There is a lot of conversation on social media (and in coffee shops) about the latest Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick. Ours is a nation divided. Divided by ideals, when the mission of this country is clear…liberty and justice for all. The early settlers and founding fathers came to America fleeing persecution of their ideals, namely their freedom of religion. They established a nation of principles, the preamble states it clearly: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Our nation was founded on the principle of sacrificing for just beliefs. Of standing up (or sitting down) for what you believe in. And the recent Nike ad is promoting that ideal…”Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything”. As a Christian, I can relate. Studying the early church is a history lesson in when the belief was justified, but the sacrifice was heavy. Lives and freedoms were lost to advance the Gospel. Fast forward to advancing equality for Women and Minorities during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. The sacrifices of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, the Freedom Riders, and many others, created ripple of change that forever changed our nation. Lives and freedoms were lost to advance the value of justice and equality in America, and as a result, Black people were allowed to sit in the front of the bus and vote (and many other rights were granted).
In the aforementioned major cultural changes, people were made uncomfortable and felt “disrespected”. When I was a student at Texas A&M University, African-Americans made up less than 1% of the student body population. In order to address this disparity, the university enacted a race-based scholarship. Thankfully, I received that scholarship, but while I was a student, the administration announced plans to cut funding for the program for future students. I had helped charter and served on the board of the NAACP, so we felt we had to do something. We were well aware of the university’s history of discriminatory admissions, which allowed it to maintain it’s heterogeneous student body. We knew that we were in an area where the Ku Klux Klan still actively rallied, and added to the discomfort so many of us felt on campus.
So, on the day of the Rodney King verdict, we marched on the university president to demand that funding not get cut, knowing that doing so would negatively impact minority recruiting. I knew we couldn’t change that verdict, I couldn’t unsee the video of a black man being brutally beaten by officers in a parking lot, but I knew that I could help change things locally. I also knew when I was making that sign, that the protest I was participating in could cost me…it could have cost my job at the university, my admission, or even my freedom. But I was willing, because even as a college student I knew that standing for a just belief is more important than the discomfort of the person(s) I’m challenging. I didn’t have the national platform the Kaep had, but my fellow students and I knew that to impact change, we had to be bold. We had to ruffle feathers, we interrupted his meeting, we had to “disrespect” the president. We insisted that he talk to us and hear our concerns. The scholarship remained, minority enrollment improved, slowly. Change happened.
Colin Kaepernick was moved to act because of images similar to those that catalyzed my action in college. The very real injustice that occurs when people of color are either brutally beaten (or worse, murdered) during a police encounter. He saw that he could use his platform to bring attention to the root cause which is an unjust and discriminatory justice system. And he knew that he couldn’t politely ask for change, he had to make people uncomfortable. And as long as he, and others united in his cause, make the nation’s leaders uncomfortable, change will happen.
Change is never easy. And sometimes leading change can cost you. Are you willing to pay the price?
(Photo courtesy of Nike, Inc.)