Larry Mitchell wears a shirt with the hashtag that accompanied his fundraising campaign to ask racists to send him back to Africa.
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Larry Mitchell reflects on how a joke on a fundraising website opened up international dialogue about racism.
As he likes to say, Larry Mitchell is just a normal guy with a regular job, someone who likes to make his friends laugh and his children smile.
But he’s also a man who woke up Monday morning with an interview request from a French magazine, a Kokomo resident who has been featured in recent weeks in the Washington Post, New York Daily News and on the trending page of the BBC’s website.
By accident, Mitchell has become an international advocate for the silencing of racists across the world, asking each of them in the most 21st century way possible – through a hashtag – to “put your money where your hate is.”
It all started one morning when Mitchell, an aspiring chef with a blog full of personal recipes, woke up with an idea he thought would get a few laughs from his friends at work.
Mitchell decided he would start a GoFundMe page to ask racists to “Send me back to Africa” by donating the randomly selected amount of $100,000. On the page he displayed the hashtag, encouraging “KKK, Skin Heads and anyone else with like mind thinking” to send him out of the country.
“It was straight off the top of the head, there was no thought whatsoever put into it,” he said, sitting at the dining room table of his Kokomo home. “It was straight off the head, spontaneous, just a joke.”
Mitchell has seen and heard the racist comment of “Go back to Africa” his whole life, to black celebrities and average citizens alike. The term has also become prominent in racially-charged responses to national Black Lives Matter protests; it was even heard outside a Chicago rally for presidential candidate Donald Trump.
But coming out of the July 4 weekend, Mitchell decided to address the incendiary remark after seeing it multiple times on Facebook and Twitter.
“It’s just like, wow, we are Americans. What do you mean, ‘Go back’? I’ve never been there before,” he said. “Instead of always being negative and trying to go back and forth, I just thought of a funny way to come back at them.
“That’s all it was, and I went to work and showed all my friends, and we laughed about it. And then, this happened.”
Mitchell originally intended for the page to be a short-lived joke, something he would delete after a couple days.
Soon after creating the page, however, his cousin passed away, causing him to forget about it and concentrate on his family.
It was during that time, when he was off social media and not interacting online, that a friend called to tell him he had done what thousands of millennials can only dream about – he had gone viral.
“He was like, ‘Hey man, I think you’re famous.’ And I was like, ‘What you mean?"” Mitchell recalled. "Vibe magazine had written an article, then Jet magazine.
“Then a couple weeks later, all the international people started hitting me … but it was still on a positive note, so I just let it roll.”
During that stretch, Mitchell received $1,820 from people across the world, most of whom encouraged him to take a vacation to Africa and congratulated him on the well-received joke.
“Larry - love that the racists don"t get that the joke"s on them. Hope you hit your target - spend the money wisely,” said one user named Tim Struth, who donated $10.
“Hahaha! Love it. You"re genius. Enjoy the trip, but do please come back - we need more clever ideas to solve our complex problems,” said another user.
As expected, however, there were a few racist remarks sprinkled into the donations, with one user named “fedupwhiteguy” telling Mitchell, “You better not come back.”
Another told Mitchell “good bye” before including a racial slur.
But it’s the worldwide feedback Mitchell’s received – he’s been contacted by people in countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Senegal – that led to the realization that he’s become the unwitting leader of a global conversation on race relations.
“I just started rethinking it a little bit, because people were coming to me of all races, all walks of like, and they were telling me how this had touched them,” he said. “They were telling me their point of view on it, and I thought it was amazing that it had opened up some type of dialogue about racism on a real level.
“It’s just amazing, just to have all the positive feedback. And people actually get the joke, and they think it’s hilarious. I think that’s just the most beautiful thing.”
Mitchell went on to explain the thought process behind the hashtag, a sensation that has inspired him to sell t-shirts displaying the acronym.
“That’s referring to not
“If you don’t like your job, hate your job, invest in yourself, put some money into yourself to better yourself by going to school or doing whatever you need to do to get away from that job. That’s what PYMWYHI really means.”
Now, as Mitchell reflects on the whole experience – the last donation was made to his page 11 days ago as of Tuesday – he hopes to continue spreading a message of unity that originated as a joke but has inspired and motivated people from Kokomo to Africa.
Mitchell, who was recently contacted by representatives of pastor T.D. Jakes about appearing on television, also hopes to use the funds to kickstart culinary courses for local children, classes that will teach them how to cook the dishes of their ancestors.
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In fact, he has already helped one youth achieve her dreams, his cousin, Tionna Brown, who last week competed in the Junior Olympics. Mitchell said he donated money to help with travel expenses.
And while he once planned to head to Africa in 6 to 7 years, Mitchell said he is now motivated to soon travel to the continent to fill the “part of me that is missing.”
“If God is speaking through me right now, I feel like that is what I’ve got to do,” he said. “I have to step up. If that’s what God is doing, he spoke through me to get to other people, then I feel like I’ve got to do that. As long as God has my back, can’t nothing stop me.”