'Conversations of Color' discusses national-anthem kneeling controversy

By Drew Schertzer | 1/25/18 2:04am

Convo's of Color (3 of 5)
GVL / Dylan McIntyre. GVSU Multicultural Affairs held "Conversations of Color" on Wednesday, January 24, 2018.

Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem in August 2016 because he believed the U.S. flag did not represent what it was supposed to represent and he wanted to give a voice to the voiceless. Kaepernick couldn’t have known the immense national debate that would ensue, nor the possibility that it would contribute to ending his career.

Britney Underwood, a graduate assistant for Grand Valley State University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, elaborated on Kaepernick’s cause during the “Conversations of Color: The NFL and #TakeAKnee Controversy” event on Wednesday, Jan. 24.

“He brought into light the discrimination and police brutality in America,” Underwood said. “This sparked controversy on both sides of the fence as he used his platform in an act of courage to talk about the injustices people of color face.”

A room full of students and faculty gathered for an hour-long discussion in the OMA about the domino effect of Kaepernick first taking the knee. Participants were brought up to speed on the series of events that resulted, including President Donald Trump’s disapproval of the movement to Kaepernick not being picked up by a team for the 2017 NFL season. 

“This is a very difficult subject and a controversial issue,” said Juanita Davis, assistant director of the OMA. “To focus on the movement of NFL players kneeling as being disrespectful disregards the real issue that black people are killed by police.

“It’s a way to overlook that he (Kaepernick) has a right as a citizen to kneel, and if that’s what he chooses to do, he can do it. You can disagree, but the real problem is using his kneeling to ignore the real issue.”

Attending students gave their opinions on the issue as well. Some thought that Kaepernick was disrespectful to the flag, while others thought that he used his platform to bring up a perpetual issue. The conversation quickly turned political, and Underwood brought the discussion back to the main point as things ended.

Ric Wesley, head coach of the GVSU men's basketball team, was in attendance as well and gave his input. His statement seemed to sum up the bulk of the Conversations of Color event. 

“This is not a simple issue; it has multiple layers,” Wesley said. “It more reveals where we are as a country and shows different ways of thinking. It’s hard to reach a final point. I’m disappointed that as a country we are moving more and more to a place where we can’t agree on anything. I wish the flag was the one thing we would all look up to with reverence and respect, but the argument can be made that the flag represents failed ideals of our country. 

"Kaepernick’s goal was to create discussion about the state of our country. He has certainly done that.” 

While some agree with Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem and others do not, the point of the event was to talk through differences of opinions. The next Conversations of Color event, “Navigating GVSU As an African-American Man,” will take place Wednesday, Feb. 21, from noon to 1 p.m. in the OMA. 

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