.


The negative emotions she experienced as a result took her down a dark path that led to drugs and various delinquencies. Eventually she got pregnant at the age of 14.

"I purposefully got pregnant because I thought that might end my abuse," Burton admits.

[rebelmouse-image 19530630 dam="1" original_size="640x427" caption="Image via Christian Haugen/Flickr." expand=1]Image via Christian Haugen/Flickr.

But the abuse didn't end. When her stepfather attempted it in front of her baby, she decided she had to take her and leave home.

She stayed at a friend's house that first night and woke up to the police who had been called by her friend's mother.  

According to Burton, one of the officers named Victor Jefferson kneeled down, hugged her, and said, "I believe you. And I’m going to make sure this man never touches you again."

Her stepfather was arrested, but the charges against him were dropped. This fueled Burton's downward spiral, and soon enough, she was on the verge of suicide.

Thankfully, after a revelatory experience at church, Burton was inspired to turn her life around.

[rebelmouse-image 19530631 dam="1" original_size="640x427" caption="Image via Alejandra Rdguez/Flickr." expand=1]Image via Alejandra Rdguez/Flickr.

Praying at a local church revival helped her feel relief from her emotional pain for the first time. She decided then and there that she'd dedicate her life to helping others.

She went back to school, and joined the Jacksonville, Florida, Police Athletic League (PAL). There, she started playing basketball there regularly.

PALs exist all over the country and aim to foster positive relationships between police officers and kids in the community through various programs.

Burton with kids at PAL. All photos below via the Jacksonville, Florida, PAL.

Her basketball training at PAL led to her landing a full scholarship to the University of Central Florida, where she got herdegree in criminal justice.

She chose this major because she wanted to bring all child molesters to justice. "I wanted to be that police officer that responds and treats victims with dignity," Burton says. And that's exactly who she became.

In her time working for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, she's already put several child molesters in jail.

She also managed to track down and thank the officer who initially offered her comfort after her own traumatic experience years before.

"You are my angel; you changed my life," she told him.

Two years ago, she returned to PAL as an officer intent on giving something back to kids who might be struggling.

Burton on the job at the Jacksonville PAL.

Because she had a difficult childhood, she thought the kids would be able to relate and open up to her.  If kids are opening up about their issues, she says, there's a chance more traumatic incidents will be prevented.

She once spoke with two girls at PAL about low self-esteem, and when she told them she struggles with it too sometimes, they started crying. She asked them, "What can I do to help you see your value?" They replied, "Can we have a slumber party?"

So, Burton began organizing a massive slumber party for 200 girls at her PAL, and it was so successful, they do it every year now.

Some of the teen girls at the Jacksonville PAL with Burton.

This past year, they even organized a surprise flash mob for them. After one sleepover, a girl came up to Burton and said, "Oh my gosh, we didn’t know police officers were cool!"

"I thought, 'Oh my gosh, this matters,'" Burton exclaimed.

Today, as PAL's executive director, Burton is spearheading many community-building initiatives.

Burton's Lunch with a PAL initiative in full swing.

She established a program called Mobile PAL, which takes all the relationship-building activities PAL practices indoors onto the streets of Jacksonville.

"There’s a lot of enforcement in the low-income areas," Burton explained. "Younger people don’t know how to process that. So Mobile PAL goes out and engages them with fun activities. It allows kids to humanize police officers."

She even contacted local restaurants to help her launch the program Lunch with a PAL where kids can have a free meal with officers and talk about anything.

Burton organizing a game through Mobile PAL.

According to PAL's most recent impact report, 100% of students in the program were free from physical harm and arrest.

Ninety-seven percent matriculated into the next grade at school.

The organization is helping kids better themselves and feel more connected to police officers. The officers are doing all they can to show kids there are many who want to be there for them.  So far, it seems to be working.

PAL has programs in cities all over the country. You can learn more about the organization as a whole here, including learning how to start your own, and finding your local PAL. If you're a child going through something, you don't have to do it alone. Officers at PALs around the country are here to help.

Update 7/21/2017: Minor points of this story were changed for clarity.

Photo courtesy of Girls at Work

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Girls are bombarded with messages from a very young age telling them that they can’t, that is too big, this is too heavy, those are too much.

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Pop Culture

14 things that will remain fun no matter how old you get

Your inner child will thank you for doing at least one of these.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Swings can turn 80-year-olds into 8-year-olds in less that two seconds.

When we’re kids, fun comes so easily. You have coloring books and team sports and daily recess … so many opportunities to laugh, play and explore. As we get older, these activities get replaced by routine and responsibility (and yes, at times, survival). Adulthood, yuck.

Many of us want to have more fun, but making time for it still doesn’t come as easily as it did when we were kids—whether that’s because of guilt, a long list of other priorities or because we don’t feel it’s an age-appropriate thing to long for.

Luckily, we’ve come to realize that fun isn’t just a luxury of childhood, but really a vital aspect of living well—like reducing stress, balancing hormone levels and even improving relationships.

More and more people of all ages are letting their inner kids out to play, and the feelings are delightfully infectious.

You might be wanting to instill a little more childlike wonder into your own life, and not sure where to start. Never fear, the internet is here. Reddit user SetsunaSaigami asked people, “What always remains fun no matter how old you get?” People’s (surprisingly profound) answers were great reminders that no matter how complex our lives become, simple joy will always be important.

Here are 14 timeless pleasures to make you feel like a kid again:

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All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

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Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

Alien Ant Farm's "Smooth Criminal" cover still rocks.

When Micheal Jackson released "Smooth Criminal" in 1988, I was a 13-year-old named Annie. As you can imagine, the "Annie, are you okay?" jokes came fast and furious, and they haven't let up much in the three and a half decades since.

It's all good. Those jokes gave me a respite from the "Annie get your gun" and "little orphan Annie" ones, and besides, it's a great song. It wasn't Jackson's biggest hit, but it was always my favorite, and not just because it bore my name. The music video—a nine-minute, dance-heavy mini-movie set in the 1930s gangster era—made it even better.

But apparently, mentioning "Smooth Criminal" or "Annie, are you okay?" to the younger folks doesn't conjure up the zoot suits and dimly lit speakeasy images it does for me. For them, it brings up images of an alternative rock punk band playing in a … boxing ring?

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via Lewis Speaks Sr. / Facebook

This article originally appeared on 02.25.21


Middle school has to be the most insecure time in a person's life. Kids in their early teens are incredibly cruel and will make fun of each other for not having the right shoes, listening to the right music, or having the right hairstyle.

As if the social pressure wasn't enough, a child that age has to deal with the intensely awkward psychological and biological changes of puberty at the same time.

Jason Smith, the principal of Stonybrook Intermediate and Middle School in Warren Township, Indiana, had a young student sent to his office recently, and his ability to understand his feelings made all the difference.

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