Did NBC’s ‘This is Us’ rip off a Detroit mentor’s training program?

The founder of a Detroit training academy for young men whose training videos have been widely circulated internationally and curricula lauded in national media says a popular NBC show used one of his training methods in an episode without permission.

NBC’s “This Is Us” follows the intertwining story of three siblings – a set of twins and an adopted “triplet” – and is told in present-day scenarios and flashbacks. In Tuesday’s episode, titled “The Trip,” the siblings’ father and his adopted son are seen in a flashback participating in a father-son initiation ceremony in a dojo. The son wears a karate uniform and climbs on his father’s back before his father does a set of push-ups; the push-ups, as the fictional karate master says in the show, represent the father’s willingness “to hold him up no matter what comes his way” and abide by other affirmations.

But Jason Wilson, CEO of the Detroit-based The Cave of Adullam Transformational Academy, says the practice originated at his school and is seeking proper credit from “This is Us” producers and NBC.

“They just took a corner of a cake. That’s not even a whole percentage of what we do,” Wilson tells BLAC Wednesday afternoon. “The kids have to go through spiritual and physical training just to get to that place. They didn’t replicate a football game. They replicated something that is sacred and valuable to our community.”

The Cave of Adullam Transformational Academy began in 2008 with the goal of mentorship through martial arts, but Wilson quickly realized that young men in Detroit needed more – particularly interaction with their fathers, or at least father figures.


“They were in need of an emotional outlet to deal with the psychosomatic – the trauma they’ve been experiencing throughout their life,” Wilson says.

Wilson developed a three-month curriculum that strengthens boys both physically and mentally “to resolve anger, anxiety, lack of focus and fear.” About 150 boys have gone through the program; “over 80% have improved their GPS by one letter grade without tutoring,” Wilson says.

The program culminates with the push-up ceremony, in which fathers or grandfathers do a push-up with their sons, grandsons or adopted sons on their back.  A video of one of The Cave’s push-up ceremonies went viral, earning Wilson coverage in CNN – and oddly enough, NBC’s own “Today” – and a guest spot on “The Dr. Oz Show” earlier this year.

Wilson says he was not contacted by NBC or “This is Us” producers about using the initiation practice in the episode, but he knows the show’s staff is familiar with the process. In an Entertainment Weekly interview today, show creator Dan Fogelman says “a video online” is where writers got the idea from. Per EW:

Where did the dojo idea come from? And can you stop making Jack into Superdad every week? It’s just too much to bear.

I know. [Laughs.] The dojo came from one of our writers; Aurin Squire found it in a video online. It was a real thing, and he sent it to all the writers, and we all watched it and said, “Wow, this is really, really powerful.” In the video, I believe it was a young, black man who had lost his father, and it was his community and family stepping forth to show him that even though his father was no longer there, this community was here to put him on their back, and when one of them tires, the next man will. And we found it to be this really powerful thing that we always wanted to do in this episode. Milo did so many push-ups that day. Not only is a Jack a superhero in the show, but Milo is kind of a superhero in real life. [Laughs.] He did more pushups with a little boy on his back in one day than I’ve ever done in my entire life.

Wilson has sought counsel, believing the show has violated The Cave’s intellectual property. “I’m just blown away by it,” he says. “It hurts.”

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