Kneeling for change: Twin Cities high school athletes join national protest

“I hope to get attention to the slow speed of racial progress in the United States. To participate, it makes me feel like I’m actually standing up to something with not only words but actions that may help make a change.” –Davion Burris, junior at Minneapolis Roosevelt

For Rosie Letofsky, taking a knee during the national anthem at her volleyball game on Sept. 15 was a no-brainer.

Letofsky, a Minneapolis South High School junior, knelt with the rest of her teammates before the match against Minneapolis Washburn, seeking to raise awareness of injustice in society. After a photo of the moment was tweeted by a national activist and figure in the Black Lives Matter movement, it made national headlines.

“There are so many injustices in America right now, it’s crazy,” Letofsky said. “From Black Lives Matter to the wage gap to LGBTQ rights, there are so many. People are not being treated as people, and that is a huge issue.”

Letofsky is one of several Twin Cities high school athletes—and high school athletes around the country – who have taken a knee to take a stand against racial injustice. Among them are football players from Minneapolis North and Edina, according to reports, and athletes from Minneapolis Roosevelt.

As students across the Twin Cities participate in this protest, they say they are hoping to raise awareness and see social change.

Players on the Minneapolis South High School girls volleyball team take a knee during the national anthem before their game against Minneapolis Washburn on Sept. 15 in Minneapolis. (Photo courtesy of Rosie Letofsky)

The movement began with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who sat in protest while the national anthem played during August NFL preseason games. He later knelt during the anthem in NFL games in September.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media after he did not stand for the anthem during an August game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”

As reaction to Kaepernick’s actions spread, Twin Cities students began to get involved. At Minneapolis Public Schools, students received counsel from Michael Walker, director of the Office of Black Male Student Achievement.

“We just tell them that, ‘Hey, I support you and whatever decisions you are going to make as long as it’s not infringing on anyone else’s rights,’’’ Walker said. “We have no problem with that, but the other component to that is we tell the students that no matter what decision you make, there can be consequences to those decisions, so we want to make sure we outline the pros/cons of the decisions that they are making, so they are aware and informed.”

ThreeSixty talked to three other Minneapolis teen athletes who took part in similar protests with teammates.

Davion Burris, junior, Minneapolis Roosevelt

As Davion Burris took the field with his fellow Minneapolis Roosevelt football teammates in September, he decided to kneel on the field during the national anthem. A couple of other players did the same.

Their actions came after the team met to discuss participation; the topic had been brought to coaches’ attention by a player, according to assistant coach Adam Flanders. Athletes were told they could participate as long as they were quiet and respectful to those who continued to stand.

Burris knelt during the anthem to request change, he said. He won’t stand until he feels the country is treating people the way the country is supposed to, he said.

“I hope to get attention to the slow speed of racial progress in the United States,” said Burris, who also cited statistics that highlight racial inequality in the U.S. “To participate, it makes me feel like I’m actually standing up to something with not only words but actions that may help make a change.”

Korie Lyons, junior, Minneapolis Roosevelt

In October, Korie Lyons and the rest of the Minneapolis Roosevelt volleyball team lined up for the national anthem.

Instead of standing and singing, they knelt in silence.

Choosing to kneel was an easy decision, Lyons said, because police brutality toward African-Americans is unfair.

“I hope to get my point across in the unfairness toward citizens,” Lyons said. “When participating, it makes me feel as if I am part of a growing community.”

Rachel Lawrence, senior, Minneapolis Roosevelt

As Rachel Lawrence prepared to cheer on the football team at a game in September, she and the rest of the cheerleaders decided to kneel during the national anthem before the opening kickoff.

Lawrence said America was built on people of color, yet brutalizes and disrespects them while expecting respect in return. Hoping to raise awareness and express her anger and frustration, Lawrence continues to kneel during national anthems, waiting for change, she said.

Lawrence called her action “a form of protest against the brutalities and injustices against people of color in this country.”

“In my opinion, why stand up for a country that was built to stand on our people rather than for them?” she said.

Kaepernick has been quoted saying he will continue his protest. Some local teens are saying the same.

“I will protest as long as I participate in a sport,” Lawrence said.