Taking a knee: Students join national conversation with demonstration at Risman Plaza

Suleika Carlo-Ramos (left), a sophomore biology major, Richard Gibson and Taniyahh Lennon, both sophomore psychology majors, participate in the “Take a Knee” demonstration in Risman Plaza Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017. 

Tierra Thomas

The wind was strong, causing papers to fly and posters to fall over, but it did nothing to waver the students kneeling in front of Risman Plaza from what they believe in.

Students of different backgrounds and organizations took a knee for nearly two hours Thursday to show their frustration toward the current political climate.

“We’re here for many different reasons, but mostly it’s about justice,” said Nina Darden, a senior public health major and member of the Student Power Coalition.

The group, along with World of Kolored Empowerment, came up with the idea of the “Take a Knee” demonstration just two days before the event.

“This is how usually our stuff goes,” Darden said laughing.

Students held up signs inscribed with their reasons for kneeling, with causes ranging from protecting DACA students to racial discrimination.

Rick Danals, the assistant dean of student engagement at Kent State’s Center for Student Involvement, stood off to the side, overseeing the event and making sure other passing students were not being disrespectful.

“I think it’s great,” Danals said about the demonstration. “I think any time that people have the right to express their view, these kinds of things help educate other people who may not be aware of social issues.”

The controversy began in 2016 when Colin Kaepernick, a former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, protested police brutality and racial inequality by kneeling during the national anthem at a football game.

The move sparked national outrage on both sides of the spectrum. Some applauded Kaepernick, while others saw the action as disrespectful.

Jordin Manning, a sophomore zoology major, expressed her disappointment with people taking away from Kaepernick’s original message.

“(The demonstration) really means taking a knee for state violence against black people and the fact that they’re taking this as a direct attack against Trump and against the American flag really speaks volumes,” Manning said.

After President Donald Trump’s comments stating those who choose to kneel should be fired, like NFL team members for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys and others, many have come forward in support of Kaepernick and participants in the movement.

“This isn’t about Trump, no matter how much he wants it to be,” Derden said. “It’s not about free speech. … It’s about injustice in this country. It’s about people continuing to be killed and not having consequences for it.”

Katia Rodriguez, a freshman public relations major, had tears in her eyes as she took a knee for her family in Puerto Rico, who was a victim of Hurricane Irma.

“I’m frustrated,” she said. 

Rodriguez is from Chicago, but has relatives in Puerto Rico and has been unable to get in contact with since the hurricane.

“I don’t even know if they’re OK,” Rodriguez said. “And it just seems like this country doesn’t really care. I have no words for it.”

Rodriguez said she wants students who walked by the kneelers to be more aware of how much the hurricanes have had an effect on them.

“I hope people see that we have emotion and that there are people in this country that are being affected by the hurricanes and affected by injustices that are going on right now,” Rodriguez said.

Amanda Michalak, a senior political science major and another core member of SPC, said this won’t be the last demonstration.

“I think that if this is the first step toward conversation that we can definitely keep talking about generating conversation other ways,” Michalak said.  

Tierra Thomas is the African-American student life reporter. Contact her at [email protected].