She will not be silenced

Black Lives Matter protest sparks conversation

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Photo by Alyssa Kift

Senior Ohemaa Barnes raises a fist, echoing the Black Power movement of the ’60s. Barnes aroused controversy when she kneeled during the national anthem Saturday morning.

The national anthem begins to blare out of the loudspeaker, echoing patriotism and pride. Out of habit, the crowd stands.

She kneels. She is silent. She does not move. She does not flinch. She does not interrupt. She kneels—she is quiet. She looks straight ahead, and in doing so, she cannot be silenced.

Senior Ohemaa Barnes’ silent protest is reopening a conversation that America has failed to finish: racial tension and aggression aimed at the African American community. So far, solutions to the issue have been impossible to come to because America as a whole refuses to see both sides of the story.

“I love this country. And I am an American citizen of this country, but from recent research on the national anthem’s lyrics, I feel as if the third verse is offensive and inappropriate to me and other African Americans,” Barnes said. “I respect others on how they present the flag, and I just hope that others respect my right to freedom of speech as well.”

Barnes attended a leadership camp, Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Camp, in the summers of her freshmen and sophomore years, and hopes to someday serve her country in the military. Although Ohemaa is not satisfied with the state of our nation currently, she respects the sacrifices made by others and, in fact, hopes to serve.

“I want to become an FBI agent someday, and one of the steps I want to take to get there is joining the military,” Barnes said. “I want to fight for and protect this country.”

Ohemaa feels as though she is forcing people to divert their attention and making people talk about an uncomfortable issue our country is faced with. While people have tried to argue saying that Barnes is only participating in this protest in order to gain attention, they fail to see that what they are saying is not an insult; this is exactly what she and all the other athletes who have knelt are trying to accomplish.

“I feel like you can only say ‘black lives matter’ so many times before you stop believing it,” Barnes said. “African Americans’ deaths have become so desensitized in this country that we’re casually watching videos of an unarmed man or woman—mother or father—losing their life to a corrupt institution that doomed their existence from the very start.”

It has been 151 years since slavery was abolished in America. It has been 52 years since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, outlawing segregation in public places and banning employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. And yet, in 2016, African Americans like Ohemaa still fear for their safety because of racial profiling in our country.

“I’m scared for my brothers and my sisters. I’m scared for my cousins. I’m scared for my friends,” Barnes said. “I’m even scared for my future children.”

Barnes questions the society she lives in- a society in which numerous instances of racial profiling have proven deadly.

“I don’t want to have to teach [my future children] how to respond to being pulled over by the police—the very people who are supposed to protect them—so that they don’t end up a statistic,” Barnes said.

Barnes feels that the people who support African American rights need to come together in order to try and find a solution to the problem of police brutality, so it is not something that the next generation of African Americans also have to learn to fear.

“I am against police brutality, and I hope to help bring those who support the movement closer to try to make a voice for us all and make change for our people as a whole, instead of randomly having protest here and there, because obviously that hasn’t done anything but make the situation worse,” Barnes said. “If we want change as much as we plead we do, then we need to be the smartest people in the room and come together as one to make change happen.”

However, living in the South, where racist viewpoints are primarily represented, Barnes feels as though it is difficult for to express her beliefs without facing repercussions and negativity from the people around her.

“Racism will always exist whether we want it to or not,” Barnes said. “Here in the South, especially in Texas, there are a lot of racist people, but you just have to learn how to live with these people. If they say something or do something negative, don’t fire back with anger, just keep moving on about your business and finish what you started. I’m not saying to completely just let them disrespect you in any way they want, but fighting with anger only creates more chaos.”

The Black Lives Matter movement has been making headlines over the last couple of years, strongly advocating for the rights of black Americans. Many citizens have regarded the organization as a group of terrorists, but many others find parts of the organization in which they can resonate.

“I do not agree with all of the beliefs broadcasted in the Black Lives Matter group, but I do support them in what they are trying to say and what they are trying to do,” Barnes said. “Not in all ways, but in most of them.”

Barnes’ feelings of wanting to create change are gaining momentum and strength. What started out as just opinionated social media posts turned into a silent, but powerful, protest that has turned almost every eye in the school, and she is just getting started.

“This is honestly the first protest that I’ve ever taken part in,” Barnes said. “Before this, I would reflect my beliefs on social media by posting a picture of what was going on and expressing my opinions in the comments.”

Barnes has ignited a flame among the student body. Whether it is of inspiration or of anger, it has people talking. Barnes ultimately hopes that people will listen and understand the fact that change needs to come in the treatment of the African American community.

“All lives do matter,” Barnes said. “It’s just that black lives seem to be the ones that are targeted the most. For this reason, at the next meet I will kneel with a fist in the air or just not be there for the anthem at all. I want to make people aware of what is going on in the world, and I want justice to be served for the innocent lives that are being stolen.”