What's it like for a Black man to train white folks to be anti-racist?
Doyin Richards

Doyin Richards started off as "the dad guy talking about fatherhood" with his blog, Daddy Doin' Work. He spent several years sharing his fatherhood experiences, had a photo of him combing his 2-year-old's hair while wearing his baby in a baby carrier go viral in 2014, and published a book about dads empowering moms that same year.

"Then the world changed in 2016," Richards says. "It's not that the world changed—this stuff has always been bubbling under the surface—but then it just exploded."

Richards had always been an anti-racist activist, but when the Black Lives Matter movement pushed anti-racism into the mainstream, he started using his platform more and more to help move anti-racism education and activism along.

It hasn't been an easy road. Richards is open about his mental health struggles and the depression that took him to a "dark, dark place" a couple of years ago. When he found himself seriously contemplating suicide, he recognized he had a problem and got help. Now, he writes about all of it—fatherhood, mental health, racism, and even his new puppy—on his Facebook page.


Richards and his two daughters.Doyin Richards

In June, Richards launched a training program for white Americans who are new to anti-racism activism—the Anti-Racism Fight Club. For adults, the Fight Club "initiation" is a 90-minute live video training, including a 30-minute Q & A. For kids, it's 60 minutes, with a 20-minute question portion. In the training, attendees learn about the nuances of systemic racism, effective strategies for raising anti-racist children, bulletproof comebacks for common racist talking points, strategies for how to deal with racism in person and online, and more.

Upworthy spoke with Richards about the Anti-Racism Fight Club and what it's like to be a Black man educating white people about racism in America, even though it's not his responsibility to do so. (Interview lightly edited for clarity.)

Q: How did the idea for an Anti-Racism Fight Club come about?

A: After recent history with Amy Cooper and George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery—and the list goes on and on—I realized that there's a movement and a strong energy around anti-racism. Then I thought, you know, there is an opportunity here to help educate white people on what it is to be a true anti-racist. I have 15 years of training and development experience, so I know how to create really impactful training modules, and I also have my decades of experience being a Black anti-racist in America. So, combine those two things, and I was like, alright, it's time for me to create this Anti-Racism Fight Club.

And the reason why I call it that is because being anti-racist is a contact sport. Maybe not literally, but it's not something that you can just sit on the sideline and go, 'Oh, I'm an anti-racist.' No, you have to get into it. It's confrontational. It's uncomfortable. It's loud. It's in your face sometimes. But it's never quiet and it's never passive.

And that's part of the reason why I call it the Fight Club, because it's a fight. We're fighting against racism, and systemic racism, and bigotry, and all of the things that have been laid forth for centuries. And it's going to be the fight of our lives to get things to a place where people of color feel safe living in America. It's a big, big fight we're up against. The enemy is no joke.

Q: What makes Anti-Racism Fight Club different from other anti-racism education?

A: I feel like my superpower is my ability to relate to people and use metaphors to help make the complex simple. And there's something about anti-racism courses that I've seen that's just not accessible to white audiences. It's either too complex or there's a lot of talking down to, there's a lot of guilt.

I meet them where they are. I say, 'Look, you're here now. I don't care what you did a month ago. I don't care that you're 45 years old and you just figured out what's happening now. There's no guilt. There's no shame. I'm meeting you where you are. You're here. Let's go.' And I think a lot people really appreciate that approach. It makes people feel more comfortable, and they're ready to be vulnerable and talk about these things when they know that it's okay to be vulnerable. Because I'm uncomfortable as well.

I talk about the idea of allyship, and I truly believe there's no such thing as an ally. No one's an ally. We're all allies-in-training. Because truly, an ally means you've arrived and you have it all figured out. And we're all learning. Like, I'm an ally-in-training for women and women's rights. I don't have it all figured out. And I don't get to decide if I'm an ally or not—that's another point. But allies-in-training means we're constantly learning, we're constantly evolving, we're constantly getting better to do what we can to improve the lives of the marginalized people around us.

So this course truly is a way for people—white people especially—to feel vulnerable, to feel safe in their vulnerability and open their eyes to what's around them that they may have missed for however long. And so far, so good.

Q: Do you ever feel frustrated that you have to make white people feel safe in that space?

A: Oh wow. That's an awesome question. So…yes, I do feel frustrated, because no one's ever really worried about my feelings when I'm the only Black person in the room, or when there's a microaggression about 'Oh, I'm so articulate,' or when people clutch their purses super close when I walk by. No one's ever worried about my feelings.

But part of being a Black person in America is you have to eat all of those microaggressions...you try not to combat every single one of them, or else you'll go insane. It's like trying to empty the ocean with a spoon. So you just have to go about it and do your thing.

But the sad thing, to your point about the white people that I have to make feel comfortable, is that I have to. Because if I don't make it accessible for them, then they're not going to do it, and then they're not going to learn. I have to do whatever it takes to get in the door with them, so I create a safe space for them. I try not to go too hard into breaking their egos or things like that because then I know I'll turn them off.

I try to get into their hearts before I get into their minds. Because if I can get into their hearts, I can definitely get into their minds and help create a better change.

Q: Do you feel like it's different this time?

A: I do. I feel like it's different now. I feel like because we watched a callous murder take place in under nine minutes, live, with a man's life slowly snuffed out, it really made people realize, like, I don't like this. And also the Amy Cooper thing happening in the same time frame, and the Ahmaud Arbery thing happening in the same time frame. The combination of these things show we have a problem in America.

I can't count the number of white people I've seen who didn't know what Juneteenth was until three weeks ago. They didn't even know it was a thing. (But you know about Columbus Day? What?) And the thing about Juneteenth and the 4th of July is I think Juneteenth is a more substantial holiday for people of color, because that's the day that we were all free. We weren't free on the 4th of July. We were still slaves. And you're asking us to celebrate this holiday? When we were still slaves and being treated as 3/5 of a human being? I think we should be celebrating Juneteenth as the true Independence Day in America where all of our citizens were free. But that's a rant for another day.

Q: You also have an Anti-racism Fight Club for kids. What's that been like? And how has it been different approaching the topic with kids vs. adults?

A: I've done a few of them so far and it's been unbelievable how great it's been. The response has been overwhelming.

I have a few superpowers—but one of them is not art. But out of this doodle, I created these characters to try to explain the concepts of racism, white privilege, prejudice, all of these things that a kindergartener could understand. And based on the feedback so far, these parents are like, 'I've never seen my kid sit still for one hour straight and be captivated in a training session.' They're completely blown away by how interesting their kids thought the content was, and how much they've learned from it.

And most importantly, how it sparks them to action. Because this is not just a 'Hey this is what racism is,' this is a 'Hey, this what you can do right now to stop racism in your communities, your schools, your neighborhoods, everywhere.' And I talk about tips on how to deal with racist family members, like Uncle Johnny who likes to say some racist stuff, things like that. First it gives them an understanding of what it is, so they can identify when things are racist. And then what to do when they're confronted with those things.

The course has been unbelievably positive. People love it and the kids keep coming back for more. Parents are asking, 'When's the next one? When's the next one?' Parents are saying kids don't usually get excited about learning stuff unless it's like a video game type thing, but to sit and have an adult talk to them? That's something that most kids don't enjoy so much, but these kids love it. So I think I'm onto something.

Richards leading a fist raise (pre-pandemic, obviously)Doyin Richards

Q: What kind of questions do kids ask you?

A: This one kid, a 7-year-old white boy, was like, 'I feel ashamed to be white right now.' It wasn't a question, it was a statement. But I just told him, 'Look, being white is something you should be very proud of. It's not a bad thing. The only issue is if you don't recognize the power that you have in your whiteness to impact change for people of color.' And then I dropped the famous Spiderman reference, when Uncle Ben said, 'With great power comes great responsibility.' And then I told the kid, 'Look, you have immense power just in your whiteness, and if you use that power for the greater good, it's like a superpower. If you use that, you can impact the lives of so many people of color in a positive way.' And then he was so excited because he didn't realize, 'Oh my gosh, I'm like a superhero.' I have a way of interacting with kids by using metaphors and stories like that to break down complex issues and make it simple and palatable for the youth of America.

Q: You also open up 30 minutes at the end of the adult sessions and you say, 'Ask me anything you've always wanted to ask a Black man.' What made you decide to open yourself up like that? Because that could invite some rather uncomfortable questions for you to have to answer.

A: I haven't been doing it every week because things have been so crazy, but I also do an 'Ask Me Anything' on my Facebook page. Ask me anything, literally. I get all kinds of batshit crazy questions, but I answer them. And the thing that I do to make it safe is I make sure they're anonymous questions so people can ask them without fear of being outed.

One lady was like, 'Don't you think the term Karen is as bad as the n-word?' Like uh, lady, listen. Until people are beating you half to death while calling you Karen, and ripping your children away from you, raping you, doing all of these horrible things to you, then we can talk. But until then, being called 'Karen' is about as bad as being called a 'nincompoop.' Like, I'm not hearing that. But yeah, I get those questions, I answer them, and I'm gracious with it.

But as far as why do I do this, I've been getting so many DMs and questions about 'How can I be a better white person?' And I was like, this is crazy. I'm answering questions and it's just tiring. So I was like, I'm just going to create a course.

I wanted to make the price point somewhat accessible. And I think $49 is accessible. If I made it $99 people wouldn't have wanted to come because it's too expensive, and if I made it $29, people would be like, 'Oh really, $29 for all this? This must be shitty.' $49 is right in the middle, so it works out well.

I also give them what I call a Fistbook, which is my version of a handbook (since it's a fight club) which gives the participants some tangible resources that they can refer back to on their anti-racism journey.

But yeah, I do it because I feel like I have the ability, as a training development specialist and as a anti-racist Black man in America, to create a course that is powerful and can make a ton of difference. So far, so good. This is just the beginning.

Q: What's been the most surprising thing to you as you've gone through these first Anti-Racism Fight Club trainings?

A: The amount of people who have just said how much they love it. I haven't gotten one piece of negative feedback, which in this day and age is crazy, especially when you're telling white people how to act. Like, it's just inherent in their whiteness—'How dare you tell me how to act!'—but that didn't happen. I didn't have any of those issues. And that to me is crazy in this day and age. So I feel like I am onto something, and it makes me so happy to see the energy and the enthusiasm of white people to own their stuff and get better, and a willingness to get better, so that to me is amazing. And I feel so, so good about it. It gives me hope.

One of my participants during the Q and A session asked me, "What gives you hope?" and I said, "All of the good white people who understand that they need to be active and not passive when it comes to anti-racism. It's not enough to say, 'I'm not racist.' You have to be anti-racist, which is an active activity. And that gives me hope that more people are realizing it.'

Q; How do you personally navigate the emotional work of doing all of this?

A: That is a great question. Yeah, it's exhausting. After a session, sometimes I cry, sometimes I take a nap…it is just, it's like running three marathons. It's so emotionally taxing to dive into the depths and the insidiousness of racism, trying to tear it apart and break it apart, and while you're doing it you see how awful and disgusting it is. And then when you're done and everyone's off the call, you know, a lot of them feel really empowered, and I feel good that I'm helping to empower people. But I also realize that, man, this is taking some stuff out of me.

When I click the End Meeting button, I just slump in my chair for a good five minutes. Like I said, sometimes I cry, sometimes I go to my bed and take a nap. It's just...it's a lot. And the thing about it is when I go through the course, I'm not just talking in monotones, I am very animated. I am in it, I'm active. People say it's the best 90 minutes they've had in their life. It just flies by because it's full of energy and action, but 90 minutes of being 'on' like that when talking about something so emotionally heavy, it just completely drains me. So yeah, it's no joke. But, you know, it's important work, and I'm glad to be the one to do it.

Q: What do you want people to take away from this training? What do you hope will be their next step?

A: To really do the work of owning the fact that they are racist. That's the first step. Own the fact that you are racist. And I think the problem is it's like a Pavlov's dog thing, when they hear the word 'racist' they go straight to Confederate flags and white hoods and the n-word. And that's not it. I mean yes, that is it—that's the like the cartoonish level of racism—but the subtle version of racism is the micro aggressions, the systemic racism that's everywhere that white people benefit from. Things like that that they have to dig deep and see, 'Where am I benefiting from racism in my own life, and what can I do to ensure that people of color that I care about or that are coming up after me don't have to suffer the way that people of color are suffering right now?' That the hard work that they have to do. That's the first thing.

And then from there, it comes down to the anti-racist work—the 'active activity' as I like to call it—of really getting into it and saying, 'This is something in my community that needs to be changed, this is something in my school that needs to be changed, this is something in my family that needs to be changed.' Like Uncle Johnny, who may be racist...maybe making it so that he can't come by at Christmas if he's going to be spouting all this nonsense about people of color.

These are difficult, difficult things to do. This is not easy. It's not for the faint of heart. It's hard, hard work. And what a lot of people who enjoy and benefit from racism bank on is the fact that white people will be like, 'This is so much work to fix, like why do I even bother?" Again, equating it to emptying the ocean with a spoon...the goal is to get everyone to get a spoon and then we start seeing some big time progress. That's the goal.

Richards has ARFC sessions coming up. You can visit his Facebook page or website to learn more and register.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

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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