NORMAL, Ill. (WMBD) — Illinois State University athletes are trying to send a message of unity across campus.
More than a hundred students came together Friday evening at the Redbird arena, many dressed in black and wielding pro-black signs.
They said the march was neither a protest nor a rally, but a physical statement to unify the campus.
Jordan Wilkerson is a track and field athlete at ISU. He said the point of the march was to “rally up the troops” and fight the good fight.
“The good fight is fighting for equality,” Wilkerson said. “Especially for our student-athletes, our Black student-athletes, that feel unrepresented and disrespected.”
The demonstration started with student speakers, both black and white, sharing their experiences with race issues and how their experiences differ. They, then, marched across campus chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “No justice no peace” before coming together and hearing from more student speakers.
Athletes said the march was sparked by comments from Larry Lyons, Director of Athletics, saying “All Redbird lives matter.”
“Stating something like that “All Redbird Lives Matter” almost felt like a spit in our faces,” Wilkerson said.
Kimathi Johnson, another track and field athlete, helped coordinate the event. He said after hearing Lyons’ comments and seeing negligence on the part of the administration when it comes to promoting minority groups on campus, he wanted to help project black voices loud and clear.
“It’s just to kind of promote the voices of Black people and their struggles,” Johnson said.
Lyons has apologized for his comments and the athletics department published an action plan for social change on Monday, but athletes said it wasn’t enough.
“We want to see actions before we accept apologies,” Wilkerson said.
Johnson said they want to see actions from the university’s administration.
“We just want more active public support from the administration supporting Black lives,” Johnson said. “Supporting immigrant lives, supporting LGBTQ lives, and all of those.”
Alyssa Kronberg and Lei Ghamalecha are both volleyball players at ISU. They said it was important for them to show up and support their fellow students.
“So many people don’t believe there’s a problem,” Ghamalecha said. “They just believe all Redbird Lives matter but that’s not true until Black lives matter.”
“I think that a lot of people get it twisted and think that this is a political movement,” Krongberg said. “But It’s all just having to do with human rights and we want to be able to find equality within this.”
Wilkerson said seeing the extra support was emotional for him and it shows they’re headed in the right direction.
“Just to see that people are here together and ready to fight for a group of people as Black people that has never had anyone to represent them,” Wilkerson said. “So to be like that at a predominantly white institution is major and impactful for sure.”
After Lyons’ comments, many athletes boycotted practices and sporting activities in response. Johnson said they’ve issued a list of demands and are working with the administration over the next week. He said if they’re able to come to agreements on many issues they’ll end the boycott.
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