Jelani Jenkins: Why I Knelt During the National Anthem—And Why It’s Time to Stand Up

Photo by Joel Auerbach
NFL player Jelani Jenkins pens a personal reflection on his protest for equality.

This story originally appeared on Time.com.

It takes a village to raise a child. At a very young age, I was taught that God has a special plan for me and my life. My parents raised me to be confident in my own skin and to love each and every person unconditionally.

They also taught me the importance of reading, studying, and learning from the elders and ancestors who preceded me. That being said, the ascension of my family and community has always been the driving force in my life—and will continue to be.

What I want is simple; equal rights and equal opportunities for every single person living in this country. The same dream Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had. The same dream my great grandfather, Esau Jenkins, had as he fought for equal rights in Charleston, S.C. He fought the same issues we are still fighting today and now, he will be honored in Washington, D.C. at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture’s permanent exhibit on “Defining Freedom, Defending Freedom: The Era of Segregation.”

So to stand idly by and witness men and children who look like me being senselessly shot and killed is not an option. No more hashtags. Enough is enough. Racial, social and economic inequality is very real in this country, and it is time for real change with real results.

In order to help stimulate meaningful change, sometimes it takes a controversial—but meaningful—stand. After standing with my teammates as we honored those who were victims of the 9/11 attacks with a moment of silence, I knelt during the singing of the national anthem.

WANT MORE FROM ESSENCE? Subscribe to our daily newsletter for the latest in hair, beauty, style and celebrity news.

I have the utmost love and respect for those who risk their lives and died serving this country. Several of my close family members have served in the military. I do not have an ounce of hate in my body and absolutely have no intentions to disrespect the military. I come from a spirit of love and I aim to unite—not divide. This is not about football, the flag, the military, or Jelani Jenkins. This is about the message: equality for all.

I am a 24-year-old African-American man who comes from a long legacy of people standing up for what is right. I do not have all of the answers and I certainly do not have a simple solution to these issues. By kneeling, I intended to stimulate meaningful dialogue and to raise awareness so that we will be able to find solutions to the problems that exist in this country.

I plan on teaming up with the non-profit organization RISE (The Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality), founded by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, to continue the push for change in a positive direction. I encourage other athletes and entertainers to join the conversation and to similarly let their voices be heard and take positive action.

I do not expect change to happen overnight. That is extremely unrealistic. It will take consistent work and an undeniable effort to make things right. It will take cooperation from people all over the world who, like me, love humanity. Hatred and division will only make things worse. Love trumps hate every time.

And just as my village raised me to treat everyone with respect and to love unconditionally, we can send the same message to our youth and struggling communities—as well as to those who are charged with protecting them. My grandfather Esau’s motto was “Love is Progress, Hate is Expensive.” It is with the full support of friends, family, and community that I continue to fight for what is right.

Now that the conversation has begun, on Sunday, Sept. 18 I intend to stand united with my teammates and the Miami Dolphins organization during the national anthem, which I have done since my arrival in 2013. God Bless you all.

Read More