Royce White Visits East, King to Raise Awareness About Mental Health

By his own admission, Royce White has issues. They’re as naturally a part of him as the height and hands and instincts that made him a basketball star at Iowa State University, good enough to be a first round draft choice by the NBA’s Houston Rockets.

The message he brought with him yesterday to East High School and King Elementary wasn’t so much “You too can be like me and become a star athlete” as much as “Maybe I’m a lot like you.” As in maybe you aren’t 6’8” and able to leap tall defenders in a single bound, but maybe you too have anxiety disorders that manifest as different phobias. If so, White was here to say they can be overcome. And he would know. His exploits on the court are well-chronicled. But so is his fear of flying, an unavoidable occupational hazard for pro athletes.

Instead of taking the big money of pro sports and running, White has taken a stand on behalf of mental illness sufferers of all stripes. Most of his audience at King was too young to recognize him but they knew about the NBA and the NFL and MLB. White’s athletic monogram got their attention long enough for him to tell them that besides playing ball he’s always enjoyed writing and music and still works to improve at both. And just as many hands went up when he asked “How many are afraid of something?” as when he asked “Who’s ever heard of Michael Jordan?”

“Be honest about your fears and tell your teachers and parents about them so they can help,” he advised the kids. “You can learn to control them so they don’t control you.” Or, as the man whose name is on the school he was speaking in put it: “Normal fear protects us; abnormal fear paralyzes us. Normal fear motivates us to improve our individual and collective welfare; abnormal fear constantly poisons and distorts our inner lives. Our problem is not to be rid of fear, but rather to harness and master it.”

White looks just as poised speaking in front of a crowd as he does playing basketball so obviously the triggers of his own panic attacks don’t include public speaking or full court pressure. “They’re as individual as everything else that makes us who we are,” he explained. “Confronting what makes us uncomfortable is part of self-discovery and growing up.”

One seven year-old seemed particularly reassured when White answered her question about how big he was at her age by saying, “the same size you are right now.”

State Representative Ruth Ann Gaines, herself a former DMPS teacher who also suffered from anxiety disorders, hosted White on his trip to Des Moines and visits to our schools.

Even though the assembly at King was in the gym and a couple of his pint-sized questioners challenged White to display some of his moves he wasn’t dressed for hoops. So instead he blocked that line of attack and refocused the discussion on teamwork, even between students in classrooms, as an important means of attaining individual goals. “Remember,” he said in his parting shot, “teamwork makes the dream work.”

Photos of Royce White’s Visit to King Elementary School

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