You kneel to pray. You kneel to atone. You kneel to address authority. You kneel to honor fallen brethren.

In almost every circumstance, kneeling is a sign of respect. This is the exact notion NFL player Colin Kaepernick channeled in 2016 when he kneeled during the national anthem to show respect to both the American flag and the millions of people of color being brutalized by police in America. Kaepernick’s kneeling was described as “un-American” by his opponents; but in reality, it was exactly the opposite. He exercised his rights in a way that promoted American ideals in its fullest: a peaceful objection to a country in which its promise of “liberty and justice for all” does not ring true.

We, too, carried this reverence in our hearts when we knelt at our high school graduation: we exercised our freedom to peacefully protest — a right afforded to us by the countless veterans who bravely and selflessly gave up their lives — in hopes of extending that freedom to the black lives that have been repeatedly and hatefully rendered less than by our country and its institutions. We chose to dedicate our graduation to those who had theirs ripped from them—Trayvon Martin, Aiyana Mo’Nay Stanley-Jones, Tamir Rice, Jordan Edwards, Alejandro Vargas Martinez — by a deep-rooted prejudice that has lain unquestioned within the heart of humanity since the birth of modern civilization.

The very foundation of America was built upon the scarred backs of the millions of Africans ripped from their homes and families and utilized as property for the benefit of White America’s economy. However, contrary to popular belief, slavery did not end in 1865. From the countless Confederate statues honoring treasonous officials whose entire purpose was to protect their ownership of other human beings, to the millions of Black individuals wrongfully trapped within the American prison system as a legal source of near-free labor, to the police system’s refusal of accountability and perpetuation of the very same racist ideals held by southern slave owners in the country’s youth: every facet of our nation’s both formal and informal structure is meant to benefit white people at the expense of people of color.

This is why we knelt: not to disrespect our country and its veterans, but to amplify and empower the black voices that those in power are exerting every possible effort to silence. We refuse to let another 400 years of oppression, subjugation, and murder pass by unchallenged.

Zoe, “Black people deserve to stop living in fear that they may not return home to their families due to their skin tone and the stigmas surrounding it.”

Rebecca, “As a minority, I am very passionate about making a change to the injustice in our country, and I believe that our generation has what it takes to put an end to the racial injustice that has gone on for far too long.”

Zeke, “To use our voices as young leaders in America to recognize the huge injustice happening in our country.”

Connor, “To halt the oppression and subjugation of people of color that is perpetuated for the benefit of white Americans.”

Sandi, “To acknowledge that there needs to be change and that we are not oblivious to the faults of our society.”

Sadie, “To begin the process of righting the injustices that our ancestors put in place and that our society has nurtured.”

Michael, “To reject the institutionalization of racism which threatens the freedoms and, more importantly, the very lives of people of color in the U.S.”

Madelyn, “To end police brutality and racism.”

Katlyn, “To bring reformation to a country that marginalizes the citizens that built it.”

Abby, “To create a truly free future for ourselves and the following generations.”

Julian, “It’s the right thing to do: we have a responsibility to bring attention to the injustices happening in our country.”

Jack, “To finally take a confident stand after years of political uncertainty for what I know is right.”

Brandon, “It’s what makes sense.”

Daniel, “To protest the systemic racism that exists within law enforcement, housing, healthcare, education and almost every other aspect of the American economy”

Zoe Angeles, Rebecca Aquino, Zeke Baker, Connor Bezio, Sandi Brown, Sadie Carey-Tharp, Michael Dinkins, Madelyn Disheroon, Katlyn Don Carlos, Abby Fant, Julian Lott, Brandon Watson and Daniel Yeats

Weatherford High School Class of 2020

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