After Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality in America, other people began following suit. One person who followed Kaepernick’s lead was Tigers coach Preston Brown from a New Jersey high school. Brown has served as a coach for Woodrow Wilson High School for some time and knew it was his duty to take a knee during the national anthem because his school had a predominately non-white student population.
Coach Brown was going to take a knee alone. But his players and other coaches always felt it was important to protest racial inequality in America.
“I am well aware of the third verse of the national anthem, which is not usually sung, and I know that the words of the song were not originally meant to include people like me,” the New Jersey coach explained.
Although the national anthem does not incorporate the third verse, Francis Scott Key’s Star-Spangled Banner includes the undeniably racist words: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.”
Brown was not going to let his students feel inadequate because of the color of their skin.
“[Because] of recent events that happened the last couple years, things I experienced in college being an African-American student-athlete in the south, I felt it was an appropriate time to do that,” explained Brown, NJ.com reports. “I’m African-American. I wouldn’t rather be in any other country,” he added. “But I can’t be oblivious to the things I see every day that are different four blocks away in a neighboring town.”
Brown told his players that his intention was to kneel during the Star-Spangled Banner. That’s when some students decided they were going to join him – regardless of their race.
“I grew up in poverty. A lot of these kids are growing up in poverty,” explained Brown. “There’s a lot of social injustices and economic disparities. There are issues right here in our own community.”
The students who joined Brown said they did not feel like they were disrespecting the flag.
“We’re not doing it to be disrespectful toward America,” senior defensive back Amir Tyler told NJ.com. “We’re doing it to bring awareness to social injustice.”
“It hit home for a lot of us because we see it every day,” added senior linebacker Najae Hallenbeck. “We live it every day.”
The coach said he was surprised by the reaction he received from taking a knee during the anthem. He did not expect to be met with so much support.
“I’ve gotten more ‘thank yous’ than anything else,” Brown said. “People have come up to me and said, ‘Hey, I never thought of it that way. Now I understand what you’re trying to do.’”
“It makes you feel good as a coach when your kids are willing to put their necks on the line for something they believe in,” he added. “I’m just happy they’re able to see there’s more to life than just football.”
“I hope this encourages other people in my position to do the same thing,” Brown said. “Not everyone is going to agree with it, but it’s important to have these conversations.”
In response to Brown’s protest, the Camden City School District said they support him – although they advocate for standing for the flag.
“Whether our students choose to stand, kneel, or otherwise, we’re proud of their engagement with what is more broadly a very important social justice issue,” school district spokesman Brendan Lowe said.
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