When BHS senior Micheal Peck heard that people were interpreting Thursday’s “Flag Day” as Patriotic Day where students planned to come to school in red, white, and blue attire, he felt the need to plan another option.
Inspired largely by 49ers player Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protests, Peck and a group of seniors spread the word that some people would be dressing for a “Blackout” Day to show solidarity with the anti-police brutality and anti-racism movement.
Berkeley High’s Varsity football team has also joined the movement, kneeling during the national anthem at their past two games.
“If people can show that they love America,” said Peck, “we can also show that America doesn’t love us back sometimes.”
On August 26, 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick garnered national attention when he was shown on TV kneeling during the pre-game national anthem.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media after the game, in a quote that would go viral the next few days. “To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder,” he said. The past few months have shown a social media outpouring of respect for the movement, as well as an outpouring of anger and outrage.
and sports fans alike have taken the protest as a sign of disrespect to the country, taking the time to tweet about it or, in some cases, even burn Kaepernick’s jersey. The Air Academy Federal Credit Union and CenturyLink both promptly withdrew their endorsements of NFL player Brandon Marshall when he took part in the kneeling.
CenturyLink stated, “While we acknowledge Brandon’s right, we also believe that whatever issues we face, we also occasionally must stand together to show our allegiance to our common bond as a nation. In our view, the national anthem is one of those moments.”
Acts of solidarity with Kaepernick are not only present in the NFL, but in athletic and non-athletic spaces all over the country. High school football teams have taken knees.US women’s national team midfielder Megan Rapinoe knelt during a game, expressing solidarity as a gay American who has also felt oppression. Oakland Unified School District Middle School Honors Band kneeled as they played the national anthem at a recent A’s game. On September 24, Colin Kaepernick kneeled with Oakland’s Castlemont High School football team as the players lay on their backs with their hands up, the national anthem playing in the background.
At the beginning of the school year, as a member of senior class leadership, Peck suggested “Flag Day” as a way to show love for the country. As the year progressed, however, class discussions prompted him to reconsider how Flag Day would play out.
Peck said, “We started reading about it in depth in our English class and that made me realize we don’t deserve this, and this truly is a powerful movement … I wanted to do something that could be a part of this.”
Peck hoped that seeing seniors participate in a blackout during spirit week would inspire students to look into the movement as he did and to stay aware of the ongoing racism in the US.“The first thing I think people need to do is get comfortable with the idea of race,” said Peck, hoping that the Blackout Day would be a step in initiating school-wide conversations about race.
“White people have conversations with white people about race, and black people have conversations with black people about race, but rarely do we intertwine these conversations,” he said.
Peck spoke of his calculus class, where he is one of two black males, and how they were able to have a constructive conversation about race in which “intertwining” of perspectives occurred.
When people heard him talking about Black-Out, they asked questions and listened. They were dedicated, said Peck, to understanding where he was coming from and why he believed this act of solidarity was necessary.
“When people just listen or even take the time to nod their heads, you make connections that you otherwise would not make,” said Peck. There needs to be more open spaces like this, he said, where people are not afraid of discomfort and are willing to push themselves to understand.
Senior Daraja McDonald, wide receiver and member of BHS football since his freshman year, was among the group who planned the team’s Kaepernick-inspired kneeling. McDonald and teammates Brandon Bailey, Jaden Lewis, and Armani Turner-Jenkins initially thought of the idea earlier in the season, but they wanted to make sure the whole team would be collectively protesting rather than just a few players.
At first, not everyone was on the same page about the plan, “but once we were able to all talk about it, we were able to come together and agree,” said McDonald. He said his teammates received support from the coaches in taking time to discuss the movement and collectively deciding to act together.
“We want people to know that this is a respectful protest,” he said. “We are not meaning to disrespect anyone. We want to protest as a team the widespread police brutality and racial injustices we see today.”