This is part of a series titled, Hope Speaks for Social Justice, written by former Hope student-athletes of color. Their words seek to educate and activate the Hope community in the nation’s quest to end racial injustice.
I want to start by briefly sharing my experience as a former student-athlete and current part-time staff member at Hope College. Honestly, at first, I have had the feeling of being out of place as I’m sure many people of color have in a town and at school that is predominately white. When you rarely see others who look like you, it’s understandable to feel and be conspicuous and uneasy. However, my feelings of displacement slowly diminished after a year of playing football. When I returned to coach, interacting with players, faculty, staff, and other students also made my transition back onto campus easier after the first year.
The current state of what is happening in our country is a reflection of what has been happening inside of my own head for years. When you rarely see others who look like you, it’s understandable to feel and be conspicuous and uneasy. Being a person of color in environments with mostly white people can make you doubt yourself, become numb and ignore social injustices, and conform to the fact that our country was built off of “white superiority” by default.
Being a black man in this country makes you angry to see innocent people getting killed, profiled, or targeted based on their skin color. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. The current president got elected for a reason. The protests are happening for a reason. I am confused, sad, and angry about the things that have happened in our country over the weeks, months, and years concerning racial injustice. But it’s happened for a reason. I do believe God allowed them all to happen in order to bring forth a positive change on how the human race interacts with one another in the world.
I see more people are starting to see “the why” behind certain behaviors like kneeling during the anthem and understanding that racial injustice is still a problem that exists! I observe more white people seeking education and understanding that they are privileged no matter where they stand because they are white. Education and action is needed in the white community to tackle this issue. Yes, there are other issues, but this is an urgent issue that has been a problem for centuries.
My advice to student-athletes who are white is to understand that by not doing anything or saying anything during this time, or in the future, makes you part of the problem. Many of the racial injustices that happen and that are currently in place are subtle, which can be barriers in admitting that there is a problem in the first place. Be proactive about educating yourself on history, be intentional about your daily interactions, and be a part of the SOLUTION to end racial injustices.
My advice to students of color is to acknowledge that it is exhausting being a part of social injustice. However, to make the world a better place, you must be willing to be first. Be the first to stand up when someone says something they should not, be the first to educate those in your community who need to understand, or, be the first at whatever to be a part of the SOLUTION.
Collectively as a country we must find solutions to tackle social injustices and it starts in each individual community. Reform in education, health care, housing and job opportunities will be a part of the solution to end racial injustices. It will be a long process, but it will be worth it for a better future.
Author Shawn Jackson ‘14 is the running backs coach for and an alumnus of Hope College football. He is also the owner of a sports training business named Jackson Elite Training located in Holland, Michigan, where he lives with his wife and two children.