When Clara Spera says she has looked up to Hillary Clinton her entire life, she’s not exaggerating: Clinton visited Spera’s day care when she was a toddler.

Although she didn’t know it at the time, that chance encounter was the start of something for Spera.

Clara Spera and Hillary Clinton. Photo via Clara Spera, used with permission.


Now a student at Harvard Law School, Spera says she knew she had to be a part of Clinton’s campaign last summer. She was working in Paris and was stunned by the Brexit vote result. Her first thought the next morning was “If they can do this ... President Trump.”

Spera got involved through a friend who was working on the campaign and rearranged her schedule so she’d only take classes two days a week. She spent the rest of her week commuting to Brooklyn and working as an intern on the campaign’s voter protection team.  

“I felt like it was my duty to do anything I could to try to prevent a Trump presidency,” she says.

Spera is just one of many women who joined the effort to elect Clinton. But who were these women? And why were they so invested in Clinton’s presidential bid?  

After sharing a “particularly passionate Facebook rant,” Dayli Vazquez was encouraged to “take it a step further and get involved in the campaign’s grassroots efforts” by friends who were already involved with the Florida Democratic Party. The party eventually offered Vazquez a job as a field organizer.

“I had a theatrical ‘aha!’ moment in which everything was placed in perspective for me and I knew I wouldn’t forgive myself if I turned it down,” she recalls.

LaDavia Drane, who worked as the Clinton campaign’s director of African-American outreach and later as the deputy director of congressional affairs, knew a friend who “was playing a significant role” and “decided to reach out.”

LaDavia Drane walks with Hillary Clinton. Photo by Elliot Powell, Powell Photography, Inc., (Chicago).

Shola Farber applied for a role at the campaign’s headquarters in Brooklyn. She believes the campaign passed her information along because soon “senior staffers in states across the country” started to recruit her. She eventually served as the regional organizing director for the Michigan Democratic Party.

“When the opportunity arose in Michigan, I knew I could not — in good conscience — decline the offer," Farber says. "Too much was at stake in this election; I felt an obligation to do whatever I could to help Secretary Clinton reach the People’s House. I took on the role with a deep sense of purpose.”

Zerlina Maxwell, on the other hand, randomly received a phone call with a job offer while she was writing for Essence magazine. Maxwell served as the campaign's director of progressive media.

Zerlina Maxwell shakes hands with Hillary Clinton. Photo via Barbara Kinney/Hillary for America.

“It didn’t take me a lot of time to say yes. ... I didn’t want to not do everything I could possibly do to help,” she explains.

Although these women's responsibilities varied, their goal was singular: help Clinton become our country’s first female president.

Their efforts, however, were not rewarded. As the electoral map slowly turned red Nov. 8, their shared dream fell apart.

“The outcome of the election came as a total shock. We were blindsided. It was as though a dear friend or family member had died unexpectedly,” recalls Farber, who was in the conference room of a law office in Southfield, Michigan, on election night.

Vazquez was with a group of volunteers and paid staff at the Ybor, Florida, campaign office for what she thought was going to be a victory party. “None of us were prepared for the outcome,” she says.

Drane, watching from home, says she "felt deeply empty by the end of the night.”

Spera took what she calls “the most expensive cab” of her life back to her parents’ apartment, crying the entire time. She says she went to bed wrapped in a Hillary for America Legal Team sweatshirt, just hoping for a miracle.

The election was over, but the fight was not. Soon after, they got to work.

Vazquez says she has jumped right back into the local political scene, getting involved with numerous Democratic organizations. Drane also picked up another job in politics: She’s working as the chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-New York).  

Maxwell, a political analyst, speaker, and writer, is continuing the work she did before joining the campaign: giving speeches on college campuses about sexual assault and rape culture. Farber co-founded a political consultancy that “brings the best practices of political organizing to the digital world” and is working as a freelance writer.

As for Spera, she’ll clerk for two federal judges in New York once she graduates. “I am mostly angry for now, but I plan to fuel that anger into action,” she says.

Vazquez echoed her sentiments. When asked what advice she’d give to others who have faced a similarly crushing defeat, she says to take the time to grieve, “then get back up and fight like hell.”

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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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.

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