In the past week, students University of Missouri have been engaged in an act of protest, showing solidarity in response injustices that are happening in their school. Graduate student Jonathan Butler has been on a week long hunger strike to protest the horrors that he had been dealing with on the University of Missouri campus, and the failure of the administration to act. Once the football team learned of Butler’s courageous act, they refused to play football until University President Tim Wolfe stepped down.
The issues that Butler and other students have confronted include a swastika scrawled in human excrement; racial slurs, and physical confrontations resulting in an environment of racial tension directed at the African-American students, which was especially heightened around the re-election of President Obama; and cutting of health care services for graduate students. The school seems to have stood silent and done nothing. One poignant story that Butler recounted on the Tom Joyner Morning Show in an interview yesterday was a how a young lady was raped on campus, and reported the rape to student services. Student services did nothing, and the resulting trauma led to the young lady taking her life.
The tipping point came when Butler engaged in his hunger strike. Several African American members of the football team approached him, concerned for his life (as reported in the Kansas City Star). They engaged in a discussion, then approached their teammates — both White and African American, who agreed to refuse to play until the president stepped down. Coach Gary Pinkel, also White, supported them as well.
What has struck me is not only the strength of these young students, but the backlash they have received on social media. It is clear that some of these folks have not bothered to read what their grievances are. Some of the comments read:
“oh, they should be happy to be in that school. Playing football is a privilege.”
The only reason they are there is because they play football. They should starve and be kicked out of school.”
The comments, of course, devolved into a more racist nature from there. I leave you to use your imagination and fill in the blanks.
The other interesting comment was made by Tom Joyner on his morning show, and by J Anthony Brown, where they said that if the students had went to a Historically Black College or University (HBCU), they would not have to confront racism.
My question is this: do we bow to “we don’t want you here?”
What would have happened if Rosa Parks stood silent, and accepted that she was not wanted on the front of the bus? What would have happened if Dr. Martin Luther King had heeded the warnings of others to stay in silent when he saw injustices, and not go where he was not wanted? What if others had decided that segregated schools were just good enough, and not fought for equal opportunities?
The Missouri students learned the priceless lesson of unifying behind the cause of justice, and in their determination, brought many races together, while enlightening others. They would not have learned that in practice at an HBCU; only the theory from the history books. In one climactic day, Jonathan Butler brought together the faculty, who walked out of the classroom to support him, the football team, the Jewish student union and the African-American students in solidarity. To go on a hunger strike is not a trivial matter. Try going without food for a day. Was it easy? Now do it for a week for a cause you believe in. Jonathan Butler was ready to die for his beliefs. The young men of the football team stood up against pressure to play on behalf of the university, and showed courage beyond their years. As a result of the protests, the president and the chancellor resigned.
Their voices were heard, and change resulted. This has always been the catalyst for change in this country — from slavery, to voting, to equal rights for all.
“We don’t want you here” has not worked to keep women out of the workplace, African Americans from succeeding, immigrants from pursuing their dreams, gays from marrying and countless others from finding their purpose. Too many sacrificed their lives for any of us to make choices in the spirit of fear of reprisals due to discrimination, racism, or any other ism/phobia. The choice is ours and the sky is the limit!!
Keep pushing. Keep fighting. Well done young men, you have made those whose shoulders you have stood upon proud.