Dash Richardson wasn’t used to seeing empty soccer fields.
When the Liberia-born athlete first arrived in Canada as a refugee, he was astonished by the stark contrast between the two countries. The food didn’t have the same flavour, the school culture was dramatically different, and he had trouble communicating with his broken English. Even the air smelled different. But the thing that made the biggest impact on him was that bare turf, since at home soccer fields, the neighbour’s backyards and the streets were always occupied from the early morning until late at night.
“Back home when we didn’t have a football or soccer ball, we made use of anything that we could turn into a ball to play. We sometimes even played with our bare feet in the dirt. In Liberia it’s annoying to find available space because it’s always occupied, so seeing those empty fields was something that was very strange to me,” Richardson told Sport for Life.
Having been in Canada now for nearly a decade, Richardson has done his part to fill those fields. As the co-leader of the Surrey Newcomer Council, and organizer of the Surrey Youth Mini Soccer Tournament started in 2016, he has overseen over 400 players and participants while advocating for the inclusion of Indigenous players, refugees, immigrants, at-risk youth and New to Canada Participants.
This work has grown out of a passion he developed while first adjusting to his new home, using soccer as a cathartic release as he struggled with feelings of grief and loneliness.
Putting a smile on soccer players’ faces
Since arriving in Canada, Richardson has worked as a soccer, wrestling and track and field coach, as well as an outreach worker, mentor and leader. He volunteers with Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver and facilitates an elementary school soccer program with Guildford United — among his many other pursuits, which have earned him recognition in the media and elsewhere.
He is passionate about community engagement, was nominated for the BC Multiculturalism Award, and has devoted years to slowly building an annual soccer tournament that allows young people, including many fellow refugees and New to Canada Participants, to get involved for free. It’s a program that promotes multiculturalism and diversity while providing a safe space for young people to come together to share about their cultural differences, engage in storytelling and have their voices heard.
“When we first started, I reached out to a lot of high schools and the school district. In the community we help each other out, friends that own barber shops would donate coupons for the kids to get haircuts and we had T-shirts, trophies, medals, gift cards, free food, culture performances from youth groups. There has been no cost to it,” he said.
“It was hard for me because it’s not something where I gain anything at all, financially. But I love it. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I wanted to see young people and put a smile on their faces. I feel happy when I see someone smile because I used to be that kid in a situation like these youth, and whenever they come together, I feel joyful.”
A passion for reaching young people with quality sport
Richardson now has a job as a safe school liaison with the Surrey School District, a position that allows him to interact with students experiencing similar situations to his. He appreciates the opportunity to interact with students who are vulnerable or marginalized, or who might be headed for a negative trajectory, and he tries to reach them through sharing quality sport opportunities.
“That’s my passion for young people. I’m the guy who, in terms of kids going through a tough time, I’m here to listen and talk to them and of course take them to the counselor or the principal if I need to, so I can keep the school safe. I’m everywhere in the school,” he said.
When Richardson thinks about the youth that he works with, both through his job at the school and his extracurricular work as an outreach worker and multi-sports coach and mentor, he’s struck by the intensity of their need for guidance.
“One thing some of these kids don’t have is a positive presence in their life. It could be someone who they look up to, but sometimes that person is not a positive influence. So how can we be that role model and shift their thinking, give them a platform to get involved? We need a lot of sport programs, and a lot of them are not accessible, especially for a newcomer or a refugee. You can’t just download a program that you don’t know about.”
That’s why he feels his role of introducing young people to quality sport is so important.
“Young people need mentors. Young people need leaders. They need a person they can look up to and see every day, that they can say ‘I want to be like that person’ or for me it was ‘I want to be more than that person’. I can make them grow and have an impact on the community,” he said.
“The people I have mentored are doing positive things. So, a young person can see ‘oh wow, Dash is doing it right, is there something I can do to help?’ It leads to so many things. So, one person is doing good? One young person going in a different direction makes their friends realize they can do that too. Now they’re going to change their thinking.”
Impacting New to Canada Participants by dismantling barriers
Sport for Life’s Kabir Hosein, Director of Operations and Strategic Initiatives was immediately drawn to Richardson’s resilience when he met him in person at the 2023 Sport for Life Summit in Richmond. Being new to Canada himself, he appreciated the work being done to engage and positively impact New to Canada Participants.
“Dacious is changing lives through sport and is motivated by his own personal journey,” said Hosein.
“There are currently so many barriers to access and participation in the Canadian sport system, and what Dacious Richardson has done to impact hundreds of people in the Surrey area clearly shows the power of innovating to reach this population. He is a living example of inclusion and an inspiration for all of us who believe in the power of sport and physical activity.”