Words by Scot Tatelman Photos & Videos by Tyler Gustin
This project aims to raise awareness around a challenging social issue, and will exercise our new give-back model, supporting causes and organizations in which we deeply believe.
State will make a financial contribution to fuel the work of Operation Conversation: Cops & Kids, a program that brings together inner-city youth and police officers through performance and conversation in developing positive, empathetic relationships.
Two years ago, we launched the What Do We Tell the Kids platform with the initial goal of simply "shedding light and sharing stories. Not long after that, it became clear there was - and should be - a more direct, larger goal. As the issues around the world became more complex, the narratives being built around them did as well - some skewed, some unfair, and all of them leading to the "question, 'how is this impacting kids?'
When embarking on these projects, we usually gravitate to narratives that feel one-sided, and aim to shed light on the other side of the conversation. The discussion around Colin Kaepernick and the stance he has taken around the national anthem felt similar - one-sided and often glazing over the "why?" behind it all.
"Unpatriotic." "Disrespectful to our troops." "A 3rd string quarterback that just wanted some attention again." were the themes behind many of the articles and viewpoints I read around the issue. But what seems to have gotten lost in the frenzy of it all is the intention and the issues he and many more before him like Muhammed Ali, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Wayne Collett, Vince Matthews, Jim Brown and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf had looked to raise.
And now the other side… our thoughts of course went to the kids and the flood of messages they were receiving. So, how were coaches talking about this, and what would be their message to their players? How would they feel if players wanted to take a knee during the anthem to stand with Kaep? How are those so committed to working with kids - specifically in neighborhoods most impacted by the issues Kaepernick is raising - navigating these challenging times? What are they telling their kids… and what are the kids telling them?
WHY WE KNEEL
Michael & Tanya
Mentor & Community Advocate
Retired NYPD Officer
We’re showing kids how to have effective communication with police so they can go home safely and the kids can as well.
Scot: In your view, how did this whole thing start and what was the purpose behind Kaepernick taking a knee?
Michael: He was taking a knee because of all of the police shootings and young black men getting killed - he felt like they were getting a paid vacation and none of them were being held accountable for their actions. Implicit bias, social justice, and all the things we've been fighting for for a lifetime, he felt it was back again, so that's why he protested.
Tanya: He’s standing up for his rights, but it’s not just for black people - it’s for all people. It’s for all of us as human beings to understand what’s really gone on. If we try and understand the things that’s happened to young black men and women across the country, we as a human race should have some type of empathy around it.
Tanya: The first thing I say to kids is owning up to the fact that I was part of the NYPD, and I joined the force because I had a brother that was falsely accused of a crime. We're showing kids how to have effective communication with police so they can go home safely and the kids can as well. When you bring respect, you're supposed to get it, and if you don't, there's a way to make a complaint. We want peace - that's what this is about. I tell kids that cops are human and they have families, too.
Scot: What are you telling the kids you speak to and mentor about what Kaepernick is doing?
Michael: What I tell kids is don't be a follower even with Kaepernick, but if it's in your heart and if you feel an injustice is being done then stand on your own merit and take that knee. As people we have come too far to backtrack.
We’re not disrespecting the flag, we’re protesting the flag as to why should we stand for the flag when people of color aren’t getting liberty and justice for all. We can start with Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Fernando Castile and so on and so on… when you see the amount of young black unarmed men getting killed and no one’s being held accountable, what does that flag mean to us?
Scot: A couple decades from now, what are you going to tell your grandkids about this moment we're living in right now?
Michael: Even now, I tell my kids and grandkids that it's unconscionable to even believe we're talking about this now because we've supposed to have come so far with the constitution and our civil rights ... yet Kaep's been ostracized and blackballed for using his first amendment rights.
The great thing about America is the right to protest for when is right, but this is saying that when you take a stand against something, were going to invoke your first amendment right to you.
I would tell my grandkids that he took a stand for what he believed in, he didn't compromise and like MLK said, on injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Not only did he do it by taking a knee, he did it with his mouth, actions and money too by giving funds to organizations and "Know Your Rights Camp."
Scot: Do you think what he's doing has made a difference and been effective?
Michael: In order for things to get better, we have to have these conversations. We can't make a difference if we don't talk about the things that are going on. If we're going to sit back and be complicit, it's not going to get us anywhere. The more we educate, the less the system incarcerates.
When you come from a family of 15 and you grow up in this community being poor, all you can do is try... you put it out there and hope it resonates. We saved so many, and lost so many.
Tanya: I don't know Colin Kaepernick from a can of paint, and I'm old enough to be his mother, but it got me talking about it... and a whole lot of other people, too. He's going to go down in history, not for football, but for taking a knee.
WHY WE KNEEL
Kenyatte & Osei
Co-Leader, Soul Tigers Marching Band Former Marine
Co-Leader, Soul Tigers Marching Band
It feels like people don't want to know the real reason behind these anthem protests because when they find it makes sense, that legitimizes it.
Many people don't understand that protesting, and just standing up, involves a lot of backlash... And many people don't do it because they understand the backlash. So if you're going to do it, you need to understand what comes behind it.
Scot: In your view, what is the reasoning behind Kaepernick's stance?
Kenyatte: To bring light around the tact that there's a difference between how caucasians are treated and how black people are treated when they're approached by police officers.
Osei: It has multiple meanings and depends on person to person. Some don't stand because of what the country is doing right now. Some don't stand because of lack of support of the veterans. Some don't stand because of the history behind the national anthem and original content that was then removed.
Scot: What are you telling your kids about the anthem protests and the stance that Kaepernick has taken?
Kenyatte: I tell them that they have to know why they're kneeling. If one of my kids wanted to kneel for the anthem I'd tell them that you'd have to know why you're taking that knee. Do your homework before taking that stance.
Osei: The way I approach the students about it is I ask them why they stand or don't stand... and based on their response, it determines how far into the conversation we get. If you're making a choice or decision and don't do your own research or have a purpose, that means you're doing it not because you want to do it. It has to be a clear understanding from them based on their own opinion that's based on their own facts or beliefs.
Scot: And if your kids gave you an educated, knowledgeable response in wanting to take a knee, what's your response?
Kenyatte: Take your knee, but you gotta be prepared for the possible backlash that comes with it. As long as you can articulate the reason why you're taking a knee, then I'm good with it.
Scot: Have you had any kids take a knee during the anthem at your events?
Kenyatte: Not take a knee, but they didn't stand up in protest.
Scot: I've talked to some veterans-and veterans of color - who have said if they were coaching kids, they'd be against letting them take a knee or protesting in their own way. What are your thoughts on that?
Kenyatte: Everybody's entitled to their own beliefs, so you can't tell anyone else not to take a knee... you do what you gotta do.
Osei: It feels like people don't want to know the real reason behind these anthem protests because when they find it makes sense, that legitimizes it. He just doesn't agree with how things in this country are being handled. This gets very emotional when you get the military and veterans involved, but this doesn't have anything to do with serving the country.
Scot: Do you think what Kaepernick's done has been effective?
Kenyatte: It's been effective to a point But this movement can't be effective until black people come together. As long as we're divided on the issue, it can't be fully effective. When your way of life is in somebody else's hands, its very challenging... we don't own the teams, so there's a lot of other dynamics here and issues around us sticking together. It's not as easy as some may think it is, especially when somebody else has your life in their hands.
Osei: Half and half. This has been effective because its made people aware, including kids. It's beneficial in that way because it's provided knowledge and forced people to research the issues. But on the flip side, it can get confused and end up destroying someone because those on the other side didn't understand the intention behind it.
Many people don't understand that protesting, and just standing up, involves a lot of backlash...And many people don't do it because they understand the backlash, at if you're going to do it, you need to understand what comes behind it. So be prepared - is it that important to you? What are you willing to do, and what are you willing to give up to make sure that your kids get the opportunities and the rights they should have?
Scot: If you were a kid right now, would you be taking a stance?
Kenyatte: If were a kid right now, I'd stand with Kaepernick. It's simple for me. You gatta realize that everybody's not going to be on the front lines, stand up and give up their livelihood. It took a while for more people to sit at the counter or the front of the bus, but eventually a lot did to try and make that change. You need to know who got your back and who doesn't.
Osei: When I was 8 years old, one of my classmates used to face the back of the auditorium during the pledge of allegiance. I asked her why and she said I have to stand because they tell me to stand, but I don't necessarily have to pledge or face the flag because I don't believe in the words. She told me to do my own research so I went to the the library and found the original pledge, and there was a whole lot of stuff taken out. From that moment on, I chose not to stand because I just didn't believe in the words. It's kind of like religion - I can be spiritually involved, but I don't have to believe all the words that's written in the bible. I can believe in the country, but I don't have to believe in the words that you want me to say or pledge to.
That's where it becomes a misunderstanding when he took a knee. Its not the fact that you don't respect your country - I give 100% respect to the soldiers, but I don't have to believe in the people that are leading us at the same time.
I tell the kids this all the time - what's better, to have love for your king or your kingdom? The moment everyone chooses to stop following the king, he's no longer a king, he's just a person. So if you have love for your kingdom, then your kingdom comes first. You follow your kingdom which is the country, but not necessarily the rules of the king if he's not taking care of the country... so I can take a knee if whoever's on the top isn't doing right, but that don't mean I don't love the country.
WHY WE KNEEL
Chris & Francisco
Head Varsity Football Coach
Head Varsity Basketball Coach/ JV Head Football Coach
Who am I to tell you as a grown up and role model what you can and can't do? To be a good role model, you have to be open minded... And that's hard to do.
Scot: In your point of view, what do you consider this Kaepernick movement to be about? What's the purpose and meaning behind it?
Francisco: I think Kaep wanted to open doors for people mentally - for people to think differently. It wasn't just about him taking a knee to target the NFL or showcase himself as a player... I think he had a mindframe of there needing to be an understanding of what's happening in society.
He chose a platform that the average athlete would be petrified to take. Football is dominated by a majority of colored athletes, but has a huge influx of ethnic groups. He was looking for a platform to send a message and more attention to be brought to police brutality and the relationship between officers and citizens. Once he understood what his platform meant, he was willing to lose his job over it... and for that alone, he needs to be commended. Ask the average teacher in there would they be willing to lose their job over speaking the truth or saying what's really happening in the world. You shouldn't be muzzled for speaking out and expressing yourself.
Chris: Raising awareness around social injustice issues like police brutality, etc. The race war in this country still very much exists, even if people think it doesn't.
Scot: If one of your players asked if he could take a knee during the anthem, what's your response to him?
Francisco: I don't think coaches should be telling kids to take a knee or not because then you're making it about you. Its not about Kaep's message now, it's about when you're doing with a group... and I don't feel that that's the fairest thing for a group of kids to have to follow. I think it would be fair not to just let them take a knee if they wanted to, but a conversation is in order because are you doing it because you want to be a follower, and maybe for the wrong reasons ... or maybe they're doing it because one of their family members had an incident, so the life's trials and tribulations can play a part. I don't think it's the coach's responsibility to tell a kid - that's like saying, "Coach, I have a religious belief and I can't practice on Fridays..."
Chris: I had the conversation with my players this year about whether they wanted to play the anthem, because it's actually our choice whether we do or not. The one thing I stress is team, so they had to sit down and collectively make a decision, and they chose to play it because I think they like the ambiance of it. No one has taken a knee on our team and that was a decision they made as a team, but I've seen players and coaches on other teams do it a bunch. I'm all for them listening and talking about it, and if the guys next year want to, we'll do it... as long as we do so as a team.
Francisco: Who am I to tell you as a grown up and role model what you can and can't do? To be a good role model, you have to be open minded... And that's hard to do.
Scot: When your kids get older, what are you going to tell them about this moment in time?
Francisco: I've talked to my son about what's going on and started talking to him about Chris Jackson/Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf... people really forget how quickly he was blackballed in the NBA. I compared them and told him that people are willing to lose everything for something they believe in. You gotta reflect on it and talk about it, and let them know that there's a large array of views out there - some people agree and some people adamantly disagree... but the question is how much do they actually know about the issue? I respect some of the athletes that are doing their own thing - representing the issue in their own little way.
Scot: What do we tell your kids about Kaepernick and the movement he started?
Francisco: I would tell my kids, do your homework before you make a decision or action. If not, you look like a follower. Always be a leader and do your homework. Always.
Chris: God willing 20 or 30 years from now, this is all behind us and you can talk about it in the past tense, but this very well could still be something we have to talk about. But if it's still the same as it is today, you have to keep teaching them about the issues and formulate their own opinions.
WHY WE KNEEL
Head Varsity Soccer Coach
Police brutality? My kids go through it... stop and frisk just ended a couple years ago and they would get messed with just because of the way they looked and what they were wearing. It's not that they're not socially aware of these issues - they live it.
Scott: What in your opinion is the purpose and reasoning behind what Kaepernick's been doing?
Sai: He just started kneeling because it was a personal issue to himself which had nothing to do with disrespecting the flag or his country when really he just wanted to do a personal protest about police brutality. If you go back to the beginning of it, he was pretty quiet about it -not recruiting other players to do it, but was just silently doing it on his own. For better or worse, it's become such a national issue and transformed him into a social leader.
Police brutality? My kids go through it... stop and frisk just ended a couple years ago and they would get messed with just because of the way they looked and what they were wearing. It's not that they're not socially aware of these issues - they live it. In terms of me being their coach/educator telling them about it, a lot of times there's very little to tell because they already know.
Scot: If one of your players asked to take a knee for the anthem, what do you say to them?
Sai: If one of my players wanted to take a knee, I would fully support them because our kids are all immigrant children growing up in the Bronx and a lot of these issues, socially and politically affect therm and their families directly. Deportation, immigration, etc. I have a Colombian player right now who's spent the last 14 years growing up in this country and I have to sign paperwork for his immigration lawyer twice a month when he goes to court - they're also trying to deport his grandmother. One of my other players' grandmothers just got deported back to South America, and some of them have to go to court every month just to stay in this country because certain people think they're not American even though they've spent their whole life here. We do have conversations when things happen in the news and get quiet and talk about it. If one of my kids wanted to do any form of peaceful protest, whatever it is as long as it's non violent, I wouldn't have a problem with that at all.
Scot: Down the road when you're telling your own kids about what was happening in this time period, when do you tel I them?
Sai: I would say it was a very turbulent time. This moment is kind of like a nonviolent civil war because it's kind of a figurative civil war - people don't want to hear the other sides of stories... but I've been telling my kids let's try and listen to the other side - know the other side and study why they feel the way they do so we can all become better.
These protests like Keep and Black Lives Matter are all bi-products and results of the last 50-60 years when the civil rights movement started gaining equality for people of color and women... it's a back and forth and hopefully sooner than later we'll find a middle ground. I hope I look back and see this as a peaceful civil war that hopefully gets resolved the right way.
WHY WE KNEEL
As long as we can understand how to respect other people's opinions and viewpoints, this will come out in a positive way.
Scot: In your words, what's the meaning behind what Kaepernick is doing?
Laron: The word that comes to me is enlightenment. People need to be enlightened on the issues Americans face - not just African Americans, but society as a whole. What Kaepernick has done is shed light on situations and issues that were being overlooked at times.
Everybody has an opinion on it, but this was meant to bring people together and it's caused so much division and confusion... it's now hard to find the original meaning of what it was. You have to provide awareness to everyone and society is unfair to certain people. Its really unfortunate that he's not in the NFL anymore and he's not able to pursue his profession.
Scot: So when you say that you get it, and get the meaning behind it, what do you take as that actual meaning?
Laron: I get that minorities are targeted by authorities... I also feel that as individuals, we have to look in the mirror and figure out how we handle situations as well. If we could just communicate better and learn to listen and respect one another, that's the ultimate goal of all of this... to be better as people and individuals.
It's sensitive because people have lost their lives representing America and their families, so to each individual the flag represents something different. Just because my walk of life is different from yours doesn't mean I have to disagree with you. As long as we can understand how to respect other people's opinions and viewpoints, this will come out in a positive way.
WHY WE KNEEL
We're not having conversations about Kaepernick because of the day-to-day character issues that we have to deal with. Just functioning in our community is challenging enough. People are feeling less than others.
Scott: What in your view was the purpose behind what Kaepernick has been doing?
Donald: What Kaep is doing is important, but the message is being missed. It's crossing racial lines as it feels like people just aren't getting it. Its not about the flag - it's about how blacks and Latinos are being treated by police. We pay police to protect us so the argument is funny to me because to them, it's about patriotism and asking what about black on black crime... but we don't pay criminals to kill us, yet we're paying police to protect us - not make judgement but to protect us. We've got people pleading with them to understand that people we pay are hurting us.
We're just not having conversations about Kaepernick because the day to day character issues that we have to deal with in just functioning in our community is challenging enough. That people are feeling less than others.
Scot: Down the road from now, what would you tell your grandkids about this moment were in right now?
Donald: The Kaepernick thing just doesn't get talked about as much because I have to deal with a child that is feeling less than - the grassroot culture and coaches at this level are more focused around character building. Kids asking, who am I, and what value does the world think I bring?" At the lower level, they don't know who they are...
As coaches, we have to now make sure that we give that information... we go and take a field trip to a museum that gives them the information and understanding of who they are. You don't see a lot of kids wanting to take a knee around here because the way it is is just the way it is. It's just normal, but what you see on TV is like, "damn... we're not even being valued or seen as human."
I just try to give kids opportunities to supercede the odds stacked against them. We need to have more dialogue - we need to talk and have kids understand who they are, what's happening around current events. It's not just black kids - we all have to communicate.
We don't talk about this enough, but I need to and just hear what kids have to say... we're not opening enough dialogue to hear their thoughts. It's not or much about what do we tell the kids, it's more what are they telling us, and we need to listen to them.
I'm going to open up the dialogue much more now because of the conversation I had with that child about feeling less than.
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Scot is State’s Co-Founder and ‘Give-Back Guy.’ Scot defines the term ‘social entrepreneur’ and has made it his life’s work to balance profitable business ventures with making the world a better place. Scot has worked to evolve their charitable model through STATE’s innovative giving initiatives and #WhatDoWeTellTheKids platform.
For every State product purchased, we support American children and families in need. Our efforts include donating fully-stocked backpacks to underserved communities, funding special projects through partner charities, and shedding light around social inequalities on our educational platform, What Do We Tell the Kids.