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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 her degree 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.

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.

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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This guy would have a hard time saying "french fry." Tragic.

Processed food gets a bad rap. But without it, we might have never been able to even say the word “food.” Or “friendly,” or “fun” or “velociraptor” for that matter. Why is that?

“F’s” and “v’s” belong to a group of sounds known as labiodentals. They happen when you raise your bottom lip to touch your top teeth and are used in more than half of today’s human language. But science suggests we didn’t always have this linguistic ability.

As hunter gatherers, our ancestors ate a diet that was minimally processed and required more effort to chew. As a result, by adolescence their teeth would develop what’s called an edge-to-edge bite, where the jaw is elongated so that both the bottom and top teeth are completely flush with one another.

Cue the Neolithic period, where widespread agriculture meant more soft foods like stew and bread and less laborious chewing. Over time, the slight overbite that most people are born with stayed preserved, because chewing was less of an arduous process.
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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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