At the Oakland Athletics game Monday night, about 100 local middle and high school students took the field to play the national anthem. Then, they took a knee.
Balancing cellos, trombones and violins, the majority of students in the Oakland Unified School District Honor Band knelt as they played the “Star-Spangled Banner,” joining a wave of protest started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and strengthened last week after President Donald Trump suggested NFL players who demonstrate during the anthem should be fired.
This wasn’t the kids’ first rodeo. They also knelt while playing an A’s game last year, when Kaepernick launched his sideline to protest against police shootings of unarmed black people and continuing racial injustice in the U.S. This time they were joined by A’s rookie Bruce Maxwell, the son of a veteran and the first MLB player to join the sweeping movement.
We asked a handful of Oakland honor band students how it felt to #takeaknee and why it’s important for kids to stand for their beliefs.
Elijah Russell, 13, percussion
How did you guys decide to take a knee on Monday night?
So, [music teacher] Mr. Pitt-Smith had a conversation with us, and he was asking us if we wanted to take a knee. He gave us a choice, and he explained to us what taking a knee meant. Some of us had a conversation with him behind the scenes talking about what’s going on in the world and how it’s affecting our youth and how it’s affecting our elders, too.
When you had that conversation, did most of the band want to do this together?
Yeah. I think it was pretty important to us. A majority of people in our band in our school wanted to do this national anthem at the A’s game. People in middle school and high school right now are going to be our future presidents, and they need to know what’s going on now so they don’t repeat it in the future.
How did it feel to be out there, taking a knee and making a statement?
It felt really special because I got to show people I really care about about what’s happening in our country right now. It’s a very powerful message that all of us sent out there last night. It was just very meaningful, and we rocked that anthem! (Room breaks into applause.)
Jack Riley, 13, guitar
How did you feel, taking a knee while performing the national anthem during the Oakland A’s game on Monday?
Powerful. Really powerful. I felt really good. It wasn’t just our school, there were local schools from all over the district. It was really empowering to see everybody coming together and taking a knee and standing up for what they believe in. Last time we did it, reading the Facebook comments and reading what everybody was saying about us, I felt that I wasn’t alone and that I wasn’t going to be attacked alone. I felt like I had a whole community behind me and a whole community behind all of us.
What was the reaction from the crowd at the game?
So, we were walking out and we were setting up, and right as we started, we all knelt. Not everyone knelt. There were a couple of people that didn’t. But right as we were kneeling, I heard someone in the audience saying, “F you. Stand the F up. You shouldn’t be kneeling.” I just felt so shocked. We’re kids. We’re kids just standing up and fighting for what we believe in, and there are these people who are swearing and heckling at us. And it just made me really sad to think that these people are just attacking us. A good amount of people clapped, and the first MLB player to kneel is on the A’s, Bruce Maxwell, and I saw him kneeling too, so I definitely felt that there was a lot of good and some bad.
Jenny Su, 13, flute
Is taking a knee in protest, something you’ve been talking about with your family, friends and classmates?
In the classroom we’ve been talking about taking the knee. We had a choice to take a knee and I chose to take a knee because I want to encourage other young people to stand out and speak out their minds about the whole entire circumstance that’s happening in the world. Since I’m a girl and there’s gender bias against girls, I want to see if taking a knee can show my opinion about this whole entire circumstance and not be afraid to speak out.
“People in middle school and high school right now are going to be our future presidents, and they need to know what’s going on now so they don’t repeat it in the future.”
What kind of change do you hope to see?
I just hope to see more young people form opinions rather than adults saying everything about dealing with these problems. I want to see opinions from young kids and from boys and girls.
Qai Smith, 13, drums
Why was it important to you to take a knee at the game?
It was important for me to take the knee at the game because I want to stand up against all of the racial injustice and all of the bad things that Donald Trump has said about our people and our nation. Donald Trump has just been going on Twitter rant after Twitter rant calling NFL players SOBs, and basically discriminating against them and telling them they should be kicked off their football teams because they have knelt during the national anthem. I wanted to stand up against all the racial injustice, and all the bad things that Trump has said, and all the things that are happening in our nation right now that are affecting normal people like you and me and everybody else.
Do you think middle and high school students should be involved in protests and take a stand when it’s something they believe in?
Absolutely. I feel like it’s important for our young people to be involved in all this because we are the future of our nation. The young people, we’re the ones who have the most effect, because we’re going to be here after all of our past generations are gone. We’re going to have the most effect on America five, 10, 15 years from now, because we’re going to be growing up and we’re going to have to face all of these political challenges happening in our world.