'I refuse to hate a police officer': Tyler Perry's challenging speech showed true humanity
via ABC / YouTube

The Academy Awards is an evening for honoring the best achievements in film. But it's also an event where the film industry unabashedly professes its progressive views to the world.

The nice thing about last night was that, for once, Hollywood's talk about being inclusive was actually on display. The broadcast featured a diverse group of attendees and winners, putting to bed the #OscarsSoWhite critiques of the past six years, for now, at least.

Depending on where one stands on the political spectrum, Sunday's broadcast was either an exhilarating night of celebrating progressive views or three hours of virtue signaling from some of the country's richest and most powerful people.


However, there was a beautiful moment in the broadcast that everyone should appreciate. After being awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the 93rd Oscars, Tyler Perry gave a speech about unity that cut through America's political divide and got to the heart of what real humanity is about.

Tyler Perry Accepts the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award www.youtube.com

Perry was given the award for a lifetime of charitable work, including the time he paid for people's groceries during the pandemic.

"Tyler knows what it is to be hungry, to be without a home, to feel unsafe and uncertain. So when he buys groceries for 1,000 of his neighbors, supports a women's shelter, or quietly pays tuition for a hard-working student, Tyler is coming from a place of shared experience," presenter Viola Davis said.

In his speech, Perry's main theme was refusing hate. A tough ask in a time when the country is so politically polarized.

"And in this time, with all of the internet and social media and algorithms and everything that wants us to think a certain way, the 24-hour news cycle…it is my hope that all of us would teach our kids, and I want to remember: just refuse hate. Don't hate anybody," Perry said.

"I refuse to hate someone because they are a police officer. I refuse to hate someone because they are Asian. I would hope we would refuse hate," he said.

Perry urged people to meet in "the middle'' a place without hatred or judgment. "That's where healing happens, that's where conversation happens, that's where change happens – it happens in the middle," Perry said. "Anyone who wants to meet me to meet me in the middle to refuse hate and blanket judgment and lift someone's feet off the ground, this one is for you, too."

At first glance, asking people to come together in the middle doesn't appear to be that original of a statement. But at a time when many have drawn up sides, choosing to be vulnerable, step out in the middle, and reach out to listen, is a pretty bold move.

That doesn't mean to forget about one's values. It means to be willing to have a conversation and find our shared humanity. This type of action is more important than ever when, as Perry noted, people are stuck in ideological bubbles and may not even understand what the other side is saying.

Perry proved just how brave you have to be to walk towards the middle when he said he refuses to hate someone because they're a police officer. After that line, the applause he earned seemed to die down a bit. Was it a signal that his statement made a few people a little uncomfortable?

But change happens when we leave our comfort zone.



Perry's words were powerful at a time when the nation is reeling from police violence. He challenged the notion that, as a Black man, he has to hate the police.

When, in fact, Perry appears to be standing with the vast majority of Black people (81%) who want the police to spend the same, or more, time in their neighborhoods. The important point is that a vast majority of Black (91%) also want the police to be held to higher standards of behavior and accountability.

Perry further explained why he gave his speech in a post-award interview.

"Just where we are in the country and the world, and everybody is grabbing a corner and a color, and they are all – nobody wants to come to the middle to have a conversation," he said.

"Everybody is polarized, and it's in the middle where things change," he added. "So I'm hoping that that inspires people to meet us in the middle so that we can get back to some semblance of normal. As this pandemic is over, we can get to a place where we are showing love and kindness to each other again."

Perry's speech was challenging, uplifting and, ultimately, a practical way of seeing the world that allows us to all move forward. It's also a wonderful example of why he's seen as a humanitarian.

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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