By: Charles Watson, Jr
“Bro, don’t mess this up for us! We do everything together; why not win this together too?”
I was nominated to be on the Homecoming Court my senior year of high school. My school, keeping in line with the other traditions in rural areas in the South, thought it best to crown two sets of Homecoming Kings and Queens, divided along racial lines–one black and one white. This wasn’t the 1960s, this was 1998. I was 18 years old.
When going with my friend to cast our votes earlier that week, I shared with him how strange it felt for our names to be on different lists: one for black students and one for white students. His response, for me to not “mess this up,” compelled me to continue. I knew this form of “separate but equal” was wrong, but he was correct, we did do everything together. We played football together, played baseball together, and had been in the same classes since kindergarten. That entire week I wrestled with my feelings. By Homecoming night, the decision was made: I would take a stand. If my name was called, I would refuse the crown and throw it into the stands. I would grab the announcer’s microphone and tell the crowd why we needed to break this ridiculous tradition.
Well, my name was called that night – but I froze. All of my worries from earlier in the week took over: What if speaking out about the “race issue” upsets people? What if I ruin homecoming for my classmates? My friend is up here with me; his parents are in the stands. Should I ruin this moment for them too? I received my crown and continued on with the ceremony as if nothing was wrong.
I remember that day like it was yesterday, and I relive it often. It was a day I lacked courage. I had no clue that my decision not to speak against what I knew was wrong would haunt me for years to come. Like a fire in my bones, my decision that night has stayed with me and will not let me rest.
Memories of Homecoming night came flooding back as I watched Colin Kaepernick begin a protest against police brutality and the systemic oppression of minorities in America. I imagine Colin’s thoughts before taking his stand were similar to mine: How will people react? What does this mean for my career, my endorsements? Am I informed enough to answer the questions that will come from this? What if people take it the wrong way?
With all of the unanswered questions before him, he still chose bravery and stayed seated (later taking a knee) during the playing of the National Anthem, which continues to be a courageously defiant act. Equally important was his articulation of his stance. From day one, Colin had a clear message for what he believed in and has been able to confidently communicate that message. Kaepernick understood the ramifications of his actions, he stated, “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed…If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.” That same type of courage, action and articulation should be shown by the Church when it comes to matters of race.
As a former colligate athlete, football once meant everything to me, but much like Colin, I understand that neither a game, nor a flag, are more important than the victims of police brutality. We cannot be more offended by the actions of Colin’s protest than bullet riddled bodies in our streets. Of course, many of us will never have the platform that Colin has, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make a change within our own networks. We can’t be afraid to talk about racial issues. We can’t shy away from taking action like I did at 18. I can’t afford to miss this opportunity again, and neither can the Church.