OPINION: What the march down King Street meant to me

Kaiden Smith, Senior Reporter

It’s no secret that App State is a predominantly white university, which led to a predominantly white turn out as hundreds marched peacefully down King Street to fight against racism and police injustice on Sunday. 

Eighty-three percent of students are white compared to the 4% black student body. Of this, 3% are student athletes. I play football at this school and can tell you from firsthand experience that being black is associated with being an athlete, and as a result this becomes your identity.

I’ve made it a point during my time at App State to be more than an athlete. On the first day of classes when everyone goes around the room for icebreakers and shares a fun fact about themselves, mine is not that I play football. Instead I say “I write for the school paper,” or “I host and produce my own podcast,”or “I studied abroad in China last summer.”

Yet, during my four years at App, most of my conversations have been about football, whether that’s from students, faculty or other members in the community. Our school has a strong football culture with some of the most loyal fans in the country, which I’m thankful for. I fully understand how relevant and important our team is to the city of Boone. But, because of the racial circumstances of the App State community, I can’t help but wonder from time to time how much these people truly care about me as a person, or just me as an athlete. I ask myself: would  they  be just as interested in me if I wasn’t an athlete? Would I be treated the same? 

I’ve met some of the kindest people I’ve ever met in my life at App State, an endless list of people who do care about Kaiden the person, not just the athlete. But I have also had my share of negative experiences here regarding race. I see confederate flags that make me sick to my stomach just minutes away from campus as I drive from my home in Georgia back to school. I’ve been air dropped a picture depicting a racist message on my phone in Roess Dining Hall while eating dinner with some of my teammates on campus. 

These acts of ignorance are a tough and harsh reality of the racism that still exists in this country, but I refuse to let them define or represent the overall community at App State. What I will choose to let represent the App State community is the peaceful protest that happened May 31 on our campus and in downtown Boone. 

I was at my home in Georgia during the time of the protest and was not able to be there, but seeing the people of Boone of all different races unite brought me joy in an extremely dark time for people of color. The police brutality that has been going on in this country for years is disgusting and unacceptable, and I’m proud of the App State community for taking a stand in this fight.

I’m proud of my coaching staff, some of whom made an appearance at the protest and walked alongside my teammates and other members of the community. College sports are a business, and it’s very easy to stay silent and politically correct during times like this. Them taking a stand speaks volumes to their character and I believe their actions are what truly makes our program a family. 

I’m proud of the non-black protesters. Injustices against black people have been going on for many years and ignoring these injustices is a part of the problem. The protesters in Boone who said “enough is enough” and stood up for what is right, despite not looking like those who have suffered from years of oppression, have the utmost respect from me.

And finally, I’m proud of my fellow black students who organized and participated in the protest. Taking a stand when, demographically, you are significantly outnumbered, takes a lot of courage. This is the same courage that brought people of color from being considered three fifths of a human being to where we are today. The same courage possessed by Martin Luther King in his peaceful marches through Selma, Alabama and Washington, D.C. that were a driving force toward the freedom and equality of African Americans. 

I also appreciate that the protest was kept peaceful, despite the rightful anger and frustration that has built up across the nation in the past few days. Two wrongs do not make a right, and the looting and destruction of business and other people’s property damages people’s lives and raises awareness in a barbaric way.

I’m not saying property is more important than the lives lost by any means, but the best way to promote change is through protests like Sundays’, shifting the narrative on racism nationwide, donating to the many causes out there, striving towards policy change, educating yourself on the people with power and voting for those who you think will create positive change. Progress takes time, and we cannot let the reaction of tragedies take away from the tragedies themselves but instead focus on the real problem, the racism and injustice that has existed in the country for far too long.

Despite being predominantly white, my college town took a stand for what’s right and took a step in the right direction towards progress. It’s easy to post on social media and appear like you care, but members of my community put their money where their mouths were and went out of their way to advocate for change. Destruction and silence will not solve this problem, but more actions like this will, and I have confidence that the people of the App State community will continue to strive toward positive change.