Doyin Richards believes the best way to combat racism in the U.S. is to empower children and their families to speak up against racist behaviors and social injustice, even when it feels uncomfortable.
Richards, an author and public speaker, founded an online seminar called the Anti-Racism Fight Club in 2020, a year he describes as "a Dumpster fire in so many ways."
"It really culminated when George Floyd was murdered and I looked around and thought, 'What resources are out there? Not only to help white people, but to help kids become anti-racists?'" Richards told TODAY Parents. "There were no places I could find that were adequate, so I created one."
In Richards' one-hour online seminar for kids ages 5 to 12, the Los Angeles dad walks children through the history of racism in the U.S., explains terms like "white supremacy" and "white privilege," and tells them how to become anti-racists in their homes, schools and communities.
"I call it the Anti-Racism Fight Club because we have to actively fight against racism," Richards explained. "This is not a passive activity, it's a truly engaging activity and requires effort. It's often confrontational, messy and uncomfortable."
Richards also calls on parents to become anti-racists, offering a separate session for adults which he describes as "not for the faint of heart."
"There's bad language," he said, "and the one thing I tell people is you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable because no change in your life, whether it’s getting bigger biceps or becoming an anti-racist, comes from a place of comfort. You have to push yourself to the limit — that's where true growth happens."
One of the biggest places for growth Richards sees is the need to stand up to family members and others who openly share racist views.
"Sometimes one of the biggest obstacles for kids being anti-racist is it's happening right under their own roof. Kids don't feel empowered to speak up and say, 'Hey, I don't want to talk about this,' or 'That's not OK,'" Richards said. "But I tell students they have to stand up and say they don't want to talk about racist things. We talk about what they can do to fight against racism and to be a better human being."
Amy Grant has two sons, ages 8 and 5, who participated in Richards' program last year.
Grant, who lives in California, says after the civil unrest in the U.S. following George Floyd's death, she thought it was important for her white sons to hear about racism from a Black man who could share his personal experiences with them.
It was an illustration Richards performed with a sweatshirt that most impacted her young boys.
"Doyin presented a photo of himself in a hoodie, looking 'mean,'" Grant recalled. "Then he shared a photo of him looking 'like himself.' Both boys thought the first guy was scary and mean and they were amazed that both photos were Doyin. That alone made a huge impact on them both, and they saw that we may have different skin colors, but everyone should be treated with love and respect."
Later, Grant and her husband took the grown-up version of Richards' class.
"My main takeaway was that I need to listen more," she said. "And, that anti-racism is a verb. It's one thing to have an anti-racist viewpoint, it's another thing to actively be an anti-racist."
Emily Cashman-Mills is a licensed clinical psychologist from New Hampshire whose 7-year-old son took an Anti-Racism Fight Club class recently. She and her teenage children, ages 17 and 19, took the adult version as well.
"It really helped us start the conversation," said Cashman-Mills, who is white. "I wish Doyin's program was available when my older ones were little. They get so little of this in school and thus, it is our job to educate them as parents. It opened doors to talking about race and social justice that were closed before."
Richards recently gave a TEDx Talk about his own experiences called "Racism from the perspective of a non-threatening Black man." In the talk, Richards describes what it was like to be a "preppy Black kid" who still experienced surprising instances of racism throughout his lifetime — experiences that almost led him to take his own life. Now he says he’s determined to give young people the tools they need to combat negative feelings about themselves and maybe even help end racism once and for all.
"Racism is the most pervasive problem in American history," Richards said. "It's as pervasive as apple pie and baseball and it's been here for centuries and has become normalized. We have to have an active way to fight against it and show it doesn't have to be this way."
Richards also just released a new children’s book, “Watch Me,” which tells the story of his own father after he came to the United States from Sierra Leone in West Africa. Feb. 3 marks the two-year anniversary of his father's death from colon cancer. Richards said it's important for him to keep his dad's memory alive for his 7- and 10-year-old daughters and to honor the legacy of his father and millions of other immigrants.
"I want my kids to grow up knowing in 2020 and 2021, when things were crazy, their dad did something about the racism situation," he said. "I want them to have countless examples of things I've done to make their world a better and more equitable place."
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