Why I Kneel

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.

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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.

IMG_3520I 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.



An Open Letter to College Freshmen

You did it! You finished high school!

Doesn’t it feel weird? I remember after graduating I just kept thinking of when I was little and the age 16 sounded so old, and then I was 18, holding a high school diploma. It’s a lot to process. You’re probably just ready for summer so you can stop thinking about exams and AP classes and everything else, and good for you! Celebrate! This is a huge milestone in your life! You’ll never graduate from high school again!

You’ve only got a few months until you move to college! If you’re anything like me, you are a whole tangled mess of emotions: excited, nervous, anxious, terrified, happy all at once. It’s a strange time, but soak up every minute of it, because it’ll be gone before you know it.

I’m sure you’ve got a lot of questions and worries about your first year.  I thought I would try to answer some of those questions, or really just give the advice I have for your first year at University.

  1. Be careful about the whole early morning class thing. You may think at first, “Hey. I woke up at 6 AM in high school. I can wake up at 7 AM in college.” No.  Just don’t. It’s going to cause you to talk yourself into skipping way too often.
  1.  Join clubs. I know it’s nerve-racking, especially if you’re at a school really far away from home like I was, but you will not regret it. I promise. There’s usually some sort of festival or exhibition of clubs on campus at the beginning of each semester.  Go to that. Look around. You’re bound to find something you’re interested in.
  1. Do all of the cheesy, traditional freshman things at your University. You will definitely regret it if you don’t. (For example, at my university, students paint a big boulder on campus for their clubs or groups. One of the best experiences ever.)
  1. Try new things. That’s incredibly cliché to say, but it’s so necessary. I know you’re going to want things to make you feel as comfortable as high school, but they’re not going to, so just take the leap and try some different things.  (I tried Thai food for the first time this year. I fell in love with it, and spent way too much money on it the rest of the year)
  1. Don’t be afraid to do things alone. I think that was one of the hardest things for me to do. I never wanted to walk anywhere alone or go to meetings alone, but I forced myself to. I eventually got to the point that I liked eating alone better than with people sometimes.  I would even go to Michigan Theater by myself to see movies sometimes. Give yourself that chance to be independent and the time alone to think. You’ll learn a lot.
  1. Go see new places. This sort of goes along with #4, but I think this is so important. I went to school in a state that I had never been to before for University, this opened a world of opportunity for me to travel around and see things I’d never seen before. During my first semester, my roommate and I decided to go to Chicago for a day. We took a Megabus at 5:00 in the morning, and didn’t get back until 1:00 the next morning. That was one of the best experiences ever. It was so different to be exploring a city without parents or adults. Do that. Go see things you’ve never seen and visit cities you’ve never been to.
  1. Don’t forget about home. I know it’s so super exciting to be away from your parents! They can’t tell you what to do anymore! You can make your own decisions now! Just remember that your family is important. They are so important. Call your mom and dad. Send letters or postcards home. They want you to be independent just as much as you want to be, but they are still the reason that you made it this far. Thank your parents for their support (and for shelling out the money for you to do this). You may be surprised how much you’ll miss them. [I called home crying asking to come home for Thanksgiving because I missed them so much after a month or so].
  1. Have fun, but be safe and don’t lose sight of the reason you’re there! It’s not an exaggeration when people say that college is the time of your life.  You’re paying a lot of money to go to college, so live it up. It’s important to do these exciting new things, and figure out the world for yourself, but it’s also important to remember the reason you’re there. You’re there to learn. It’s called higher education for a reason. There will be a lot of work. Don’t blow off the work to go to a party. On the contrary, go to parties and events and festivals. Be safe with your drinking, though! (Always pour your own drink and don’t leave it sitting anywhere! Make sure you have friends with you just in case something goes wrong or you get into a bad situation! Also, don’t get busted by the cops! It’s not a fun time!)

That’s about all I have, but remember to enjoy your time there. Four years will fly by, as I’m sure you learned from high school. These will be the best years of your life, so soak up every moment of it. College is such an important time of your life. You can do so many things in college that you’ll never have the chance to do again. So, seize those opportunities, take risks, be open-minded, and learn about yourself and others. Good luck, and get ready for the best time of your life.