The Overlake School in Redmond held a series of assemblies on Tuesday to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., as well as address current issues.
The intersection of race and police brutality have been a topic of national conversation for decades, but has intensified in recent years following several high-profile killings of black Americans.
Movements, including Black Lives Matter, have sprung up across the country to protest what many view as the murders of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement, as well as systemic inequality.
A notable movement that has gained national attention is one started by former NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016, when the then-49ers’ quarterback sat, and later kneeled for the national anthem.
This inspired other athletes around the country to join him, including players from Seattle’s Garfield High School, which spoke at Tuesday’s assembly in Redmond.
Kaleb Edwards, now a senior at Garfield, was on the football team when they decided to take a knee in solidarity with Kaepernick in 2016.
“We felt like we needed to help,” he said. “…We take a knee and we’re hoping for change.”
Edwards is black and said he has personally been stopped and harassed by police while doing nothing wrong.
He’s optimistic for change and wants to keep getting the message behind the protest out to people — that they’re fighting for equality, not disrespecting soldiers or other groups.
Edwards said while they take a knee, they still sing the national anthem out of respect.
The narrative around the protests was quickly hijacked by groups opposed to Kaepernick, and tried to paint the players engaged in it as anti-American or unsupportive of veterans.
Neither of those have been stated goals of the Take A Knee protest.
The reception from students at Garfield High has been supportive, Edwards said, but in the larger community the reaction has been mixed.
Threats have been directed at players on the team and the coaches’ tires were even slashed in 2016.
Despite this, Edwards said he hopes to keep fighting for what he believes in.
“If you’re talking and someone is not liking what you’re saying, and you’re doing it for the right reason, don’t stop, because eventually you will be heard,” he said.
Dr. Pellom McDaniels also spoke to both Overlake high schoolers as well as middle schoolers.
McDaniels is a professor at Emory University and a former NFL player.
He spoke about the importance of being informed of what it means to be a U.S. citizen, and the rights and responsibilities that come along with it.
“We have to do a better job of teaching our populace, our future leaders of this country, what it is to be a citizen,” he said.
Students are part of both a global and national community and should understand that, he said, especially guarantees laid out in the Constitution and the promise of life and liberty in the Declaration of Independence.
The Take A Knee protest is about drawing attention to systemic injustice, he said, and that the country needs a productive conversation about its history dealing with race, instead of dodging it.
“We should be able to do so without hurting anyone else in the process,” he said.
There should also be an understanding of Kaepernick’s right fist as a citizen to use his platform for protest, and as an athlete second, McDaniels said.
Local police forces haven’t escaped scrutiny, either, as the Department of Justice found the Seattle Police Department was brutalizing residents and expressed a possible racial bias, according to the Seattle Weekly.