As a nationwide debate has been brewing over the actions of Colin Kaepernick, quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, his message and methods are being adopted by young people to protest what they see as institutional inequality in our country.
On September 16th, five high school students in Massachusetts followed his lead, and did not stand for the playing of the national anthem. And now they are in the spotlight as well.
As a silent protest of racism and oppression, five Worcester Massachusetts high school students kneeled during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner,” before their football game.
Four football players and one cheerleader participated in the silent protest. They attend Doherty Memorial High School.
Speaking publicly about it, Junior Mike Oppong said “Black people don’t get a lot of equality, and are judged more by the color of their skin than their actions,” he said. “The national anthem is basically a celebration of our rights as Americans, and if I’m not getting my rights as an American, then I don’t feel like I should be celebrating.”
This was the second game in which he took a knee during the national anthem. He has also claimed that for the first protest, he received a one week suspension, which school administrators deny.
According to a statement released by Superintendent Maureen Binienda “The Doherty student did not violate any school rule when he peacefully and silently protested during the national anthem. He exercised his Constitutional Rights without disturbing the school assembly and he is not being disciplined by his actions.”
Oppong tweeted that his suspension was over on September 12th, writing “Thanks to all your love and support my suspension of [one] game has been terminated.”
Prior to the September 16th game Superintendent Binienda addressed the crowd concerning possible protests, saying ”I want everyone to know that at the national anthem tonight, we’d like everyone to stand, but if you choose not to stand, you must do so peacefully.”
Subsequently, Oppong and three African American teammates all took a knee, while one additional white teammate held their hand in solidarity.
According to Isabel Gonzalez- Webster, an area civil rights activist present at the game “It takes a lot of courage to be a young man, to be a student, to be an athlete, to stand out and be one out of a few dozen to do that. And now there were four, and they’re supporting him, that’s great. Next time they have a game, maybe half of the team will [kneel] down.”
At least one person was upset by the protest. Veteran David Legare said “I think it’s wrong. I think half these kids don’t even know what they’re doing, first of all, and what they’re protesting about. They have no respect for the American flag, the veterans. I feel they should either not play in this game, or the coaches should somehow discipline them. I know they have a right to do whatever they want in this country, but that, to me, is just so disrespectful.”
For his part, the young Oppong says that he plans to continue to voice his opinion, “The fact that they’re now allowing me to protest peacefully, that means that we’re getting somewhere.”
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