What's in a name? A personal Juneteenth story shows history's impact on the present

Doyin Richards's name has more of a story than most.

The writer, speaker and social media influencer shared a bit of his family's history that ties directly into the Juneteenth holiday and gives us a glimpse of how that history still directly impacts present generations.

He wrote on Facebook:


Doyin Richards/Facebook

"Here's my personal Juneteenth story/history lesson.

When slavery was abolished, newly-freed slaves had the choice of making a life for themselves in America or going back home to Africa. Many of my ancestors chose the latter option and moved to a place aptly named 'Freetown' which to this day is the largest city in Sierra Leone (a West African country).

As you probably would assume, slaves had their names taken from them and changed to something 'more American', like Stephen, Michael, or Daniel - because if slave owners forcibly took them from their homelands, they sure as hell weren't going to have the courtesy of learning how to pronounce their birth names.

Because of that, many newly-freed slaves in Freetown changed their names back to common surnames from the Yoruba language - like 'Adewole' for example. But here's the interesting thing - my ancestors chose to keep their slave owners' last name of Richards. But why? Nobody knows for sure, but many in my family's lineage believes it's because we had benevolent slave owners (that's the leader in the 'oxymoron hall of fame') and decided to keep it.

Fast-forward to the time when me and my two brothers showed up on earth, my dad (who was born and raised in Freetown) insisted that we have Yoruba first names to offset the slave owners' legacy that would always follow us. And with that, my full Yoruba name of Adedoyin means 'royalty' or 'son of the king.' As you know by now, I just go by Doyin.

But because I wanted to fit in so badly in my predominately white Massachusetts hometown as a kid, I let people call me 'Dwayne' instead of the proper pronunciation of 'doe-ween' because it was easier *for them*. Then I watched the classic movie 'Roots' and saw Kunta Kinte getting the shit kicked out of him by his white owners when he refused to change his name to 'Toby' and it changed everything for me. Then I knew changing my name and the pronunciation of it would be a disgrace to my ancestors who were raped, beaten and killed to keep their names just because I wanted to make some white people feel comfortable.

But to even to this day, I carry the burden of white supremacy in my own last name. Somewhere in the Deep South, there could be a racist Richards who hates everything about me, but we're considered 'family' because of our history. That's a tough pill to swallow.

I often wonder what my dad (who passed away last year) would think of what's happening right now. He would probably say something to the effect of, 'You are a leader, and leaders will be remembered by how they show up.' So I'm here, Adedoyin Richards, showing up to fight for equality - because that's what he and my ancestors would've wanted and expected. Happy Juneteenth, and I hope you continue to fight for equality in your own way today and every day. #juneteenth"

It's easy to think the history of slavery and emancipation in abstract, long-ago terms when it's not your personal family's history. Seeing how Richards' lineage has played out on two continents and how much meaning his first and last name hold is a good reminder that Juneteenth isn't just a part of our nation's story, but a deeply personal story for many Black Americans as well.

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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