Alex Aide is Program Manager for Born This Way Foundation
This is a picture from my speech last week that I’m really, really proud to say went well. I had the opportunity to give a presentation to introduce our upcoming programming in Las Vegas to partners and nonprofits making a difference for young people in the community there. This photo captures me meeting many of them for the first time, and it will forever be special to me for that reason alone.
I want to tell you another reason why I love this picture, but to do that, I need to be more honest in a way I don’t think I’ve ever been with most people in my life. I’m coming out of one of the worst depression episodes I’ve ever experienced after a really rough 2018.
Depression has always been something I’ve managed, but like most of our journeys, I have peaks and valleys. I’m also a bit of a reluctant speaker. Even with a simple event like this, I stress and prep wildly when I know I have to speak. I don’t tell you this for sympathy or to think I’m incapable. I tell you this because — look closer. The man in that picture is in front of a room full of important people and partners who came to learn about what Born This Way Foundation is doing in Las Vegas and how we might work together. And in this picture, I see someone who wants to shine on behalf of the Born This Way Foundation Team. I see someone who is standing straight, tall, and with confidence because, despite any self-doubt and nervousness during preparation, he told himself over and over again *in his strongest Tiffany Haddish’s voice* “he ready.” And when the time came to present, he 👏 was 👏 ready 👏.
Yes, I see my depression in the picture — but not the sadness or anxiety associated with it. Rather, I see the strength and resiliency it has given me through healing time and time again. And the knowledge behind my eyes that if things get rough again, I will always come back swinging.
I’m sharing my feelings about this picture with you because, ultimately, this (albeit, very visually basic) picture isn’t even about me. It’s for you and every other person in my life, past and present, who have helped me pick up the pieces without judgment again and again. The ones that push me to be the best I can be and never let me forget who I am even when I’m not sure anymore. The ones that still send me dog memes even when I don’t have Instagram. The ones that cheer me on at the beginning, middle, and end of each race. Members of the BTWF community like you who make the world a kinder and braver place. I got back up again this January, swinging, because of you.
Your love and kindness mean more to me than you’ll ever know. I left that speech feeling like I could do anything, and I haven’t felt like that in forever. And you know what? I think I will. I’ll be sure to remind you of the same when you need it. Here’s to the next one.
Alex Aide is Program Manager at Born This Way Foundation
This has been a particularly rough week in the news, so I just wanted to take this moment to remind each of you how important you are.
Maybe you are like me, and you’re a little more introverted + don’t always like asking for help, and you sometimes let that voice of anxiety speak a little too loudly. Well, please let me be louder in saying: you matter.
You matter to me. You matter to all of us at Born This Way. You matter to your families. To your friends. To your animals. To the baristas that look forward to seeing you every day. To that person on Instagram you’ve never met but always double taps your photos like a true fan. To your readers. To your teachers + professors. To your coworkers. To your teammates. To your gaming friends online. To that aunt that always manages to ask embarrassing questions but still means well. To your classmates. To volunteers you’ve worked with. To that one bug you decided to free outside rather than squash. To strangers you’ve run into and appreciated your polite smile. To people waiting to meet you and your fantastic self in your future. To everyone.
One of my favorite words of wisdom I’ve ever heard came from someone telling me in a particularly down part of my life that “Yes, there will be tough times in the future. But there are going to be so many more good times. Don’t forget that!” In that very moment, it was as if someone took the blinders off of me that were keeping me from seeing the happiness ahead. It was simple advice, but I really hadn’t ever thought of my own future that way, and they were right. There have been so many more good moments in my life since then, and there will be a million more. I haven’t forgotten that.
If you or someone you know are in crisis, there really are wonderful and truly helpful resources immediately available: https://bornthisway.foundation/get-help-now/
And if you aren’t in crisis, but maybe you need that reminder of the good things in store for your future, or just need someone to talk to about your day from time to time, about your occasional frustrations, about that aunt that just keeps asking embarrassing questions, you have a community – online and offline – that cares about you and is ready to listen.
Take care of yourselves and each other today and every day.
This past Wednesday, Cynthia and I made our way to the DonorsChoose.org offices here in Manhattan. Starbucks coffee in hands, we both arrived on time at the front door of their building, so excited for what was about to happen. Born This Way Foundation and DonorsChoose.org have been working for months on ways to work together to promote mental and emotional wellness in public schools, and the day had finally arrived to announce the initiative to do just that – appropriately titled “The Mental and Emotional Wellness Challenge.”
To properly kick off the partnership, Cynthia sat down with Charles Best, CEO of DonorsChoose.org, at their offices to host a Facebook Live broadcast where the Challenge would be explained to the world. As they got settled in front of the camera, we all quickly realized that if this partnership doesn’t work out, they both would have promising careers ahead of them as morning TV show anchors. Tell me I’m wrong:
Fortunately, the partnership is going to work out. If you haven’t heard of DonorsChoose.org, you are missing out on something incredibly special. Users on the site can choose classroom projects they’d like to donate their money to. Once that project is fully-funded, DonorsChoose.org purchases all the items needed for the project and ships them to the school. It’s an incredible platform to help make teachers’ and students’ educational needs and ideas to improve their schools happen, and it’s also an incredible way to involve people on the outside who just want to see them become a reality.
The Mental and Emotional Wellness Challenge is truly unique. In fact, it’s the first of its kind to support this category of emotional wellness projects on DonorsChoose.org. Plus, the Challenge will double the donations to teacher-led projects falling under this category and TRIPLE student-led projects of the same (up to $500). Not only that, at the end of the campaign, Born This Way Foundation will select the five projects that best demonstrate the importance of mental health, decrease stigma around the issue, and teach students practical skills to support their mental and emotional wellness. At the end of the challenge, the 5 most innovative teachers will receive a $5,000 DonorsChoose.org gift card.
While the details that were laid out during the broadcast are incredibly exciting — I couldn’t help but notice the map behind the two of them as they chatted. Right before the interview started, Charles gave us a quick tour of their space, and Cynthia and I were fascinated to learn that same map provides real-time data on projects happening across the country.
It hit me: these projects can happen anywhere in the US. Students and teachers won’t have to rely on their school districts’ approvals or state budgets’ allowances to make these ideas a reality. They can happen right now – regardless of location.
Mental and emotional wellness is not relegated to only certain parts of the country, or even certain individuals for that matter. We all have a need to support these aspects of our lives, and students should have every opportunity in schools to learn about and foster them.
Cynthia and Charles wrapped their conversation, and she and I said our goodbyes to their lovely team. Once we got to the elevator, Cynthia and I jumped for joy. For us two proud born-and-raised West Virginians in the middle of Manhattan, we couldn’t believe this was happening. Together with DonorsChoose.org, Born This Way Foundation is making mental health support and education available to everybody, right now.
Check out their conversation below and learn more about the projects YOU can support at DonorsChoose.org.