Dulwich Hamlet’s Danny Mills playing key role in football’s fight against racism

·5-min read

Dulwich Hamlet forward Danny Mills described being included on the 2021 Football Black List as “really overwhelming” and revealed the coronavirus pandemic gave him the chance to become more involved in the sport’s fight for equality.

This time last year the 29-year-old was playing for his National League South side but, when the division and the majority of non-league football was suspended in January due to rising Covid-19 cases, it provided a moment of reflection.

Steps six and below on the football pyramid were declared null and void a month later, allowing Mills the chance to turn his energy towards the fight against racism and discrimination.

After being hired by Show Racism The Red Card as an education worker, months later the Londoner was named on Kick It Out’s player advisory board, while there was also time for the striker to start a ‘Shout Out For Mental Health’ campaign that raised more than £3,000 for MIND.

Following a whirlwind 12 months, Mills told the PA news agency: “When I saw the final list and the company I was in, it was really humbling to be recognised for the work I do.

“You don’t do it for plaudits or for pats on the back, you do it because you want to try and help and educate people. When I did find out it was really overwhelming and something that will stay with me forever and something I’m extremely proud of.

“I haven’t been in this space long, so that is why it is even more of a surprise and the pandemic is the reason really because in January our season ended at Dulwich Hamlet, so it allowed me to think about what I wanted to do in that time period.

“It gave me an opportunity to figure out, ‘What does the future hold after football?’ I had always been interested in the work I do now in terms of anti-racism, equality and diversity, but it was, ‘How do I get into it?’

“Luckily I was able to link up with Show Racism The Red Card and I haven’t looked back really. Things have progressed and accelerated really quickly, so I’m just happy to be where I am now.”

Mills sat on a Show Racism The Red Card panel before the pandemic and, when he asked about the possibility of observing some anti-racism workshops, he was pleasantly surprised to be given the chance to take on a more hands-on role.

The one-time Peterborough player initially led virtual workshops, but more recently has been able to attend schools and organisations where he has given training on anti-racism, equality and diversity and led discussions where questions about racism and the use of language can be asked without fear of judgement.

While Mills has not been the victim of racist abuse on the pitch, he is driven by what he sees as an unconscious bias and believes education is a key tool in the fight against racism.

“What we allow is a safe space for young people to ask questions, and not only a safe space but a brave space because we don’t all know it all,” he said.

“This conversation is uncomfortable for adults let alone children, so by allowing them to say the wrong things it gives them the opportunity to feel safe and confident when they go out into society and the real world.

“Education for me is only the beginning, because education has become a bit of a buzz world now by saying, ‘We need to educate this person, that person’, but in reality, we need to educate people to a point where they are actually out there and actively being anti-racist and doing the work.

“What we are trying to do is empower these students and adults. Are they being allies? Are they allowing the banter to happen in the workplace or school playground, or do they challenge? We only advise to challenge if it is safe to do so, but, really, we are trying to just empower these people.

“And this isn’t a black person problem, it isn’t a South Asian person problem, it is everyone’s problem, so we all need to be in it together. This is something we try to educate everyone about.”

Mills, who has six goals this season, organised numerous fundraisers in February with the help of Dulwich and former side Whitehawk in response to the majority of non-league players being sidelined for a second time in quick succession.

After a successful first ‘Shout Out For Mental Health’ campaign, the forward continues to speak up for those outside England’s top four leagues in his advisory board role with Kick It Out, with meetings to improve the reporting of racist incidents and to make mental health services more freely available to non-league footballers.

“We sit down quarterly and have an open and honest discussion. At the end of it, we come as one and make a decision on the way we want to move forward,” Mills said.

“Sitting on the Kick It Out board and learning about governance is really helping and I am trying to use those tools to make sure I can contribute in an effective way.

“It gives me another string to my bow and more fuel and knowledge for my brain, which is what I want. And my ultimate goal would be to work for an organisation like the Football Association, Professional Footballers’ Association or Premier League in an equality and diversity inclusion role or in and around that space.”

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