Taking a walk to get some fresh air or exercise is something most of us do without thinking much about it, but for Shola Richards of Los Angeles, the simple act of taking a stroll in his own neighborhood can be fraught with peril.
On Thursday, Richards, 45, who is an author and keynote speaker, posted on Facebook about what it is like to simply take a walk alone as a tall, athletic black man. In his post, he explains the difference in how he is viewed when he's walking with his dog and two daughters, Kaya, 11, and Nia, 8, versus how when he is walking alone he is seen as a threat.
"Twice a day, I walk my dog Ace around my neighborhood with one, or both, of my girls," he wrote. "I know that doesn’t seem noteworthy, but here’s something that I must admit: I would be scared to death to take these walks without my girls and my dog. In fact, in the four years living in my house, I have never taken a walk around my neighborhood alone (and probably never will)."
In the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police officers and the video in Central Park that showed Amy Cooper, a white woman who called the police on a black man after he asked her to leash her dog, race-fueled riots have cropped up all over the country. Richards' post struck a note with many readers.
"I am so sorry that it is dangerous just to have non-white skin in this country," posted one commenter on Facebook. "It makes me angry and sad that hatred and discrimination have enough power tp degrade and endanger so many lives."
"I wrote this post out of complete exasperation," Richards, who lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Amber Richards, 44, and their two daughters, told TODAY. "The recent news stories of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Christian Cooper, and George Floyd broke me, emotionally. As a black man, hearing about these stories over and over again, it felt like 'death by a thousand paper cuts.' It honestly felt soul-destroying. I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t sleeping well, and I was losing significant weight. Many of my very well-meaning white friends were unable to understand the depths of my grief, so I wanted to put my own experiences in writing in hopes that it could be useful to them, and cathartic for me."
In the Facebook post, which as of Sunday, had 320,000 likes and has been shared 400,000 times, Richards calls his white friends to action, asking them to speak up and not stay silent when they see injustice. The reaction to his words has been mostly positive.
"I have received hundreds of incredibly kind, supportive and heartwarming messages from people all over the world," said Richards. "More importantly, many people said that they were inspired to take action to be active allies because of what they read in my post. I’m all about positive change, and if this post played a small role in helping people to share more kindness, empathy and love with their fellow humans, regardless of race, then I would be thrilled."
When it comes to his two young daughters, Richards said he worries about the world we live in. "As a parent, it breaks my heart that the true experience of racism is not something that I can protect them from, or prepare them for," he said.
Richards said that even if it makes people uncomfortable that this is the time to stand up and help people like him. "Not being a racist is not good enough," he said. "We need as many good white people as possible who are actively standing in opposition of racism."