What these 5 interracial couples want you to know about America and race.

On a plane ride back from Ketchikan, Alaska, a flight attendant stopped to compliment a passenger on his startling blue eyes.

Days later, the flight attendant, Mardra, received a three-page handwritten love letter from Chris, the blue-eyed passenger, with his phone number inscribed at the bottom. They met in person on a layover two weeks later, the entire flight crew in tow to catch a glimpse of the fated mystery man.

"You know, I was married, and I have a child," Mardra told Chris. "If you're not fine with that, thank you for coming out."


"I would love to take you out to dinner," he replied. A year later, they were married.

Chris and Mardra marrying in 1981. Photo courtesy of Chris Jay.

Though their earnest romance might seem like it was lifted directly from the pages of a Nicholas Sparks novel, Chris and  Mardra Jay will tell you there's more to their story.

It was the 1980s. She was black, and he was white. It had been a long time since 1967, the seminal year that Mildred and Richard Loving famously used their own love to overturn the ban on interracial marriage. Still, there was a long way to go.

Mardra recalls that often her husband's acquaintances wouldn't treat her with respect.

"They would say, 'You know your wife is colored, right?' Right in front of me," she says, adding that she felt like the two of them were a classroom for people who had never been exposed to an interracial couple.

Chris, 67, and Mardra, 72. Image courtesy of Chris Jay.

Now in their 60s and 70s, Chris and Mardra know there's been a lot of progress since they were young. Once a rarity, multiracial children are the second-fastest growing segment of the U.S. population according to official census data, and interracial marriage has lost much of its former taboo.

We spoke to four other interracial couples about their relationships in America today, and how far they think the nation has come.

1. Jill and Juan Cortés.

Juan, 60, and Jill Cortés, 55.  Image courtesy of Jill Cortés.

Though no one would say it, Jill Cortés often suspected the neighbors were only polite to her and her Latino husband, Juan, because of his social status.

"Sometimes I feel that they wouldn't have talked to us, but they did because Juan was a doctor. If he was a blue-collar worker, maybe people wouldn't have associated with us," she recalls.

Juan said that friends and family were always supportive, though he didn't remember a lot of interracial couples — or racial tolerance — growing up when his family would visit Texas.

"I remember being a teenager and being afraid to walk into a restaurant," he says. "I worry it's headed that way again."

2. John Krause and Maria Chua.

John Krause, 48, and Maria Chua, 45. Image courtesy of John Krause.

When John Krause and Maria Chua got married, they had to contend with racism from his mother.

One night after dinner, she took Maria aside to tell her that "it would be very difficult for the children."

"It literally got to the point where I had to tell my parents, if I have to pick between my parents and Maria, I'm picking Maria," Krause says, adding that, "sometimes people don't realize when they're being racist."

John's parents eventually came around, and the couple now has two daughters.

3. Neelam Pathikonda and Lisa DeWolf.

Lisa DeWolf, 43, and Neelam Pathikonda, 39. Image courtesy of Neelam Pathikonda.

After meeting on Facebook through mutual friends, Neelam Pathikonda asked Lisa DeWolf on a date.

"I saw Lisa and pretty much lightweight stalked her online," Neelam says with a laugh. After they met, Lisa sold her house, quit her job, and moved to L.A. to be with Neelam. They married in 2013, in a traditional Hindu ceremony.

Neelam Pathikonda and Lisa Dewolf during their wedding. Photo courtesy of Neelam Pathikonda.

The wedding made some family members — especially those who hadn't originally supported their union— change their mind.

"With the legalization of gay marriage and our big Hindu wedding, my mom definitely came around. She realized that this wasn't a phase," Neelam says, adding that it had been 12 years since she had come out.

When the couple finally had a child, Neelam's father came around too.

Lisa and Neelam are nervous about what a Trump presidency will mean for them and their daughter. Still, they don't plan on giving up their rights anytime soon.

"I think that certainly there has been progress made. Queer clubs used to be raided by the police, and as a community, we've come so far and we're still demanding more," Neelam explains.

4. Ben and Constance Hawkes.

Ben, 30, and Constance Hawkes, 29. Photo courtesy of Ben Hawkes

Growing up as millennials, Ben and Constance Hawkes noticed a change in how mixed-race couples were treated.

"I've been pleasantly surprised with how supportive my friends and family have been," Ben says, acknowledging that being white, he can't speak for his wife's experience.

For Constance, she's had to contend with annoying comments about how "well-spoken" she is or people's ideas that racism no longer exists.

Despite the deep hostility felt through the election cycle, Ben and Constance are hopeful.

"We've just seen so much more representation of mixed-race couples in TV shows, in the media," Constance explains.  

The last law banning interracial marriage in the United States was officially repealed in Alabama in 2000. Yet today, race relations in the U.S. are at a boiling point.

We've come a long way since 1967, but these couples and their experiences shed light on ways we can create a more tolerant world.

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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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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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