2020 IGR Outstanding Alumnx Award recipient: Riana Elyse Anderson

April 27, 2020

Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson is the recipient of the 2020 Outstanding Alumnx Award (OAA) along with Michael Gardner. She was presented with the award virtually at IGR's 17th Annual Award Ceremony and Graduation Celebration. Riana has been previously featured on IGR's podcast DialogueUP!

Dr. Anderson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health. She earned her Ph.D. in Clinical and Community Psychology at the University of Virginia and completed a Clinical and Community Psychology Doctoral Internship at Yale University's School of Medicine. She also completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Applied Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Anderson uses mixed methods to study discrimination and racial socialization in Black families and apply her findings to help families reduce racial stress and heal from racial trauma. She is particularly interested in how family-based interventions help to improve Black youth’s psychosocial well-being and health-related behaviors. Dr. Anderson is the developer and director of the EMBRace (Engaging, Managing, and Bonding through Race) intervention and loves to translate her work for a variety of audiences, particularly those whom she serves in the community, via blogs, video, and literary articles.

Finally, Dr. Anderson was born in, raised for, and returned to Detroit and is becoming increasingly addicted to cake pops.

Below are Riana's remarks to the class of 2020:

Kneeling for Injury

Historically, in a football game, there has been one time when players “take a knee”, that is, come down to one knee to kneel. That has been when a player has been injured and the team waits to hear about the wellness of their fellow player with baited breath. They do not stand until their fellow player stands. 

On September 1, 2016, Colin Kaepernick took a knee at a different time of the game. After three consecutive weeks of sitting down during the national anthem, Colin – upon the advice of a former military officer and football player – changed his approach to integrate respect for the military while simultaneously expressing his discontent for the national response to Black targeting and the miscarriage of justice.

Unless you’ve been under a rock the past several years, you have undoubtedly seen the backlash that Colin faced for respectfully expressing his beliefs. The apex of this protest has likely resulted in him not being picked up by any teams since his demonstration. I could talk a mile a minute about my feelings on the protest or his mistreatment or even the lukewarm attempt by some owners to express their frustration with the government’s interference, but I want to stay with the thought of injury today.

Injury. Harm, damage, and offense. These are the synonyms that you find when contemplating the definition of injury. In sports, it is common for ALL players, not just those on the same team, to kneel when someone has experienced unspeakable harm. Bodily damage. Personal offense. It is expected that we come together in the healing process of the befallen, engaging in silence until we see evidence of life, recovery, and movement.

And yet, for the millions of Black people within the United States suffering from shorter lives, more painful recoveries, and disenfranchisement from equity movements, it is clear that we do not exercise those same principles. Colin Kaepernick took a knee because the injustice he saw in his fellow Black people was tantamount to an injury experienced on the field. That injustice and injury are both about harm, damage, and offense was not lost upon Colin and his colleagues who supported him and those in our communities being silenced in myriad ways. 

The outcry against Colin was loud, but no argument as condemning perhaps as that indicating that he was not personally experiencing injury. Colin’s stake as a football player is the best demonstration of what injury looks like. Indeed, no matter the position on the field, anyone can experience deterioration by the ubiquitous stress that comes by virtue of just being a football player. Small tears in your muscle that have been purposefully built up to defeat the enemy can slow down your momentum. Countless hits that have blindsided you along your path have led to daze and confusion. And, perhaps one of the hardest injuries to detect may be the emotional toll that is experienced from being a player in this challenging game. 

Will we ever get the victory? Will we ever win? Will we ever stop getting laid out cold on this ground? Will we ever get the referees to fairly make the call? Will we ever be free from this injury?

Colin asks these questions not on behalf of himself, though he could rightfully ask them, as he is privy to the same experiences of other injured players. But rather, he asks them on behalf of players who are not on the same field, those who will never reach the NFL, those whose names are not known for being on the back of a jersey but rather on the back end of a hashtag. Colin is asking for his teammates. He is taking a knee when he sees someone being injured.

What is your injury today? What healing have you yet to engage in? When have you taken a knee for a fallen player? 

[No really, I’m asking - what is it?]

My work is around racial injury, or the ways in which the stress of racism impacts the psychological well-being of Black youth and parents. I have thought long and hard about how to help Black families cope with the sneakiness of racism in America. I have developed a psychological treatment focusing exclusively on coping with such stressors. And yet, I find that – even with treatment of the injury, the condition still exists. In the case of Colin, the perpetrator is so unnerved by being called on his actions that he resorts to dividing Colin from his people. You are exceptional. You have had opportunities. You should not be complaining. You. Are. Not. Injured.

As you graduate from Michigan, how often have you been told that? That your sheer existence as an elite college student is evidence of your exceptionalism. That you have gained opportunity to advance yourself. That your complaints should not be lodged. That. You. Are. Not. Injured.

How will you ensure that you are still a part of the collective we? That the injury and injustice experienced by the vast majority of our Black team members is something that you take the time to acknowledge, still feel, and work towards the treatment of? How will you see something occurring in the world and stand collectively only when justice has been served? When injuries have been resolved? When that player has all due attention paid to them?

Countless speeches will remind you of MLK’s famous quote, that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

Countless naysayers will remind you that your lot is better than that of your ancestors and that you should be proud to stand for this country and its progress.

But when you think for yourself, be ever reminded that it is possible to praise progress while lamenting injury. That your team could be up the entire game, but when you bear witness to injury, it is only just to kneel. 

As those steeped in the training and practices of IGR, it will be important to “Walk it Like I Talk it”, as the wise Migos have told us, to not just write about it or have done at Michigan, but to really think critically about the ways in which you can cultivate that time, energy, and dedication when the demands of the real world begin to pile up. So again I ask - What is your injury today? As an individual, as a team, as a community. What healing have you yet to engage in? Is it confronting someone, taking time for spiritual and personal restoration? And, how can we stand together only when we have all received just treatment?