More than anything else I took away from during my participation in Wednesday’s March for Mizzou — and there was A LOT— it was this simple message. It was repeated over and over again, and it is so very true.
“We are better together.”
When Mizzou Athletics and the Black Student Athletes Association announced their March for Mizzou, I was immediately taken with their message and decided THIS needed to be my first march. I had wanted to attend countless others, but work schedules and general life stuff had always gotten in the way. Not this time. There was no way I was missing the chance to participate in a peaceful demonstration amongst the athletes and coaches I support with all my heart. I was determined to walk alongside them and other supporters, even if I had to go alone. So that’s what I did, and it wasn’t very long ‘til I found myself walking directly behind members of Mizzou Hoops (I swear I didn’t go find them)— JT and his adorable son, X-Man, Nicodemus, and Zo himself, who along with others chanted phrases at times like, “No justice, no peace” and “Black lives matter.” Many marchers held signs, brandishing statements such as “Stop killing us,” and my personal favorite, “I will not shut up and dribble.” The crowd was semi-socially distant in parts for the walk from Francis Quadrangle to Memorial Stadium, but everyone wore masks, so that was good to see. I was a bit worried about the crowds at first— there were an estimated 800 people involved, according to school officials. As we walked through the tunnel under Stadium Blvd, a song broke out... “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, we’re ready... for change.” It was a beautiful moment on a beautiful night.
Upon arrival at the stadium, they encouraged us to go down into the stands to make it easier to be socially distant. Everyone kept their masks on, which again, was great to see.
Then the speakers stepped up. The unofficial MC of the event was junior track and field athlete and BSAA PR Chair, Olivia Evans, who first asked that we take 5 minutes of silence. I’ve got to tell you, 5 minutes of silence seems like a really long time; it felt like it was never going to end. About halfway through, it sunk in that this was ONLY 5 minutes, and that George Floyd’s neck was knelt on for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Almost three minutes longer. I could not get that out of my head. After 5 minutes, Olivia continued engaging with the captive audience, and it was not lost on me that in George Floyd’s case, he would have still been face down on the street during this time frame, and that he didn’t just come back from it. If you haven’t been to a demonstration, I encourage you to try it. Do nothing for that amount of time and just think. It will stay with you, and that’s coming from someone who simply sat in some bleachers for five minutes without speaking.
Next, Olivia introduced junior Cason Suggs (Ronnie Suggs’ younger brother), who runs track for Mizzou and is President of the BSAA. He said he’d practiced his speech over and over, and it was still tough for him. He asked the crowd, “Can I just be honest? And talk to y’all for real?” He went on to say that he didn’t realize, growing up, how little he saw people who looked like him on tv, and was always excited when he would see people like him, until he saw 17-year old Trayvon Martin. It brought to his attention the juxtaposition of how he often looked for people like him on tv or in the media, and they were athletes... or they were dead. That’s honestly a terrifying thought to have to deal with. So in Cason’s mind, and in the mind of so many others, you internalize what you see and you decide right then to go on and be the athlete. Make that money and get fame, but don’t talk about Black issues, because then... who knows what could happen?
Remember, he said, the majority of athletes at the University of Missouri are Black, and at times, their status and their expressions in the game overshadow their emotions and concerns outside of it. “When you see that wide receiver high-stepping it into the end zone, you can almost hear, ‘When he sticks to the sport, look how happy he is.’”
But when they leave the arena? “That title of athlete we came in with on the court? It stays on the court,” he said. “It stays on the field. Because when we leave, we don’t have that title anymore; we’re just Black.” He went on to describe how he’s not afraid of anything when he’s running the 400m. He knows what to do; it comes second nature. He’s cool, he’s calm, he’s collected. But what about when he takes off his spikes he goes into the street? He’s nervous and sometimes paranoid that he’s going to do something that appears suspicious, or that someone is going to wonder what he’s doing there on that street, like it’s happened to so many others.
Can you imagine? Having to deal with that every day of your life?
You can’t just put a bandaid on it, he said. You can’t just have a march and do a protest and expect it to stick and heal. “You can’t put a bandaid on seven bullet holes.” We need therapy, he said, just like you get from a trainer when you’re injured, and it’s going to take some time, but we CAN change things. “We’ve got to put this effort in DAILY, and leave this world better than we found it.”
“We are better together.”
BSAA VP and member of Mizzou soccer, junior Keiarra Slack spoke next, and wow... She started out by having us close our eyes as she described a situation that occurred on February 26, 2012. What were we doing that day? Were we at work? Eating dinner with our families? Enjoying free time with our friends? “Do you remember?” she asked. It was on this day, she reminded us, that Trayvon Martin was killed.
“Like many of us that sit in this stadium,” Slack said, “he was stereotyped and misidentified. However, his story ended differently than ours. Sadly,” she continued, “It was on this day that many of your peers, friends from home, and other Black children like myself in that moment, were reassured by their parents that we had to live our lives in a manner in which we must always comply and never resist in order to make it safely home.”
Can you imagine? That you think that you could be next, just for being Black?
“Who are WE?,” she asked. “As an outspoken generation of powerful young people, to just stand by and let injustice continue to rain through OUR communities? Who are YOU? To sit back and act as if these injustices are irrelevant because you yourself are not Black?”
She continued, “No one is 100 percent the same in this life, and it should be celebrated, not devalued... We have our different skin tones. We have our different parts of our identities, but we are people. It’s not about one side or the other and what you side with. It’s about who you are as a person.”
This is a human rights issue. It is not political. It is her belief that as a student-athlete, as a scholar, as a Black woman, that she should use her platform to positively impact those around her. Will you join her?
Wrapping up, Olivia reminded everyone that when you come to Mizzou as student-athletes, one of the first things you think about is, “What will my legacy be? How will they remember me? What mark will I leave on this university? Will I be remembered for my game-winning score? Or will I be remembered for my devastating injury? Or will I be remembered for who I am as a person?”
So we’ve seen, the sports world can change in an instant. What can’t change in an instant? Their commitment to each other. Every day, she said, they walk into these beautiful facilities and see people who are different than them. “But it’s not despite these differences, but because of their differences that they have learned the value of teamwork, and that they are better together.”
“Join us,” she said. “Join us as one collective Mizzou. One collective Columbia, Missouri. Join us as one collective team. With everyone working together, we can leave our community and our nation better than we found it.”
“If you never remember our names,” she said. “If you never remember our stats, not how far I threw or how many sacks Kobie had, if you never remember any of that... I hope that you remember that we are better together. I hope that our legacy as student-athletes of Mizzou won’t be one of statistics. I hope that it will be one of unity. Of justice. Of the betterment of our community.”
We are better together.
Join us. Say it with us. MIZ.