Four concrete things that everyone can do to dismantle racism
Photo by Clay Banks
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America, we have work to do.

Whether you've been fighting against racism for years or you are just waking up to the fact that there's a battle going on, it's time for us to iron out a few key pieces of information. There are a lot of unfamiliar words and phrases being thrown around, but please don't turn to Black people to explain this stuff to you. This is literally why the internet exists.


To help remove some of the guesswork, we interviewed Dr. Katrice A. Albert, a national thought leader and expert on racial diversity and inclusion, to get her thoughts on what we can do today, right now, immediately to help us all move forward together.

After doing this work for 25 years, winning multiple awards and honors and accomplishing more professionally than most people achieve in their lifetime, at the end of the day, Dr. Albert is still a Black woman in America. And her answers to our questions combine her expertise with the perspective of her own personal experience.

Dr. Katrice A. Albert

Let's begin with the basics.

What is the difference between equity and equality?

Equality means everyone has the same access to whatever it is that you're offering. Dr. Albert uses an analogy involving a dozen candied apples. "Equality means that everyone would receive the same number of candied apples, but equity is the idea of giving people what they need. So, if I'm a diabetic I don't need a candied apple. I need something else...like a cheese stick." Systemic change requires both equality and equity, "providing people with what they need for access and success," said Dr. Albert.

Photo by James Eades

So, what exactly is systemic racism?

To put it bluntly, our country was set up to benefit white men, who have historically held positions of power and influence. Look at the wealth. Look at incarceration. Take a step back and observe our systems. Run an internet search on this topic and spend some time reading about it.

To illustrate the picture, Dr. Albert recounted a story about a Black woman who shared how she, over the course of her 20-year career in a sports organization, trained six people for a job that she was passed over for, who moved on to become her bosses. "This woman trained up six white men, and she was never able to be seen as a critical part or the smartest person in the room to do this job," said Dr. Albert. Something is wrong with this picture, don't you think?

Well...then who is responsible?

"Equity and diversity are everyone's responsibility. Every single one of us is responsible for getting us to be our very best selves as Americans," said Dr. Albert. "The onus is not on Black people to teach white people how to be."

So, what can be done about this? How can just one person make a difference? Dr. Albert breaks her answer down into four basic steps:

Manage yourself. Commit to self-awareness. Commit to educating yourself and be willing to reduce your defenses. Your ego will take a hit; accept that you're going to find out that you're wrong about things you've professed as truth. You have to be okay with sitting with some discomfort.

Manage your immediate sphere of influence. This means your household, family, spouse, friends, and children. Think about how to convey the message of "we all have to be in this together in order to dismantle racism." Encourage those around you to vote and to raise anti-racist children.

Wield your power. If you have decision-making power at your job, church, or civic organization, you have to use that power to create room for people of color. Aren't sure where to start with that? Ask yourself a few questions. Who runs things? Look around the room. Does everyone look like you? Think about what you can do to make sure that the policies and climate is such that marginalized people feel like they can win.

Exercise compassion. "People of color are exhausted, but we don't have a choice but to be compassionate for wherever our friends are right now. It's a part of their everyday work to help us get to our highest potential," said Dr. Albert. "If educating yourself is as far as you can go, great — do that. Because it will touch everyone you come in contact with." She went on to point out the importance of demonstrating compassion and grace when dealing with ourselves and others. "I have to demonstrate that I'm always going to come from a place where I'm going to assume positive intent from everyone," she said.

How can one person do all of that without some serious self-care? Dr. Albert tells Upworthy that the two things that keep her anchored are "radical self-care and radical joy,"— two things that have become increasingly more challenging during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Photo by Logan Nolin on Unsplash

"I decided to send myself flowers weekly every Monday. From me, to me," she said. "The inscription is the same every time, it's a quote from [renowned civil rights leader] Ella Baker: 'Give light and the people will find a way'."

This weekly message reminds her to press on, without fear — knowing she is called to a higher purpose. If that's not inspiring, we don't know what is.

Turn your everyday actions into acts of good every day at P&G Good Everyday.

Connections Academy

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

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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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