By Janelle Harb
A number of athletes on nationally recognized teams are taking a stand by taking a knee.
This movement first began when NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, of the San Francisco 49ers at the time, decided to kneel during their final preseason game on Sept. 1, 2016. During a postgame interview, Kaepernick explained that he “[was] not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Since the election of Donald Trump as president, this movement against police brutality has gained even more momentum, now sparking action at Canisius.
Three Canisius College women’s volleyball players have decided to join the movement.
Tamia Bowden, ‘21 reached out to her fellow teammates letting them know she was considering making this controversial stance. Teammates Leah Simmons, ‘20 and Sara Wesley, ‘19 responded and stated that they were considering doing the same. After bringing up the idea at a team meeting and hearing they had the support of the rest of their team and head coach, the trio took their first knee at a match on Oct. 2, and have continued to do so since then.
“The overall consensus for the [teammates] who weren’t kneeling was that even though they’re not kneeling, they’re still very supportive of us. They still are going to stand by us no matter what and they’re still going to back us up,” Bowden said.
“They’re young women that are people living in a society where they have expressed to me that they see some injustice,” said head coach Lenika Vazquez. “[T]hey feel like it’s time for them to [keep] that dialogue going.”
Vazquez went on to explain that the trio are not just “doing it because other people are doing it,” adding that they are trying to send a very clear message about racial injustice, and that they are not trying to disrespect the flag or veterans in doing so.
“We looked around at this big movement of kneeling and we were like, ‘Hey, maybe that’s a way we could use our platform as student athletes to get our message out,’” Bowden explained.
The young women went on to discuss some of their personal ties and stories associated with the movement.
Hailing from Kentucky, Bowden spoke of the racism she experienced during high school.
“It got worse after Trump was elected,” Bowden said. “I came to school the next day and everybody was just so vocalized about their opinions. They were very racist about it. It was kind of scary because they were never that vocalized before… I remember one time, we were in class, we were talking about it and they’re like, ‘Is anyone opposed? Does anyone not like the fact that Trump is in office?’ And I was like, ‘Me.’ And someone just went off. They were like, ‘Well, that’s just because black people get everything handed to them.’ And I was like, ‘Alright, here we go.’”
Bowden discussed an incidence of racial profiling experienced by friends in one of the “bad neighborhoods “ in Kentucky.
“[S]ome of my friends, they’re all black, were walking in a group on their way to one of the corner stores and they were stopped by police, who were like, ‘What are you guys doing? Why are you here?’ And they’re like, ‘We’re just going to go to Griffith’s’ and they were like, ‘Alright,’ and they just followed them the entire way that they were walking to the corner store to make sure that they wouldn’t do anything,” Bowden said.
Wesley and Simmons expressed that although they don’t have any personal experiences with racial injustice, they kneel for the stories they’ve heard from friends and family, as well as for those they’ve read online.
“Just because I haven’t experienced anything directly doesn’t mean that it’s not happening around the world and doesn’t mean that we don’t do anything about it,” Simmons explained.
The young women are looking forward towards a future where they no longer feel the need to kneel.
“A lot of people are focusing on the negatives like, ‘How should we stop them from kneeling?’ instead of ‘How can we make it to the point where they don’t feel like they need to be protesting?’ If more people understand that, we could push forward,” Wesley stated. “Until people stop being judgemental and angry about the protests, there’s not much that we can do to further anything.”
Bowden explained that the whole purpose was to continue a conversation that needed to be had, a conversation through which progress has been made. “There’s been a lot of conversation between Coach [Vazquez] and administration and we’re trying to take those small steps to make a change on campus and hopefully catch the attention of people who can make a bigger change than us, like the government, so that’s the goal,” she said.
“We want people to just have an open mind and not just stop on solely the fact that we’re kneeling, and listen to what we’re saying, and try to make a change,” Simmons continued.
The trio explained that they’ve received support from the College’s administration, and, as a result, have opened the door for more conversations about the injustice they’re kneeling for.
Administration has shown this support through making a pre-game announcement. This announcement asks for the patrons to stand for a moment of silent reflection for those impacted by inequality and injustice in the world. The announcement goes on to state that our actions can help us live the Jesuit ideal of being men and women for others.
Wesley also shared that a few faculty members have come up to her after reading The Buffalo News’ article written about her and the other two women, and expressed how happy they were that the three were participating. “They weren’t aware that we were doing it, but now that they’re aware, they’re proud and they hope that we continue. So it’s not just in the athletic department; we’re getting support everywhere on campus,” Wesley said.
Bowden explained that she’s talked to friends on other Canisius sports teams in hopes that they participate, as well, but have not yet gotten a concrete agreement. “A lot of the hesitation that I’ve seen was they didn’t want a lot of attention drawn to themselves,” Bowden said.
“It’s easier to just blend in than to do what we’re doing,” Simmons added.
However, at the women’s volleyball game on Oct. 26, the trio decided to link arms, rather than kneel. This was due to the focus of the game being on raising money for relief disaster for Puerto Rico. Vazquez stated that there was a conversation with the young women before the game, and they “wanted the focus to remain there.”
The trio has been making strides in the community by recently speaking with Buffalo mayor Byron Brown and asking him directly how they can be active in the community. Vazquez explained that this is a step towards their message evolving “since the conversation has been started.”
Bowden hopes that collaboration with the city, administration, and the campus community can result in making positive changes towards fighting racial injustice here on campus, as well as in the national scope. The trio will continue to kneel for the foreseeable future, for as long as these issues persist in our society.