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Aspen Institute

If you want to walk across the country, you need a few things: passion, persistence, and good shoes.

Luckily, 90-year-old Opal Lee has all three.

Lee set out on foot from her home in Fort Worth, Texas, on Aug. 31, 2016, with a mission to walk all the way to Washington D.C. And no, it's not just for exercise, a Guinness record, or some sort of Forest Gump-level brush with boredom.


Lee is driven by something much bigger: purpose.

Photo by Daniel Carde for The Shorthorn, used with permission.

Lee's purpose goes back to a day called Juneteenth.

In 1865, two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and months after General Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Major General Gordon Granger and Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, with the news that all slaves were officially free.

He delivered the announcement on June 19, 1865 (June + Nineteenth), and Juneteenth began.

Today, many people celebrate the holiday individually with barbecues and backyard parties. But Opal Lee would like to see it turn into a day of service, similar to Martin Luther King Jr. Day — complete with job fairs, educational opportunities, and support for victims of abuse.

"It just can't be the frivolity that people think of it as," she said. "We have an opportunity to help."

B.J. Chiszar (C) helps Robert Jackson (L) and John Albritton (R) fill out a form applying for restoration of their civil rights during a Juneteenth event in Miami, Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

That's why Lee is walking all the way to Washington, D.C. — to hand deliver a petition to President Obama about making Juneteenth a National Day of Observance.

She's been working with her local Juneteenth organization for the past 40 years. Her local organization has appealed to Congress and previous presidents over and over again, hoping to take the event national.

So far, nothing has caught the White House's attention, which is why Lee's taking a different tactic this time around.

"I thought, if a 90-year-old got out there walking toward Washington, D.C., from Fort Worth, Texas, somebody would take notice," she said. "And maybe they would decide they wouldn't want that little old lady dying on their watch, and they'd invite me up there so I could tell 'em what I've got on my mind."

Lee won’t walk all 1,400 miles from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C, but she will walk most of them.

Rain or shine, she typically walks two miles in the morning and two in the afternoon every day. She jumps to different cities along the route, including Texarkana, Shreveport, and St. Louis, welcomed by by churches, schools, NAACP chapters, and anyone else who will have her.

Each day, she dons a reflective vest and her sturdy walking shoes.

Photo by Daniel Carde for The Shorthorn, used with permission.

And she sets out, sign in hand, to take on the day's mileage.

Photo courtesy of Opals Walk 2 DC/Facebook.

Strangers, local groups, and churches have organized around her, some honking and cheering from their cars.

Photo by Daniel Carde for The Shorthorn, used with permission.

Some even join her for a mile or two.

Photo via Opal's Walk 2 D.C., used with permission.

"The support has been fantastic," she said. "I actually have fun doing this."

Photo via Opal's Walk 2 D.C., used with permission.

At the end of each day, Lee often stops to talk to school kids, locals, and anyone curious about Juneteenth.

She also talks about her walk before gearing up for the next mile in the next city.

Photo by Daniel Carde for The Shorthorn, used with permission.

It's not a pursuit for the faint of heart, but Lee is not familiar with the phrase "give up."

Like Opal Lee herself, Juneteenth is uniquely American, rooted in strength and history.

Members of the group Visionz of Tomorrow perform during a Juneteenth celebration in California. Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images.

A majority of states have already made Juneteenth (also called Emancipation Day) a holiday at the state level, on equal footing with "Will Rogers Day" in Oklahoma or "Confederate Memorial Day" in South Carolina.  

Juneteenth Inter-Faith Prayer Vigil for Emmanuel AME Church at the African-American Civil War Memorial. Photo by Elvert Barnes/Flickr.

This day is not just a "black holiday," it's a celebration of gratitude and freedom.

It's a lasting reminder of how far we've come as a nation and how far we've yet to go.

"It should be our way to thank the people who were responsible for our deliverance. The slaves didn't deliver themselves," Lee said. "There were Quakers and Jews and abolitionists and the Underground Railroad — all kinds of people who worked untiringly to help slaves get free, and we need to be aware of that and make others aware of that."

So that's why Mrs. Lee walks: for progress and for a better America.

With courage, heart, and one foot in front of the other, she will get to D.C.

You can help Lee along the way by following her journey on Facebook or her website. And if you're on #TeamOpal, be sure to  read and sign her official White House petition too. The first petition expired before it reached the necessary 100,000 signatures, but again, giving up is not something Opal Lee does. Ever.

After all, she's just keeping the movement going until the next generation steps up.

"I'm optimistic that somewhere along the line, the young people are gonna take the reigns and they're gonna do a lot better than I've done over the years," Lee said

Photo via Opal's Walk 2 D.C., used with permission.

Those are big, sturdy shoes to fill. But we owe it to her and generations of Americans to give it our best shot.

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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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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