Nebraska’s Minority Student-Athlete Collective (MSAC) hosted a rally Tuesday evening in front of Memorial Stadium in which Husker athletes, coaches and others called for an end to police brutality and racial injustice.
Nebraska Diversity and Inclusion Director DaWon Baker opened the rally. He said that MSAC formed following a town hall this summer, and that Nebraska student athletes stepped up to create the group.
“Our student-athletes continually saw the national narrative around social injustice,” Baker said. “They could no longer sit by and wait for change.”
Seven Husker athletes and coaches spoke at the rally. Those speakers included junior cross country and track athlete Sadio Fenner, senior football defensive lineman Ben Stille and women’s basketball head coach Amy Williams.
There were many other Nebraska athletes in attendance that spread around the area of the rally. Nearly all athletes were wearing shirts with “Black Lives Matter” written on them.
Fenner, who is also the social justice officer for Nebraska’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, was the first athlete to speak. Before speaking, there was a moment of silence held for Lincoln Police Department investigator Mario Herrera, who was killed last week.
The rally was moved to Thursday, Sept. 10, after inclement weather last Tuesday, but MSAC then moved it to the 15th to observe the days of mourning for Herrera.
After the moment of silence, Fenner read a poem about his experience growing up as a Black man.
“How do you respond to your soul being mishandled, misinterpreted, misunderstood, mistreated, misrepresented, miscolored before the words even leave your mouth,” Fenner said.
Between speakers, Baker led a demonstration in which he told the story of the death of a victim of police brutality or racial injustice. After each story, he had the crowd repeat after him and say “I am,” followed by the name of the victim. The victims mentioned included George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and James Scurlock.
Senior Emily Cheramie of the rifle team also spoke, primarily criticizing the university’s response to student activism over the summer.
Previously, MSAC had released a letter to the university on August 26. This letter, which was posted on Twitter and Instagram and accompanied by the hashtag #LegacyOverImage, was a call for the university to improve in supporting diversity in athletics. Some requests made in that letter were for the athletic department to reduce the gap between minority staff and minority student-athletes, build a memorial dedicated to George Flippin, Nebraska’s first Black football player, and a public statement with the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”
According to Cheramie, the university had not responded to any of these requests. She said that the athletic department was not involved in the planning of the rally.
“Tonight would have happened with or without your approval,” Cheramie said, addressing the athletic department. “...we are no longer asking permission to do what is right.”
She also criticized the university’s statements following the death of George Floyd as “hollow.”
Stille and Williams both gave personal stories about their experiences with white privilege and the learning they’ve done over the years and this summer. Stille said he didn’t understand white privilege before becoming a college football player. Williams said that her high school graduating class had no Black people.
She said that when athletes returned to campus in early June, she originally saw it as a chance to return to normalcy. However, she realized that was the wrong way to look at the situation.
“Getting back to ‘business as usual’ is not what our team needed,” Williams said.
Husker track freshman Michael Knowles was the last speaker, and he introduced a new initiative called “My Husker Action.” The site allows people to tell a story of action they have taken to end systematic racism. This is done for the purpose of encouraging others in the Nebraska community and beyond to also take action.
He closed the rally by quoting Malcolm X, an Omaha native.
“We need more light about each other,” Knowles said. “Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.”