Dartanyon Crockett is a former 2-time U.S. Paralympic bronze medalist. Dartanyon and his best friend, Leroy Sutton, did well on the school’s wrestling team. Their friendship was featured in an ESPN special called, “Carry On,” where it showed that each had his share of hard breaks. Dartanyon was legally blind and Leroy had lost both his legs from a train accident when he was a boy.
Join us as we speak about becoming a sociologist, learning how to talk about and heal from trauma, and his book Healing the Underdog.
Dartanyon: [00:00:00] This figure of power, this strong black athlete sharing my story at these conferences since I’ve had so many older white people who’ve, especially older, staunchy white men who’ve come and said, I feel like I’ve been living my life wrong up until this point, and seeing that and bringing that message and that sort of story into those corporate offices in front of those white pillars of privilege.
Maris Lidaka (Host): In this episode, I’m speaking with Dartanyon Crockett, a former Paralympian and also inspirational speaker. We met right before the pandemic, and this conversation was recorded a few months after the murder of George Floyd. So we got a chance to talk about the state of race in America, the importance of dealing with and healing trauma, and how trauma and storytelling are linked.
Please enjoy how you doing? Good. How you doing? So, I guess, uh, let’s just, uh, get right into it. I mean, some people may know your story, some may not. So I guess [00:01:00] let’s, if you wanna just give either the short or the long version of Yeah. Uh, the Darkanian Crockett story. The
Dartanyon: Dartanyon Crockett story for sure.
I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and in high school I wrestled and met this guy named Leroy Sutton, who, he was the only other person that I knew in my circle that was as kind as I was, and like still like, was just happy to be alive all the time. Like despite what was going on around us and like, we just hit it off.
And then eventually we were both restless too. And then eventually our story caught. Attention from ESPN because of an article that we were featured in. And after our story aired, I had an opportunity to move out to the Olympic training center and training the sport of judo. In 2010, I moved out to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
I was far from home. I was not in Cleveland anymore. And it hit me really quick too. It was, it was a, it was a tough [00:02:00] transition and I think mainly because I just packed up my life completely and immediately after, uh, sort of getting that offer, it was interesting how I got it too. The, uh, after the documentary aired in 2009, the coaches on the Paralympic team reached out and asked if I wanted try judo and not knowing what the sport was.
I said yes. And in just a crazy cycle of events, I ended up moving out April, 2010, just straight from Cleveland from high school. To the Olympic Training Center, and I retired about two years ago, but in my career I was, uh, I’m a two time Paralympian and I took a bronze medal in, uh, London 2012 in Rio 2016.
Really enjoyed my career and it ended two years ago and I’m happy that I was able to sort of move out on my own terms and step into my next chapter, which is speaking. I just accepted a position with a company called Ingo Learning as a, uh, resiliency and recovery coach, finishing out a degree in sociology with a minor in [00:03:00] social work.
And still just kind of like finding other ways to sort of contribute my talents to the world and finding my place in the field of education as well. Cause that’s kinda the short. So what,
Maris Lidaka (Host): how did you get interested in, in sociology? How did you decide that that was gonna be the next, the
Dartanyon: next chapter?
Right. So at first I thought it was gonna be social work because in my mind I wanted to go into social work to make a, uh, Impact in, uh, the area of, uh, substance abuse and alcohol abuse. And the further I got after I retired, I dove everything. I dove straight into a social work degree and I was going to school full-time and working full-time, but just something filled off for me with the degree I wasn’t, I wasn’t clicking like I thought I would.
And then I had a really great conversation with a professor of mine who got a bachelor’s and master’s in social work and she, and she suggested that, hey, like no one told me this and I wish someone [00:04:00] did, but maybe look at a catalog. And because like we had have, like from turning in assignments and talking with her, she like, she knew that like I had more of a broad scope than social work.
The field of social work was gonna give me. And so offered insight into saying that social work is very micro. You’re not gonna really do much on a broad scale to social work degree, especially like as profession. Sociology and she like brought up sociology cause it’s study of society, it’s taking a much more of a macro scope look at, at the world.
And that’s sort of where I was and wonder where I wanted to contribute and my speaking career. And also, uh, when I was kind of developing in the back of my head what I wanted to do career-wise. And then, yeah, I, after that conversation, I looked at a sociology catalog and two weeks later changed my major.
Maris Lidaka (Host): And so do you have like a specific like area of expertise in sociology or is [00:05:00] it just sort of all encompassing? I wouldn’t say a
Dartanyon: specific area of expertise, but I have a specific area of, uh, interest in that I’m, I wanna become an expert in it’s, uh, symbolic interactionism, but it’s an area where I wanna really dive more into because of the research that I’ve done with trauma.
What I’ve been finding with trauma is that’s another piece of storytelling. The best definition I’ve seen trauma defined is by Bessel VanDerKolk, which is, it’s like a wound that keeps happening to you over and over again. And so when you have a traumatizing event, that event gets stored in the back of your brain and that story, unless you actually see treatment or like resolve that incident or resolve that trauma, that story you’ll like that trigger, whatever that flashback is, you’re reacting to that story that’s kind of happening over and over again.
Where I kind of see symbolic interaction isn’t coming in is sort of relating that to symbols that we think are [00:06:00] universal. For example, with a father figure or the institution school, they’re universal figures of protection, of guidance, education, teaching, and nurturing as well. However, someone who carries a lot of trauma within those areas, Will not react to those same symbols everyone else does.
Like that message is now dysfunctional. Their body and their brain is actually gonna react much differently. And like I got into the research of, uh, trauma from my own trauma, I wanting to learn more and I think sociology was really good catalyst in helping me look at it from a separate perspective. In sociology, what’s called a sociological imagination.
And that’s being able to take yourself from reality in a sense and like look at it objectively and see society as a whole and like see yourself as a part of that. And like having that knowledge and that information coupled with my own need, I guess. Yeah, definitely a need to find healing and researching and [00:07:00] understanding like my own trauma.
Yeah. I found like that, like coupling those two of mental health and sociology has been Yeah. Very insightful for me and something I want to continue to. Kind of build on in my sociological degree as I step into this other role as a sociologist. A lot of people think that they aren’t affected as much as they really are by this, because, especially people of color, when we’re seeing that on a regular basis and the understanding of trauma, that no trauma is the same.
There are multiple ways people can be traumatized, and especially racial trauma in this country, especially in regards to black people seeing it in the media all the time. That’s adding to trauma, especially if you’re experiencing it. If you’re exposed to it, if you’re just a part of it, and most
Dartanyon: people in this country know that It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when it’s gonna happen and how often it’s gonna happen and can.
And it’s not a matter of like the neighborhood, I think the language [00:08:00] of. Of seeing that this is how we’re affected by it and understanding like when we’re thrown into emotional flashbacks and sort of building an emotional understanding around these topics that it’s not really talked about. Like I think that can be a step in the right direction to navigating that trauma.
Cuz that was, that was a huge step for me was understanding because, because being able to, to read the language and really internalize it and really embody it as well, and just see that it kind of spoke me into existence, but also understanding that it’s not just me. It’s so many other people who carry trauma and don’t really have a solution to it.
Because as long as this information has been out, it’s not really accessible and it’s still not really prioritized. Healing has to happen within us. The black community has to heal from this, or we’re gonna continue carrying in trauma, and that’s just gonna be cyclical and it’s gonna get passed down through generation and generation.
I, I saw it as I was [00:09:00] growing up. I saw it within the community and I’m, I saw it outside of the community and I see it day to day people carry trauma. You’re just expected to live in the world where you’re not like 100% either fight or flight on a regular basis. Just walking through the neighborhood, it’s, you’re expected to pretend that you’re not in that, so you can’t really speak to those emotions and those feelings.
You start normalizing that conversation because it’s, it’s a language that we all need. We’re affected by it and don’t know how to show up for others. We don’t know how to even show up for ourselves because, we’ll, we’ll try and show up for people and. Something I’ve talked about even on my, uh, Instagram page, is shifting the responsibility because the responsibility for change isn’t our black people.
And we’ve tried for a long time, but that responsibility has shifted to white people. I’m finding that a lot of people are really, really wanting to learn, really wanting to understand, and I think that once conversations start happening because they’re gonna start happening because they need to start happening, like I can’t [00:10:00] speak to a lot of other areas, but being that this is my area of study and seeing it within my community, in my country, in my home on a regular basis, trauma-informed conversations need to be at the forefront of the conversation of change and healing within the black community, especially now how
Maris Lidaka (Host): do we get to that place where we are so we can sort of deal with that trauma and process it?
And then how do we bring other people in to sort of help us along?
Dartanyon: First to start internal, a lot of internal work. Has to be done by a lot of individuals. And I’m, and I’m sure that a ton of individuals are doing that work and have done that work because this is also a social justice movement and an activist movement.
And if people are like trying to head that movement and they’re not in a good head space, it’s just gonna kind of crash and burn. And I’ve seen so many happen that way because the priority gets switched. People who have a platform like mine, and it’s part of what I’m doing is my platform now is education and guidance.
Like that’s, that is what I’m using my platform for because I know that there is no [00:11:00] niche of anyone talking about symbolic interactionism as it relates to trauma, or there’s no need for that. Because I hear those conversations that are happening of like those trauma informed educa, like those conversations that can lead to growth, that can help someone find guidance in that.
But they’re happening in the world of academia, they’re happening in a professional setting and that language and like those conversations aren’t held. It’s not, it’s almost like it’s not accessible. And another issue I think with that is the way we treat education in our society is treated as, as a milestone to get over.
And so people who are immersed in that language for that 4, 6, 7, 8 years, as soon as they get out, unless they’re going to their specific field where they’re pursuing additional titles and certifications and like going in that field, they’re not gonna really use that knowledge outside of it. Most people, once they’re out, they forget that and then they learn everything on the job.
And then people begin to [00:12:00] pursue personal growth through additional titles and certifications and not personal growth. Through seeing a counselor and learning about your emotions and, and doing a lot of internal mindfulness and. Critical work that we need to do on a regular basis, especially now. I knew it was critical for me because I felt that I was falling back into negative habits.
Not even just negative habits, but defense mechanisms that no longer serve me that were during my episode of trauma, that served me as a defense mechanism, but now show up as a self-destructive behavior. And I think a part of it is just more people need to start to really step up and start guiding if they have the information or if they wanna obtain that information, find someone who, who knows.
And something that actually, uh, I think is also a good way to start this conversation is a documentary called, uh, the Color of Fear. And I think it’s something that should be implemented on a regular [00:13:00] basis in like town and cities. Because what it was, this guy was a social worker, he was an Asian guy, and he brought in two black guys, two white guys, two Asian guys to Hispanic guys.
He brought him in for a weekly basis to have just a conversation in regards to race injustice and like social understanding and stuff like that. And he opened the space up. He facilitated the conversation, allowed each individual to have the floor for how well they needed to express what was going on, and like where they saw the injustice and like just their side of whatever it was.
As the weeks progressed, like so much just sort of kind of got built up and it built up to a climax. There was a white guy who knew that he was racist and wanted to change, but there was a white guy who just didn’t see it. He saw everyone at as the same, and his words were like, I, I don’t see color. I just see us all as the same.
And the response that this black guy gave him just gave me chills, and he [00:14:00] told him, no, we’re not the same. You want to see us as a box that you can fit a sin. You don’t want us to be black. You want to see us as black individuals. You don’t wanna see us as African Americans. You wanna see us as Americans because it’s safe for you.
That’s why you don’t wanna see color. You don’t wanna see the discomfort that comes with when you have to see color, when you have to see injustice and police brutality and absurd racism that’s running rapid through this country. It’s a part of the reason that’s, that’s also halting this conversation is white people saying, I just didn’t understand.
It’s not that you just didn’t understand, it’s that you just didn’t want to understand. But now that it’s so prevalent with social media, no one can deny it now unless they’re like literally not looking at any social media whatsoever. You cannot deny that racism is a very systematic issue in this country.
The black community is a culture and understanding cultural competency and building your own communication [00:15:00] skills is what can help you understand the black community. It has nothing to do with understanding black people. That’s, that’s a barrier that’s being created. With the language that you’re using because ignorance is potential.
Ignorance is oftentimes used as a negative term, but ignorance is potential, especially if someone is willing to admit that ignorance and fill that ignorance with knowledge. Now at a critical time where we’re so tired of fighting and protesting and being angry, we gotta just grab their hands and bring them on the other side.
2020 is really telling us something that is screaming that we cannot deny anymore is that we can’t just go back to the old ways. We can’t just go back to an old system that only served white power. And something for me that I, I’m finding with just my work and like what my path is as far as starting that conversation and guiding it, is really starting it with our youth and trying to really facilitate those types of conversations outside of the classroom.
Because once change [00:16:00] happens, it’s gonna happen maybe toward the end of our generation. The people who are really gonna have to continue that and continue working toward to keep something that we want our children and our children’s children to continue living in peace and comfortably. They’re gonna have to, they’re gonna need those tools.
They’re gonna need those tools to continue building what we fought to build. Because racism against black people isn’t just an American thing. Something another term that like needs to be understood by white people. And I think also black people in our country is colorism. Because I think, yeah, we all get caught up in colorism and I see it within the black community who think light-skinned people are a different race.
And white people who also think and believe the same thing, but still lump us all as black people and not understanding that there are various cultures within these melanin gods and goddesses. You know, the dark you are typically the less favorable you are to. The public and the more fair your [00:17:00] skin, the better you are.
And it’s, it’s, it’s really sparking a movement that is, that I think is, is gonna continue moving, but it’s not gonna be an overnight thing. I think something that was expected, I think it’s just part of the nature of our society is a sort of instant gratification after something going viral. And I think I was guilty of this too.
I just expected something to change right after an incident, right after Trayvon Martin. That’s not the case. It’s, it’s going to be a slow move and it has to be different conversations.
Maris Lidaka (Host): And I think for a lot of people think when Obama was president, a lot of people, you know, I even, you know, fell into that trap myself and like, oh, well, I mean if this happened, we, we good,
Dartanyon: we, we good we no nothing but up from here.
Right. And it’s sometimes it’s something that like we we’re all guilty of. We’re all guilty of because we’ve been having the same conversations for years. We’ve been having the same issues and the same problems for years. And also like, not even that it’s that [00:18:00] long ago, like thinking of on a timeline and just versus how long this country’s been a country and how long the earth has been standing.
And Joe Rogan, he does a standup and he says it hysterically. It was uh, he was talking about either lynching or like, like three years ago slavery thing was, that was three ago. That ago.
Maris Lidaka (Host): True ago.
Dartanyon: And I think we like to think it was that long ago, because again, it goes back to the language that we’re using, and especially when we’re using this language for people of color, especially when we talk about the Holocaust or nine 11.
These are things that are sacred, awful things that happen, they should never happen again. We feel so sorry for these people, but when we bring up slavery and it’s like, Hey, when are we gonna have this conversation? When are we gonna talk about genocide and how Christopher Columbus ever, never actually came to America.
He got lost in women in South America. When are we gonna have those conversations? Right? That was so long ago. [00:19:00] That was way too long ago to even matter. Now, one of the things with trauma is that people who carry an immense amount of trauma, for example, I have complex PTs d and that’s when you had multiple traumatic events in your childhood, like kind of stacked on top of each other, like over a long period of time.
And that just kind of has its own manifestation of a bunch of nasty, nasty things. People who carry that, that much weight of trauma, it’s impossible for them to actually imagine new experiences into their lives. Because they’re stuck in that same story. They’re stuck in the trauma that’s
Maris Lidaka (Host): to happen.
And there’s also some responsibility that my industry, the entertainment industry, needs to have some come up with, with, cause you know, for the longest time, especially like during the eighties, we, we still have all these cop shows, but especially during the eighties, there’s all these like movies. The the cop who doesn’t play by the rules and mm-hmm.
Kills a bunch of people. Yep. So those people are brown, but at the end of the day, he gets the bad guy. Uhhuh, I think a lot of [00:20:00] people, you know, either were raised, they consumed that media became cops. I mean, a lot of ’em were assholes anyway. Mm-hmm. But they got into a system that allowed them to keep doing that.
And then, you know, they see all this media that says, oh, I’m, I’m doing the right thing. Mm-hmm. And then of course, as generations go, they keep passing down that same mentality and way of doing things on and on and on.
Dartanyon: You know, something else that really opened up my perspective to that sort of, Brainwashing was after and continuing my research and trauma and realizing that because I carry so much trauma, I lost almost 15 years of my memories of like not being able able to remember my own childhood.
Remember certain triggers. There was just a huge block of time that I couldn’t remember. But I can remember the national anthem, and I can almost say it perfectly. That is brainwashing. That is cult behavior. And some people just drink the Kool-Aid, which is why they’re [00:21:00] still white nationals now. Where in elementary school, on a daily basis, in front of the flag, you would have children say, I pledge to the flag United States of America to win public, to which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, which it stands.
One nation and justice for all you having children say all this shit. They don’t even know what it means, but they’re pledging their allegiance to this idea of a country. I won’t even say complete lie because there are a lot of great things to America, but they’re pledging their allegiance to assemble that they don’t understand, and that’s continuing to not perpetuates through time because no one else, like oftentimes, people don’t step outside of their comfort zone and live someone else’s experience, especially when you’ve been taught all your life that authority is key.
Authority is power. Authority is the only thing that you listen to. Then of course, you’re not gonna question that authority. It doesn’t matter who sits in the White House. You’re [00:22:00] not gonna question that because you’ve already been conditioned into respecting all forms of authority, and unless you’re willing to do internal work, unless you’re willing to be uncomfortable and have your ideas of reality.
Destroyed and dismantled because I think at some point we’re all gonna have to
Maris Lidaka (Host): have that. I actually got in trouble when I was in second grade because I stopped standing and, or I didn’t stop standing, but I stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance. I would just stand there because this is kind of a long story, but when I was in kindergarten, I had this teacher who would make me sit on the floor for no reason.
She would just, she would, I was the only brown kid in our suburb of Oak Park. Mm-hmm. So after this, um, after school a couple of times she would just, you know, the bell would ring, all the kids would start to go. She would say, no, Morris, you go sit on the floor. And I would like ask why. She would say, just go sit on the floor.
And she, this a couple of times my mom was noticing that I was coming out late later than all the other kids. She was like, what’s going on? Um, so she had a conference, uh, with the [00:23:00] teacher and the teacher basically said, you know, I think your child has a learning disability cuz he keeps staring at the floor all the time.
Um, so I think you should transfer him to the special education school. So luckily mom was like that, that can’t be accurate because he’s in kindergarten, he’s reading at like a third grade level. Um, so she had me take another test. Um, and then, you know, turns out that I should have been in the higher learning program.
Huh. Not the disability program. Um, and I remember, uh, this, I remember this teacher, like I, my mom asked me if I wanted to transfer to the other class, and I said that I did. Um, and she, that was the moment where she had to explain to me like what race was and how racism worked. You know, things you shouldn’t have to say to a five-year-old, but she had to.
Mm-hmm. And I remember the, the teacher coming up to me after like one recess and like telling me that I should talk to my mom to make sure that I stayed in her class. And I said, I didn’t want to because I [00:24:00] know that you don’t like me. And she was like, no, I don’t. I was like, then I asked her, why aren’t, why do you keep making me like sit on the floor?
After school and she said, oh, I never did that. Never made you do that. You know? And of course I got upset as a child, but I think after that, that was kind of my beginning of awakening. Yeah. Um, my mom basically was like, okay, I guess, uh, a she had to learn a lot because where she, she grew up in like the west side of Chicago, which is the hood, right.
Basically. Mm-hmm. And her mom’s, you know, Education, how racism work with white people, don’t like you. Stay away from those folks. Yep. That’s, and that was it, what we got too.
Dartanyon: That was pretty much it. Uhhuh and my family almost exploded when I brought a white girl home.
Maris Lidaka (Host): Luckily, luckily my side, that side of the family was actually pretty understanding. It was actually my dad’s side of the family. Like they would not let my mom [00:25:00] into the house cause they were Eastern European and they were, my grandmother was just convinced that my mom was gonna like, steal all the expensive silverware something.
But like, as soon as I was born, you know, I became the, I was the first son on that side of the family. Mm-hmm. On white side of the family. So I was. I was the Latvian son. Um, so that kind of dissipated all some of the bad blood. Not all of it, but some of it. Right. But yeah, as soon as you know, that incident happened, you know, she started, you know, scrambling to learn about race like as much as she could.
And then as much she learned, she would like pass on to me. So I kind of what you said about healing through the trauma for a long time, whenever somebody would like call me stupid mm-hmm. I would just flip out. Like I would just lose my temper, lose my mind. Mm-hmm. It didn’t help that I had studied like March arts for years.
Cause sometimes I would like get into fights. Mm-hmm. Just because somebody like call. And it took me, I think until, I think until high school, um, living in a foreign country where [00:26:00] I was still trying to operate under the same like, rules of how people perceive me. Mm-hmm. Um, and just getting like upset at things and people go like, whoa, whoa.
I don’t know what you’re talking about or why you’re so mad, but that’s. We, we don’t really care, um, like we do, but we care more about, you know, what country you’re from as opposed to, you know, if you say you’re black or not, like I don’t even know what that means, what you’re talking about.
Dartanyon: Right. That’s the thing with trauma, like when you have a traumatic memory or traumatic flashback, something can trigger it.
Like it doesn’t, and there can be multiple triggers for you that might have been hearing someone say black or stupid or anything referring to a childhood or even like being condescending to you in a certain way, like that can trigger a response. And that’s a response is either gonna be, oftentimes it’s like a fight response and you’re just ready to lose it, or it’s a flight response and it, again, different, different [00:27:00] levels of trauma, different areas, but, and you’re reacting to that story and what makes it.
Memory that a traumatic memory different than a regular memory is like, I can remember all of my, all of my metal wounds, they were great, they were fantastic. But it stops there. They’re just the memory. All of my traumatic memories. I go back there. I feel that, I feel that sensation. I smell things, I hear things, and oftentimes I’m trembling or I’m really angry.
And when people see that on the outside, like especially in this neighborhood and like Holly has seen that a couple of times, like when I’ve reacted with people like coming up behind us or just reacted to people like just speaking to me randomly when I just didn’t want to be spoken, I didn’t wanna be spoken to.
Like she, she saw me reacting to a very non-threatening situa situation, [00:28:00] like ready to murder something. But when I was react, when I was actually reacting to. A very threatening situation that I live through, but I’m currently living through in this moment. And it just comes up for me every now and again quite often.
So when you’re in that traumatic memory, you’re experiencing that, that’s why emotional and like flash emotional flashbacks and flashbacks are a thing. Because unless you integrate that memory into past memories is still going to emerge as a traumatic memory.
Maris Lidaka (Host): I think probably the thing that happened was, I think I snapped on there was like a kid from Rochelle, I went to an international school overseas and there was like a kid from R who um, he just like said off the cuff like, you know, I don’t remember what the incident was, but he was just like, why, why would you think that?
Like, what are you stupid? And I just lost it. Like, I was screaming at this kid, like who I had just met, and he is like, I don’t know what I did. Like I could barely speak English.[00:29:00]
Yep. And then somebody, and then another person who actually I’m still friends with now, but she was like, you know, Marz, everybody really likes you, but you just have to calm down a little bit. And I just thought, what am I doing to, they’re like, why am I reacting this way? Mm-hmm. I’m like, ruining these potential friendships that I could have.
Right. Based on something that, you know, they don’t know about that happened like years and years. I mean, granted these incidents still do happen, but you know, they, they don’t know. They didn’t mm-hmm.
Dartanyon: Do anything. Yeah. And I think something, again, it, it sparks another conversation like just this one here that like labels and language that we use, like labeling and characterizing, especially black kids, either just disobedient and your issues and there’s other like, Stupid terminology that has been used just to sound academic, but just to [00:30:00] say a disobedient, angry child when that is not the case.
You have a child that has a ton of unresolved trauma and has no way to cope with the world around him. I think judo and like me, just competing in sports is the only reason why I’ve been able to hang on to sanity and reality as long as I have, not just like participating in the sport, but really throwing my entire self into the sport and just having that be my entire identity, my entire reality.
Cuz it gave me, it not only gave me something else to focus on, it gave me new stories, new experiences to have that weren’t tied to the trauma. And I think that, That can be said with any martial art, any sport, any hobby. That element of confidence building that just comes from like learning something like judo or Brazilian jiu-jitsu or new sport or new martial arts, like creating more agency and I, and yeah, more [00:31:00] agency within your own body I think is amazing for people and it was definitely great for
Maris Lidaka (Host): me.
I guess I want to go back to the environment that you originally came from and came out of. Yeah. Cause one thing I was thinking about is, you know, you were an athlete, I think a lot of times people then you were talking about, you know, healing the trauma and I think a lot of times people think that when somebody becomes a successful athlete that all of whatever was bothering ’em, the for just goes away.
Either because they’ve reached high level of success in something, or you know, most, most often it’s because they’re making a lot of money, which I know you as Olympians don’t make a ton of money. I think people get the idea that. If you’re successful in one area, that sort of like negates all the trauma and problems that you had before.
So tell me the environment that you came out of as you’re getting all this success in a particular discipline, that being judo, what were you hanging onto and how were you able to deal
Dartanyon: with it? The environment that I grew up in was just completely [00:32:00] dysfunctional and, and not safe without completely getting into it.
Just inner city Cleveland, like I grew up in the trap house. The house that I lived in was a trap house and for viewers that may not know what a trap house is, it’s a house typically in an inner city where drugs are sold to the neighboring addicts or dealers in that area. I grew up in that sort of environment for most of my childhood.
And not only that, also being a black person in America, like having, having that dynamic and I think going into, into this new environment as an athlete gave me another identity to jump in that wasn’t the one that I was struggling in. It gave me something else to be, something else to do. It didn’t really change any of my problems.
It didn’t heal any of the damage that was done in my childhood. It just gave me a different distraction. Like sports for me, and I know like this isn’t always the case because there is a lot of Olympians and Paralympians who start at a young age and like make it their passion. And [00:33:00] since day one it started off as a means to an end for me.
Like the first thing that like I really gravitated toward growing up was singing. I sang in my church choir and I loved singing all the time. Really felt grounded in it was like one of the few gifts I felt like I had. And being on the choir, it felt like I was able to like share this gift, this not just me singing, but like the gift of music, the art.
With people and just kind of like have that sort of celebration whenever we like sang as a choir, whenever, and especially when you nail a song that you’ve been working on. But there was a time that I was attacked in that switch and I had to switch that because that kind of to that kind of showed me that like, there, there isn’t room for that sort of sensitivity.
There isn’t room for the arts anymore in my life. And then in that environment now, I had to adapt to survive for, to learn how to fight. After I stopped making, singing a hobby, a passion of mine, like it became sports, and then sports kind of became my outlet. And so jumping into that [00:34:00] environment, I sacrificed a piece of myself to live this out because it not only brought me from the environment that I was in, it gave me an entirely new identity that wasn’t my own, that wasn’t the dark canyon, that was abused and mistreated and neglected as a child.
I wasn’t that Dartanyon when I was an athlete. I was a figure of power, strain of excellence, and I was pursuing this career of excellence. However, that other piece of Dartanyon was kind of like sitting, waiting for me to come back. And then once my career ended, there was little to nothing I could do to stop myself from collapsing into just the spiral of emotions and like the emotional flashbacks and breakdowns that I had after my career.
I, I think that’s also how people view the black man in this country and athletics of seeing and also justifying racism, justifying police brutality or, or disproportionate poverty within the black community. When they see black athletes who make the N F [00:35:00] L or N B A and saying like, well, these athletes are rich.
They’re successful now. Yeah, they are, but at the same time, their skin is still black and they live in America. That’s, that’s the first thing. Two, that doesn’t necessarily erase all their problems. You can have a lot of money, but that doesn’t. Necessarily mean, you know where you’re, you even know where to start to begin, like healing some of the problems you have.
You start filling them with a bunch of bull crap. And that’s why you see a lot of these N F L stars who not only have had multiple concussions that have just destroyed their brain over time, but also probably carry a degree of trauma. Those athletes who have those humble beginning stories. I can’t imagine that there are many of N F L athletes who carry trauma and have dealt with it in a very meaningful way or
Maris Lidaka (Host): in general.
And not to mention, you know, if you make it the NFL and the nba, you’re, you’re like in the two percentile of the population. If that, if that, if that, so what happens to, you know, everybody else who with the same trauma, but that [00:36:00] doesn’t
Dartanyon: make it to the, doesn’t even have that support of that financial income because here, this amazing athlete, my career for me as an athlete, as successful as I was, isn’t my life success.
I know it was for a lot of people, and I respect that and I commend that. I think that because Jule, for me, started as a means to an end, I, I fell in love with the sport. I gave everything I could to the sport, but because it wasn’t something that like I initially chose, It was, it was presented to me as a way out, as a way to be destined for greatness.
To be something that, to be something more than what my, my what my environment at the time dictated. There wasn’t a choice for me. It was either judo or nothing. That was it. I didn’t have that strong of an understanding of the sport. So I was learning a new sport. Not only that, learning how to live in a new environment without no real support group other than like the Olympic training Center.
Like some, a few other people in my life, like, uh, Lisa FM from the ESPN story, and, [00:37:00] uh, a couple other friends. I always, I was always
Maris Lidaka (Host): curious when I watched the espn mm-hmm. Um, documentary, it made, it, it made it kind of seem like least was like the first sort of white person that you’ve ever met? Was that the case?
No. Or like, I guess the one that you maybe not met, but like, you know, had like a heavy interaction
Dartanyon: with Yeah, they made it seem like that, but it’s not the case and I think it comes off as the case with a lot of. Those blindside esque stories. I don’t know. Mine fix that description. She wasn’t the first, uh, white person that I interacted with.
And our relationship isn’t shallow either. I think on the surface people can’t understand it. And oftentimes with our story too, you, this is solely, mainly not just with white people, but the vast majority of white people can’t even discern who’s Leroy, who’s Dartanyon in the story. They always think that Lisa is like my wife or, and me and le me and her adopted Leroy or something.
They always get the story wrong. So for them, and a lot of people are, [00:38:00] relationship is ill-defined. First it started off as ESPN producer, subject, and then as she was filming and getting closer to us, because there was a certain point that the documentary started to, it went from like the athletic piece to focusing on our friendship.
And as a, as a producer, she, she’s excellent at her job. And so she had to become in on it. She had to become a part of. The jokes are part of the friendship. And then genuinely she did. And then over time, once like our story like kinda gained traction, she leveraged her privilege basically like as a white person and like learned a lot by bringing cameras into the black community and like sitting, like first she didn’t bring cameras first, she just actually came and sat in me and Leroy’s homes and felt how uncomfortable it was and saw that in certain situations, hard work doesn’t just get you out of it.
And so I think her stepping in and like exposing her, like choosing to expose herself [00:39:00] to what we were living like, said a lot about who she was in her character. Like as a white person who had this sort of prestigious job and lived in a very nice neighborhood and grew up in Cleveland and grew up with a family that sort of preached separate equals safer.
But she still, as any ESPN producer because she, she originally came because she saw that like we were two wrestlers and. I was blind. And he, like, we were both on a espn, pn, uh, not espn. We were both on the Plain Dealer of, uh, we were both on the front page article of newspaper in Cleveland called The Plain Dealer.
Boom. Got the words out
right front of you before I got, I mean
Maris Lidaka (Host): especially cause I, cause that’s like what, almost 10 years ago?
Dartanyon: Something like that. Yeah, yeah. A long time ago. Yeah. And it started to come back to me in pieces I was telling, I was like, wait, is that right? Is that part of the timeline? And so, and after we were featured on the, in the Plain Deal, [00:40:00] like the funny thing is, is her father who is racist well, was, had a lot of growing to do cuz he’s the one who kind of taught separate equals safer.
But he’s the one who sent her the story. And then she flew out from Connecticut where she was working to come, filmed the rest of our wrestling sections. And then from there filmed our power lifting, uh, career. But in that she started to realize that the story wasn’t our disabilities or our athletic career, but it was our friendship.
The story was that two black, two, two young black men who grew up in poverty, like I think this is a part of what she saw, but like someone else who kind of came into our lives as a screenwriter, like also saw this and like I, and I thought this was great, that other people are saying kind of what me and Leroy kind of felt like was the most important thing from the beginning before having the language.
But just two inner city black kids who has every reason to be cold and bitter, chose compassion and kindness [00:41:00] in like the worst of it. And like, not to say that there weren’t other people who wouldn’t have done what I’d done, but just on a very, on a much deeper level. Like as she got to know her, she saw that like even in our day to day, it wasn’t just something we did like for each other.
People close to us, Lera and I expended. We, we showed that sort of compassion and kindness outward to everyone despite our situation, despite who we did or didn’t trust, it was just kind of who we were. And we both kind of mirrored that for each other and kind of we, we shared that quality, we shared that virtue, and that’s kind of what the story sort of unfolded.
And Lisa kind of became a part of that because we, and we also allowed her, because Leroy for like, I wasn’t very trusting, but like I kind of, I saw something, I felt something special in Lisa that I don’t feel from a lot of people didn’t know how to explain it. But then like over time, getting to talk to her and getting to know her is what really kind of helped me see her colors and that she was really [00:42:00] willing to step in with her ignorance and learn.
Which is why she became such a pivotal piece. And I think that the documentary, as great as it is because it’s documentary made by white people, like there are a few elements that it, it doesn’t quite depict and it’s hard to show and because like many of the audiences in America is white, there are certain things that aren’t picked up on by the white community in that documentary.
And I think that’s a part of the reason why like when so many white people come up and see the documentary and are just like, oh, are you Leroy? When clearly Leroy was the guy who has no legs and I’m the dude who has legs, it’s easy for me to say, cuz you could
Maris Lidaka (Host): look completely different, like your head’s, like every, every single Right, right.
Dartanyon: that whole that. Not to that be completely look different, but like it’s just that you weren’t paying attention. Yeah. It’s, you saw a story that seemed like an underdog [00:43:00] story to you that made you feel warm and good. It’s what you like to see. It’s what you like to see of the American dream. Two young black men make it against all odds with the hell, both great white hope, which this story wasn’t the case because a lot of what me and Leroy did was of our own volition.
White people oftentimes don’t see that. Things like affirmative action and they assume that, well, these are things that are handouts because they feel that their ancestors did it on their own and have done it on their own. Continue doing it on their own. So black people should do it on their own.
History, logic, and everything else that’s going on in our current climate. Seth, otherwise, I
Maris Lidaka (Host): wanted to also ask you about this. Cause my mom grew, my mom grew up in the the west side of Chicago, which is. It’s the less bad area of Chicago. The really bad one. The south side. Right. The left side’s not that far off.
I remember she just always saying like, I don’t trust those south side Negros. Right, right. I dunno what’s going on down there. [00:44:00] Like we had a bad oh boy. Um, man. But she had this saying that she just always like trying to drilled into us like, you know, you’re not allowed to fail. You’re not allowed to fail.
You’re not allowed to fail. And I found that Was that your experience growing up? That you thought that you weren’t allowed to fail and did,
Dartanyon: did you reach a certain point where Um, not It did feel like I wasn’t allowed to fail and that I didn’t have any second chances. That was definitely real. And that’s definitely real for like, especially the black community.
You just know like law enforcement teachers, everywhere you go, you only get one chance it feels like as a black person in the black community. So I had to accept whatever was gonna come from that and that me being something more. And I think what sort of taught me that lesson of accepting your failures was accepting my defeats and.
In sports, like when I really learned like, well, what did I do wrong in this match? And try to understand like why I didn’t succeed, why? And I think my desire for success also outweighed my fear of failure. I had a family who actually stayed with which this white family that [00:45:00] took me in and did an incredible amount for me.
But there was a period sort of before living with them and then after living with them where I was so the homeless and still kind of couch surfing. And so juggling all that, really being able to focus on wrestling and seeing that like I learned from losing it to this guy in his wrestling match, like, what else could, what other failure, what other defeat can I learn from?
Or how can I learn from this mistake other rather? And then, and then starting to change the language. And rather than, I can’t fail, how can I learn from this failure? How can I learn from this defeat? And why did I fail? What can I change about myself? And it’s also why we need to start changing the narratives.
Because that’s not what failure should look like in the black community, and that sh not what failure can be in the black community. And I think that like in order to, to learn from it, you have to be, you have to be willing to be wrong, to learn from a failure and then allow yourself to be corrected when you are wrong.[00:46:00]
Because if you’re failing and you’re like making all these mistakes, but you’re making excuses and saying all lives matter and still missing the bigger picture, you’re missing the your the reason why failure mistakes are such a vital part of life because they’re, they’re to teach us. And you can’t appreciate the success that you’re gonna have after those failures unless you’ve tasted failure, but it’s tolerable.
And once you learn how to live with like smaller pieces of failure, because there, there’s a way to fail and not lose everything and not have it be detrimental to the rest of your
Maris Lidaka (Host): life. I feel like also that’s just a general problem with our society at large is how we look. Look at failure. And also, you know, how we define success.
Cause I think a lot of times we define success as like you either Jeff Bezos or you’re homeless. Like those are two barometers of what success or lack. There’s like no in between. There is no in
Dartanyon: between. [00:47:00] Exactly. And it’s such a shallow, a shallow idea of success. And as a sociologist, I believe that sponsor from our capitalistic society, like it’s evident that it’s sponsored from our capitalistic society.
Cuz everything, every policy, every decision that’s made is led with the dollar. So of course success is gonna look finite in regards to being financial. When you ha when you’re successful, it’s financial success because why? Because capitalism, because that’s hammered so deeply, people stop pursuing actual human growth.
People start pursuing growth. Personal development through titles, we didn’t get
Maris Lidaka (Host): a chance to talk about healing the underdog. Where did, uh, where did healing the underdog came from? Just, and, and
Dartanyon: what, what exactly is it? Toward the end of my senior, my, uh, school year, last year in spring, I was starting to really kind of build my, uh, speaking career.
And as I was doing, so, I started to ask questions, well, what am [00:48:00] I trying to say aside from sharing my story? Because I kind of wanted to switch from being a motivational speaker to kinda where I was kinda sharing my story and then, like, my success to being an inspirational speaker, I wanted to have a call to action after, after my keynotes and after my talks.
And, and I also wanted to provide some sort of teaching and understanding. And so in that, I started to ask myself, well, what do people wanna know from me? What skills do I have? And so in pe and like in thinking of that, of thinking of people who are after my talk always came up and told me that I was such an underdog and.
I had so much grit and like it was so great to see how I was able to pull myself up by the bootstraps. And I also realized in that that like I was only a motivational speaker. I wasn’t really inspiring anyone to do anything. I was just sharing my, my story, which what I felt was a PG version of it to a bunch of white people who thought it was the worst thing that they ever heard.
We had never heard anything like, cause they had never been exposed to it. And so [00:49:00] I started wanting to understand like, well, what does make an underdog successful? And using the switch of majors of switching degrees and sociology, I was able to kind of research that from an objective standpoint of like finding and researching like the term underdog.
What do we consider an underdog? How, like how is that defined? And so I got all academic with it started like looking at research articles and started seeing like what determines someone’s success. Like people who have been considered an underdog. Like what, what have they done? Like what things have attributed to their success.
And then from there I started finding myself looking into trauma research. And this was after a conversation I had with someone and talking about like what I kind of wanted to do with my business and what, like before I even had the language of just saying that like once I started like finding this research on trauma, and this is a woman that [00:50:00] you just, anyone should talk to and look up.
Her name is Ellie Wilkins. She, she’s a survivor of a very horrific event. I met her in the dance community here in Denver cuz I believes dance and salsa dance and swing dancing. And so, and she was telling me her story and then she told me about this book called, uh, the Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Derico because she was researching trauma because she carries a lot of it.
And that started to expand my research and then, Once I started to like really build the research and build an understanding of like, I still found, found healing along my journey because I was able to adapt and because a lot of like the research that I found with trauma is a lot of the things that I’ve gravitated toward can help in healing some pieces of trauma.
There are still a lot that I was missing, like the arts, singing, having something to focus on, having something to be mindful of. For me, playing video games for a long time, I was able to kind of go back and still in the areas and look at my childhood and know more about the video games I’ve played [00:51:00] than pieces of my childhood because like I spent so much time living outside of my own reality because my reality sucked than living in because I gravitated towards so many different things.
And then finding sport and movement and yoga and everything else, like I was still able to find like small pieces of healing. And then to add to that, People who have shown up in my life and shown me compassion and saw me for what I could be. And so healing the underdog. Like if you wanna be an underdog, if you want to be this person who was never really supposed to succeed in life, because if the ads were stacked so high against you, and it’s not about big triumphant victories.
When I talk and in my career, I try and take out my judo career as much as I can because while it was important to me, there are very few people who can, who can relate to my career as as an athlete, but there are millions of people who can [00:52:00] relate to my, to my trauma. There are millions of people who can relate to, to the human suffering.
That I’ve found in this life. And that’s sort of what I use and what I bring to the table. You’re not just getting someone who’s giving you a feel good story, we’re just saying you can do it by all means necessary. Because I am no stranger to human suffering. I know that a lot of people aren’t. And where do I start to begin healing?
I do like, another reason I do like speaking at corporate events is because this figure of power, this strong black athlete sharing my story at these conferences since I’ve had so many older white people who’ve, especially older staunchy white men who’ve come and said, I feel like I’ve been living my life wrong up until this point.
And seeing that and bringing that message and that sort of story into those corporate offices in front of those white pillars of privilege. And power. And power. Exactly.
Maris Lidaka (Host): And I think something that kind of resonated with me is just, um, you know, when you get those, those small victories seem to matter more than.
Like the big ones. I [00:53:00] think we were talking about this before that, you know, a lot of people look at, you know, the awards and the accolades again, and they think like, oh man, like you must be like on cloud nine when mm-hmm. Yeah, that was really nice, but what really meant, you know, the most to me was that that small little thing that I was trying to do for so long mm-hmm.
That I was finally able to do that, you know, eventually, you know, I got an award for it or I was nominated for an award for it, but it, it didn’t mean as much as that first like, sort of hill that I had to climb.
Dartanyon: Right. Because those, like, those huge triumphant underdog victories, like winning a medal at the games or like winning like a grand slam or like a Superbowl ring or something like that because that’s, that’s placed at the epitome of like, success is like you only achieve success when you’ve gotten that high.
Cuz for you, yeah. That big moment on the outside looking in that big moment may look like the biggest moment of that person’s career. But the small events leading to that big moment is what really shaped them, is what really gave them, found the foundation to hold onto that big moment and [00:54:00] chase it and grab it.
And I think because there are so many people who quite frankly haven’t really had to work hard in this life, don’t know how to struggle to make a small victory happen, don’t know how to struggle to, to see minuscule progress. There are people who just graduated high school, big thing. I graduated college, big thing, I got this big job, big thing, I retired.
Big thing. And they’ve just kind of lived themselves in the mundane fuck zone and they haven’t really kind of had to struggle and had to find beauty in the ugliness around you. Cause some of my like greatest successes are steeped in like either decisions of not like hanging out with a certain friend group or.
Just like achieving like this small goal of just getting to a certain place in my life, you’ve kind
Maris Lidaka (Host): of tapped into it is how important storytelling really is. [00:55:00] I had the opportunity to teach at an international school once with, luckily they all spoke English, but their English wasn’t good enough. They felt they didn’t, they didn’t feel comfortable really communicating with each other, but we taught them basically how to make little mini documentaries in like three nights.
Oh nice. And just, you know, to see these kids with like little snow skills three days ago, just like open up and just tell these beautifully crafted stories and just expose who they were, uh, like their, is it just sort of speaks to the power that storytelling can have?
Dartanyon: Absolutely. For me, it not only like helps connect certain pieces in my life, every skill I collected, I try and figure out how to use that in collaboration with what I already know.
Like even if it doesn’t necessarily fit. So I’m always trying to. Bring in generalized information into something to just build upon it. Sometimes something clicks once it’s not about you, and it becomes about, about the impact and [00:56:00] the, and the good that you can do for the world. Something clicks about it and then it becomes, it becomes fun, I think.
Yeah, it does. Yeah. It becomes, you know, that it’s gonna be work and it’s gonna be stressful, but like you can bring your own lightness to it because you know that like you’re doing this for someone else. When
Maris Lidaka (Host): you’re sitting down, like trying to make a movie or, or make a story, a lot of times you get lost in, you know, is this working?
Do I like this, do I like that? Um, so it becomes very, again, ego driven. Whereas when you have that framework of you’re trying to make an impact, then it’s okay, is what I’m doing having the message that I think needs to be gotten across?
Dartanyon: Right. And I think also finding your population of people that you wanna impact, because I think there’s one thing to be like, Hey, I wanna help people, but what does that look like?
Who do you wanna help? How do you want to help them? And what skills do you have that can make you an ally to, to this, regardless of your skin color? Because I think it’s one thing to say that like we can just have anyone for black [00:57:00] representation in public office, and that’s fine. But reality, it’s not.
Maris Lidaka (Host): Cause there’s always, always gonna be that question of, you know, do you really have my best interest in mind? Right?
Dartanyon: Like, what you trying to do, it’s who like, not only is like the representation, but like that person’s alter your mood. Like what, what are you trying to get out of it or what are you trying to give with it?
And I think that that, for me at least, has like really helped me build my career. Because I think I’m in a space to where I don’t know a lot of what I want. Like a lot of people, I like, I never know what I want for my birthday. I never know, never know what I want for Christmas. I never know, kind of, I know what I wanna do long term, but that’s because like, I know that I want to do it for people.
Like, because I, I, I’m, I’m really good at giving gifts. Like as a speaker, your product is yourself. You’re your greatest product. And [00:58:00] like I knew that like, not only did I wanna give myself to the world as like me being my product, but also like in the educational sense, because I know that like if I were to work in education, I would work with underserved populations and there aren’t many people who look like me and who have the resources and skills and the career that I’ve had that works with our youth.
Who are under shape, under privilege. That’s part, that’s another part of the reason why I do it. And actually
Maris Lidaka (Host): talking to you has made me think that, I mean, I did a little bit of before, but I would like to impart more of my knowledge about how to tell a story, especially for those undeserved communities.
And that will actually start to change the narrative of media. But a lot of people you don’t when you’re on the outside looking in and when you’re going through it, you don’t really understand it. Like you don’t really get how the machine really works. No, you don’t. Usually it’s like, I know X guy, usually one white guy knows another white guy.
Mm-hmm. He hires that person and that’s why the business is [00:59:00] the way that it is, which then informs the narrative
This episode was produced with the help of Beth Chin. The Mixed Creator is a Blended Future Project. To find out more, go to blendedfuture project.com. If you want to listen to more episodes or if you’d like to be a guest in the podcast, go to marislidaka.com/podcast.
That’s M A R I S L I D A K A.com/podcast.
If you want more insight and advice. Get the Mixed Creator Newsletter, it goes out every single Monday morning. Just go to marislidaka.com/newsletter and you can sign up.
Thanks for listening, and I’ll see you in the next episode.