I spent yesterday kneeling outside in the 90-degree heat with over 100 other students in solidarity with the black community at Michigan and a specific Masters of Public Health student, Dana Greene Jr, who decided to kneel outside, facing the flag, until there was real promise for change.
Dana went outside to the middle of the Diag at 6am this morning with the intention of kneeling for as long as he could possibly stand to. He said in his letter to the President of our University, Mark Schlissel, “I will kneel in the Diag facing the flag in silent protest until there is nothing left in me.” This letter details the reasons he kneels and his feelings on the discrimination and marginalization that black people feel in our country. He says it better than I ever could:
“I am kneeling because we should be better than this. I am kneeling because I am tired of doing nothing. I am kneeling because I want this campus and this country to acknowledge a fact that I know to be true. We are not and have never lived by the idea of our founding that ALL men are created equal. I am kneeling because we our better than this.”
Today I knelt alongside him. I was out there for a mere 5 hours of the 16+ hours (he is still out there as I type this 16.5 hours after he started) he was standing up for the right for equality. I was blown away by several of the things I experienced today.
I went outside around 2:30/3pm. It was hot and the sun was beating down on everyone. Within about 5 minutes of kneeling, I was dripping in sweat. I was in a group of 20-30 members of my cohort from the School of Social Work. Almost instantly, organizers were around me passing out water, snacks, & cold paper towels. A few hours later, there were several rounds of pizza brought for the protestors. (By rounds I mean at least 8 boxes from 3 different pizza places!) People going in between classes were bringing packs of water bottles and bags of ice to hand out. The outpouring of support and love for Dana and the rest of us was so inspiring.
My evening class was moved outside. As students studying social work, in a class that is focused on diversity and social justice, none of felt it was right to sit in the classroom when we should be standing up for our field’s values just outside.
Another moment came for me when around 7:30/8:00, the sun was setting and the Muslim students protesting with us gathered in a group for prayer. The entire Diag – normally a place of laughter, conversation and noise – fell completely silent for the next 15 minutes while they prayed. Tears were in my eyes, completely moved by the solidarity I felt in that moment among my fellow students.
I finally packed up my things and left around 9:30pm. Dana and more than 200 Michigan students, faculty and Ann Arbor community members were still out there kneeling, strong as ever. I left that Diag swelling with pride for the community that I am apart of here. I am proud of the amazing School of Social Work that I attend where my professors allow us to exercise our voices and use what we learn in the classroom in our community.
To Dana and the organizers, thank you for your bravery, your strength and your perseverance. Thank you for those who donated resources for all those kneeling. Thank you for those who were willing to have honest dialogue with us instead of yelling your disapproval and insults at us. Thank you to every student who was out there today. A lot of you were out there longer than me, and I admire you so, so much. We will continue fighting. We will stand up for what is right and what is deserved.