By Femi Adekunle-Johnson; 08182223348
We recognise the several vital interventions of our youth, and especially the creatively gifted and exposed titans, in the area of philanthropy, technology, culture interrogation, and similar concepts that may need further explanations. An exercise I hope to provide further down the road.
However, in all the pomp and circumstance of our millennial galaxy of stars – in music, movie, sports, internet, and such exciting innovations and distractions that have seized the imaginations of 100 million odd Nigerians – I feel a sense of disappointment. A throbbing hollowness that painfully appears unlikely to be assuaged in a very long time.
Considering our love for the minimal, and excitement at the mundane, we may not attain defining milestones similar to what transpired at a summer period, like now, a mere two years ago in a country chickily dubbed “God’s own country”.
Two horrible days in July 2016, white police officers “gunned down” two black men on two consecutive days, in a manner that could be described as hasty, indifferent, bothering on the malicious, and callously brazen. Both victims were not hostile, nor threatening the police.
A mildly shocked nation woke up to situation ballooned by the haunting one-liner crusade, ‘Black Lives Matter’. To incinerate any doubts about the frightening fault lines within the American society, a Micah Xavier Johnson showed up to be recognised. He was a black former member of the US Army Reserve who shot and killed five police officers and wounded 11 civilians, hours after a ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest march in Dallas, Texas on July 7 – two days after the first shooting. Johnson was, in a BBC report anchored by Peter Jennings, “himself killed following a stand-off with police, who sent remotely detonated explosives into the car park where he had taken refuge”.
It was in the ensuing gale of despair, demonstrations and demagoguery that a rising star of the American Football League (NFL), Colin Kaepernick (then 28) stirred out of his cozy ambience, to launch a tackle on history. Kaepernick, of mixed blood, was a talented quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers. He was drafted in 2011, at 23, and two years later, led the 49ers to the final of the Super Bowl (the ‘World Cup’ of American football, sort of). In 2014, Kaepernick signed a six-year contract worth $126m (that is a staggering 45.3 billion naira!)
About two years into that fantastically lucrative arrangement, the 28-year old elected to put all on the line – to start what he didn’t know would become a historic movement with the capacity to, at the very least, invoke some shift in cultural and social engagements, and possibly provoke real change, in the near future.
What did he do? He chose to respond to racially suspect police brutality and murder by some form of a one-man protest in a most disconcerting way – and the world looked up! Even the President of the US, Donald J. Trump could not resist the itch to tweet in rage. But his vitriol is not our focus today.
Kaepernick’s first words on Tweeter, July 5, 2016, the day Alton Sterling (37) was killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, were: “Another murder in the streets because of the colour of a man’s skin, at the hands of the people who they say will protect us… When will they be held accountable?”
The tall troubled sportsman, adopted as a baby by a white family whose two young sons died of heart defects, was deeply loved, and well-educated. The second-day shooting (on July 6) of 32-year old Philando Castile sparked instant diverse reactions. Castile, who was in the car with his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds and four year old daughter, alerted the policeman who stopped his car in traffic that he had a licensed firearm on him, and was captured on police dashcam reassuring the agitated white officer that he was only reaching for the ‘particulars’ the police requested for. He was shot six times, at close range. His original crime: that his car had a broken brake light!
Colin Kaepernick’s first act of defiance, and solidarity with the oppressed of his people triggered shockwaves around the sports-loving world – igniting love and hate in unmeasured proportions. Here is how BBC’s Jennings eloquently crafted the moment: “The singer pauses, hanging between verses. He knows – like the thousands standing around him in the stands, on the pitch and on the stage – that the Star-Spangled Banner, the American national anthem, is about to reach its highest point.
“Kaepernick is on the team bench. Sandwiched between two giant soft-drink barrels, he sits alone as thousands roar and whoop in appreciation.
”I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.
”There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder,” he says after the pre-season match in August 2016.
Of course, millions were appalled by the supposed politicisation of a well-treasured sport; just as millions also hoorayed the imagery and audacity of standing by and with dehumanised people in an atmosphere of inequality and bigotry that supplies oxygen to the brutality and brazen wanton killings of people of colour in America – on flimsy and ridiculous excuses. A caption on one of the shooting videos on his Instagram page is viciously apt: “This is what lynchings look like in 2016.”
A week after his shocking “siddon-look” gesture, the movement was well underway. He, in Jennings’ words, “…protests again. This time he is joined by his team-mate Eric Reid, and both men kneel while the national anthem plays. (Nate Boyer, a US Army Special Forces personnel and ex-NFL player, who initially disagreed with Kaepernick’s action), stands next to them. On the same night, at another match, Jeremy Lane of the Seattle Seahawks remains seated for the anthem. The movement is growing.”
”It took courage for him to sit initially. It took more courage to bend his position a little bit,” Boyer adds.”
“I told him if they knelt I would be next to them with my hand on my heart, because I support your right to peacefully protest in this country. That is what I fought for.””
(TO BE CONTINUED)