What happened when this kid wore a dress to his grandma's funeral.

"I want to wear a dress. That's how Nana would want me," C.J. declared.

When my mother, Nana, died on Memorial Day, we immediately started planning her Celebration of Life.

Mostly, it felt better to be actively doing something as opposed to sitting immobilized unable to do anything. And those were our only two options.

As we began planning, my brother Michael, my husband Matt, and I explained the event's significance to my sons, C.J. and Chase. "What are we going to wear to the Celebration of Life?" C.J. asked immediately, because even when grieving, he's concerned about fashion.


"I'm wearing a tie," said 12-year-old Chase, who loves any excuse to wear a tie.

"I want to be a girl at Nana's Celebration of Life. I want to wear a dress. That's how Nana would want me," 8-year-old C.J. declared. He asked if we could go shopping. I promised him we would.

Baby C.J. and Nana. All photos provided by the author, used with permission.

"Will everyone at the Celebration of Life know that I'm gender nonconforming?" he asked.

"No." I waited for the usual self-editing and deep consideration about his gender expression around new people to begin.

As C.J. explains it, he's a boy who likes "girl things" and "girl clothes" and wants to be treated like a girl, all while preferring masculine pronouns and his male body. We say that he's gender variant or gender nonconforming, and he floats on the gender variation spectrum from super-macho-masculine on the left, all the way to super-girly-feminine on the right.

"I don't care," he said. "I'm wearing a dress."

"That sounds good," we said.

C.J. could have said he was going to dress up like a dragon or be a dandelion, and we would have said it sounded good.

The sudden death of a loved one puts things into perspective, and the Celebration of Life would be casual, loving, and accepting, just like Nana was.

Every day that week, C.J. pressured me to take him shopping for a new dress, and every day, I told him that we needed to wait until his uncle Michael got back in town. I was physically and emotionally spent and didn't feel well-equipped to help my son pick out a dress for his grandmother's funeral. I needed some back up, some support, and in this case, I knew my brother was the person I needed most.

When Uncle Michael arrived on Thursday, our first stop was Target.

C.J. led us to the "girls' section" and started purposefully working the aisles and holding out fabrics he fancied. Uncle Michael and I did the same.

The three of us called out to each other when a dress caught our eye and held it up for comments and opinions. Uncle Michael and I have similar tastes and found a few options that we thought were perfect. C.J. nixed them all.

C.J. finally decided on a cream linen dress with delicate eyelet detail, a dainty navy blue cardigan and a headband with blue and yellow flowers adorning it. He could not be swayed.

Over the next two days, C.J. kept reminding us that he was going to wear a dress at Nana's Celebration of Life.

We said we knew and thought it was perfect. If that's how he felt Nana would want him, then that's exactly what he should do.

He never again asked about the strangers who we would welcome into our home and what their reactions to a boy in a dress might be. He was unwavering in his decision and he didn't care what other people thought. He was committed to making the event about him and his Nana, and that made me proud. That's what memorializing a person and the relationship you had with them is all about.

"Pa, I'm going to be a girl at Nana's Celebration of Life," he said to my dad the night before the service. He looked his grandfather right in the eyes and stood firm. If anybody in our family was going to have a reaction, it would be Pa. I nervously held my breath.

"That is exactly how Nana would want you and that's what you should do. It's about you and Nana, and she loved you so much," Pa said as he wrapped C.J. in a hug.

The day of the Celebration of Life, C.J. made sure I steamed his dress, like I did mine, and flat ironed his hair, like I did mine.

He spritzed on some Chanel Coco perfume and applied his favorite lip gloss. After he put on his cream dress, navy cardigan, and flowered headband, I surprised him by presenting him with a strand of Nana's pearls to wear.

He greeted people at the door as they arrived at our house for the Celebration of Life. We introduced him to people from my parents' church and to their friends who had never met him before.

"This is our youngest son, C.J.," we'd say.

"It's nice to finally meet you," they'd say. “Your Nana told us so much about you."

That afternoon, my son was not one bit worried about what perfect strangers would think about him wearing a dress.

He listened to those strangers tell him that his Nana loved him very much and that she told everyone all about him. He was unabashed and unashamed. He honored Nana and their special relationship beautifully.

I imagined her looking down on him.

"That's my beautiful boy! You look so pretty! I love your dress!" she'd say, like she always did.

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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via Cadbury

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On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

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Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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