High school students in the East Bay are following Colin Kaepernick’s lead and helping to shine a light on issues of police brutality and racial inequality in the United States — this time by lying down during the national anthem.
Since August, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback has taken to kneeling before games – something he did alongside the Castlemont High School football team in Oakland on Friday.
When the first strains of the national anthem floated across the field and Kaepernick knelt, the Knights lay on the ground with their hands up in the air.
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"It's basically showing our vulnerability ... them being the authority and the power, and us being the citizens," said protest organizer and senior player Jadan Starks.
Head coach Edward Washington supports his team's actions.
“Black men and brown men have been assassinated unarmed, hands on the ground,” he said. “We had to protest and stand against this because it's not right."
Friday’s protest came after nearly a week after the team knelt during the National Anthem before another game and tweeted a picture of it. Kaepernick retweeted the Twitter post and it went viral, sparking a conversation between him and the school.
“He had reached out through a fraternity brother and a mutual friend and he was like, ‘I want to come over and talk to the kids,’” Washington said.
And that's exactly what Kaepernick did, catching the players by surprise.
“This is your family, these are your brothers,” he told the team. “I look at all of you as brothers. I see your strength, I see your power, I see your courage, your confidence.”
Speaking to the athletes in their locker room before the game, Kaepernick said he attended their game to stand – or kneel as the case may be – in solidarity with them.
“The same way y'all took a stand and stood with me, I had to come out here and stand with you’ll,” he said.
Kaepernick also encouraged his rapt audience to “lift each other up” because “that’s what this is about.”
He assured the Castlemont students that their actions, thoughts and words have value – both on and off the football field.
“You are important. You make a difference. This matters. Everything you do matters,” Kaepernick stressed.
Earlier in the week, a school band of roughly 155 middle and high school students from the Oakland Unified School District knelt as they played "The Star Bangled Banner" before an Oakland A's game on Wednesday.
San Francisco’s Mission High School football team has also decided to take a knee at every game in the season when the national anthem is played. The Bears are slated to face Millbrae’s Mills High School Saturday.
According to Castlemont coach Bryan Parker, this is just the beginning of a movement among young students and athletes, and those who motivate them.
"We want to keep a dialogue going, getting rid of the dehumanization of black and brown people all around the country, but specifically in Oakland," he said.
School officials say they plan to continue working with community leaders, politicians and law enforcement, going forward.
Social unrest has rocked the U.S. this week. Police shootings in Tulsa and Charlotte have spawned massive demonstrations and even riots. Amid this social landscape, Kaepernick’s ongoing protest has ignited a maelstrom of conflicting reactions.
His face will grace the cover of Time magazine next month, but he has also received death threats and a recent poll reflects his unenviable achievement of being the most disliked player in the National Football League.
Closer to home, the NFLer has had not only the 49ers head coach Chip Kelly in his corner, but even a muralist, who created artwork on the side of an Oakland wall to remind Kaepernick, “We got your back.”