After more than a decade of performing, the Kominas were getting tired.

They weren't tired of playing music, though — that remained the best part of their days. Instead, the punk rock band was exhausted by always having to explain, identify, and defend themselves as Americans of South Asian descent in a mostly white punk rock scene.

"In our early days, we definitely coexisted with a lot of local, very white punk bands. But even then, I felt like we were some kind of fetish," said guitarist Shahjehan Khan, in a band interview with Spencer Shannon. According to Khan, even bands that they were friends with still couldn't tell the members of the Kominas apart sometimes.


Basim Usmani, Karna Ray, Sunny Ali, and Shahjehan Khan. Photo by Eva Wo/the Kominas, used with permission.

They released a new record in 2015, appropriately titled "Stereotype," and they wanted to go on tour to promote it. But as brown-skinned dudes in America, they didn't feel very safe.

Somehow, things for South Asian Americans — including Pakistanis, Muslims, Sikhs, and many other groups — were looking even worse than when the band first formed a few years after 9/11.

"The climate in America right now, with all the shit going on politically and with the election ... every day is like there’s new shit happening and it’s so hard to keep up. You get kind of numb to it and not really dealing with it," said guitarist/vocalist Sunny Ali.

"But our shows have been getting more and more [people-of-color] majority ... and it’s just cool to have a place that everybody can get together in that way, and just potentially be like moshing with each other, then picking each other up if someone fell," he added. "Even just physically being that close to like-minded people can be therapeutic."

Photo by HYFN/the Kominas, used with permission.

In the summer of 2016, the band decided to pack up their gear and embark on a "Rock Therapy" tour across the United States.

They'd play music on the tour, of course. The 10,000-mile, monthlong tour would take them to 20 cities, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Houston, to Olympia, Washington. But most importantly, it would be all about inclusiveness.

This trek might sound scary at a time when the cringeworthy xenophobia of "Ban Muslims!" is so central to the zeitgeist. But that's why the Kominas are making an effort to perform at inclusive cultural centers and music venues with other like-minded artists and musicians.

"It’s not just a rock therapy tour. It’s like a 'Magic School Bus' education," explained vocalist/bassist Basim Usmani. "It's us going through the USA and saying, 'What is this place?' Then being able to look around and say, 'Honey, you’re home' and ... get that positive feeling of, 'Yeah, I was born in this country, and I love it.'"

Photo by HYFN/the Kominas, used with permission.

Their tour kicked off at the Lilypad in Cambridge in July.

100 eager fans crammed into the small gallery space that night. Gutter punks and hipsters danced alongside dolled-up young professionals. There were even a few older parents who showed up ready to rock. Most of the crowd had brown skin, and some wore dastaars or kameez or saris. At one point in the evening, the audience let out a collective chuckle when the opening band's Bengali-American singer joked that the drummer could pronounce Sanskrit better than she could.

The show was easily one of the warmest and most inviting rock 'n' roll shows I'd ever been a part of, and I was immediately struck by the bonds that were apparent even between strangers — just because they all felt comfortable in the space.

One fan, Sara Hussain, said she felt right at home watching the Kominas. "I'm a South Asian girl, and it’s the first time I’ve seen artists that have made their name that are South Asian artists," she told Upworthy. "They wear our clothing, they say the words that we understand, they share our languages. That’s how we connect to them. You really can’t see yourself represented in the world unless you actually see yourself up there, or people like you, right?"

Photo by HYFN/the Kominas, used with permission.

Every band that played that night had some kind of South Asian influence bleeding through their sound. But at the same time, the bands were just your average American indie rock bands, too.

"Rock Therapy might be kind of healing those wounds that are created by people who are prejudiced against those Pakistani Americans or Muslim Americans or Desi," said Levi Ali, a musician and longtime Kominas fan who was in the audience that night, in an interview with Upworthy. "You have to go and support everyone who’s doing that because that’s how you start a movement. ... It’s showing that we are something in this country, we’re here too, and we’re doing cool stuff."

"When you try to represent your culture which is largely ignored, any kind of symbol becomes huge."

Photo by SUNDAYS/cool/the Kominas, used with permission.

All too often, minorities in America are saddled with the responsibility of being the spokespeople for their entire group.

There is obviously a vibrant South Asian rock music community in America, as evidenced by the Kominas tour. But even in the earliest days of their success, they were forced to act both in press and at concerts as some kind of monolithic archetypal stand-in for all South Asian Americans who like rock music, which has been incredibly difficult.

"A large portion of our fanbase is people of color," drummer Karna Ray explained to Shannon. "Hopefully with this [new tour], we can create small spaces where people are alleviated of having that responsibility" of always having to explain and identify themselves.

Photo by HYFN/the Kominas, used with permission.

Case in point: The Kominas are frequently referred to as a "Muslim punk band" even though they're not all Muslim.

But they are all Americans.

Sure, they embrace and poke fun at their experiences as South Asian Americans in songs like "See Something, Say Something," the "Friends"-inspired "4 White Guys," and "Sharia Law in the USA." But it's not the only thing that defines them.

"Our songs critique the world around us, but a lot of people can read whatever paternal, like, 'They’re trying to reform their savage culture!' bullcrap they want," said Usmani. "That makes what we’re doing feel really gross. We’re not, like, 'one of the good ones.'"

"It’s difficult because a lot of other bands, they’re just going through it. They’re not even saddled with an identity," he added. "No one’s like, 'Wow, a white band’s playing tonight!'"

Photo by Eddie Austin/the Kominas, used with permission.

That's why it's so important that bands like the Kominas are using the power of community to create safe spaces for all types of Americans.

If you ask the Kominas directly about what they want audiences to take away from their music and performances, they probably won't talk to you about inclusiveness alone. No, instead they'd all tell you the exact same thing in unison: "Buy our T-shirts!"

It's a silly and moving reminder that they're still just another great American rock 'n' roll band trying to make a living by doing what they love — even if that does involve a little rock therapy.

But tours like these still make a huge difference for South Asian Americans in particular, especially at a time when many of them could use the support. But that doesn't mean the rest of us are left out of the fun, either — we can all listen to their music and enjoy their shows (and, yes, laugh at their hilarious music videos), while also reminding ourselves that America's strength lies in diversity, not exclusion.

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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Photo by TR on Unsplash

Companies and organizations are on the side of their employees in light of stricter abortion laws.

The leak from the Supreme Court about overturning Roe v. Wade caused many people with uteruses to go into a tailspin. People began scheduling appointments for long-term birth control. Some opted for permanent birth control. Others stocked up on Plan B or called in preemptive prescriptions for the abortion pill mifepristone. In addition to making tangible plans for what the future might hold in some of these trigger states, people took to the streets to make their voices heard. Protests were held across America against the proposed overturning of Roe v. Wade, which protects people’s right to abortion under the 14th Amendment.

People are also organizing over social media. They’re helping locate nonprofits that will help cover the cost of travel from a restricted state to states where abortion will remain legal. Secret Facebook groups are popping up to help arrange transportation and accommodations for those who need access to safe reproductive care. People are coming together in ways you see in movies, all in an effort to prevent inevitable deaths that would occur if people attempt home abortions. It’s both heartwarming and heart-wrenching that this is something that needs to be done at all. It doesn’t stop with determined activists and housewives across the country, this fiery spirit has reached corporations as well.

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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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