Mic Drop 2020: Facing homophobia, mental health and domestic abuse, teens reveal their strength and resilience

Two years can be a long time for a teen. For some of the Canadian teens who spoke to CBC's podcast Mic Drop, the last two years have brought with them new schools, new friends, and new stories.

Shari Okeke checks in with teens who told their stories in CBC's podcast Mic Drop

CBC's podcast Mic Drop features young people speaking candidly about their hopes, fears and frustrations, using only their first names or pseudonyms. (Shutterstock)

Two years can be a long time for a teen. For some of the Canadian teens who spoke to CBC's podcast Mic Drop, the last two years have brought with them new schools, new friends and new stories.

Mic Drop launched in 2018, featuring young people speaking candidly about their hopes, fears and frustrations, using only their first names or pseudonyms.

Host and creator Shari Okeke said young people are often ignored in broadcast journalism — so she handed the mic to them, to tell their own stories, in their own way.

"We put a call out there looking for teens who had something to say and we were flooded with messages — teens eager to share their experiences with toxic friendships, mental health challenges, racism, peer pressure, you name it," she said.

Okeke checked in with some of the teens she interviewed to find out how they're doing now, and what they think about the stories they told two years ago.

Mic Drop creator Shari Okeke chats with Tristan for the 'Comfort Zone' episode of the Mic Drop podcast. (Carrie Haber/CBC)

Melissa: Confronting homophobia

When she was 13, Melissa didn't find many supports as a gay girl growing up in Montreal.

She remembered another student pushing her out of the girls' bathroom at the private school she attended, telling her to go to the boy's bathroom instead.

"I didn't want to get pushed out. I wouldn't want to get teachers involved. I would wait 'till I got home, and go to the bathroom at home," she told Okeke.

Shortly after visiting a friend's home, she found out her friend's religious parents didn't want her coming over again; they called her a bad influence, worried that Melissa would make their daughter gay too.

"So I just stopped talking to her for that reason, really. I wish we could keep being friends."

Today, Melissa is 15, and in a better place. She switched to a public school, where she says she's encountered more LGBT-positive peers and staff. They have a gender-neutral bathroom, too.

She's also grown more confident, and feels comfortable challenging her fellow students and even her teachers on their viewpoints.

This coming year she hopes to focus on her studies and her dancing skills, with the support of new friends.

"I just realized that: Look, you can't waste your time on people that aren't giving you the same energy, because, like, a friendship takes two people trying. And I realized that like most of my friendships then were just me trying," she said.

"So I cut off those people ... just, like, stopped stop talking to them. And I found people that valued me more as a friend."

Gary: Grappling with mental health

Gary was diagnosed with ADHD in Grade 3. When he first spoke with Okeke, he was 14, and described some dark moments as he struggled with depression and an abusive father.

"My parents got divorced when I was five. ... My dad is a very manipulative person — a very emotionally abusive person," said Gary. "He just tries to find ways to set you up to fail, just so he can get angry at you to fail."

Today, Gary has been doing better, thanks to therapy, antidepressants and moral and emotional support from his mother and friends. He and his mother also made a clean break from his father.

Mic Drop won the Best Podcast honour at the RTDNA awards for the Central Canada region in 2018. (CBC)

"I actually haven't talked to my father in about two years, which has been one of the best decisions I've ever made," he said.

One of the most important lessons he's learned about mental health is acknowledging that some days will be harder than others — but that doesn't mean you aren't on the right path.

"Everybody always says it will get better. But it won't just get better if you sit down and just say, why isn't it getting better? You have to make it get better. And that was something that I needed to get through my head."

Raven: Rewriting Indigenous narratives

Raven was 16 years old when she told Mic Drop the story of how she freed herself from "a constant circle of violence and alcohol" in her home.

Raven is Indigenous, and her grandmother was a residential school survivor. Her father died when she was young. Later, her mother's abusive and sometimes violent boyfriend would wreak havoc on the household, fuelling her mother's alcoholism.

"I just I had to run, 'cause everything was going to catch up eventually. And I was just crying all the way to my bus stop all the way to school. All I knew was I had to get out of that house," Raven said.

She's been living with her best friend's family ever since.

From left to right: Tristan, Aliyah, Ben and Sarah also spoke to Shari Okeke on Mic Drop. (Carrie Haber/Shari Okeke/CBC)

"I feel very comfortable with them. I'm really close with the mom. She's kind of that mother figure I've been waiting for. She's very loving — the love that I was missing," she said.

Raven says speaking to Mic Drop about her life has helped her heal. She's taking art classes, and writes poems and fiction as well as studying at school.

"When I look back at it, I'm like, wow. Because I'm in a totally different place. And I'm really glad that I had the strength to get out of there," she said.

Raven has developed an interest in journalism, to help tell stories about Indigenous communities that break away from racist stereotypes.

She's also mending her relationship with her mother, who is fighting her alcoholism with the help of counsellors on their reserve.

Gerry, a.k.a. Kamino, wrote a song based on the story of fellow Mic Drop teen Raven. 4:27

After Mic Drop aired, she connected with Gerry, a.k.a. Kamino, an aspiring rapper and musician who also appeared on the show. Gerry wrote a song, called Drop the Mic, based on Raven's story.

"I was really happy that he wanted to do that — not just for me, but also for him," said Raven.

Written by Jonathan Ore with files from CBC Podcasts. Radio special Mic Drop 2020 produced by Shari Okeke and Carrie Haber.