It’s Friday… high school football night in America! Last weekend, there was an article circulating on Facebook about how some high school football players are following Colin Kaepernick’s lead and kneeling during the national anthem. There was all kinds of  uproar in the comments, with the kids being called ungrateful and unpatriotic. People said the young men had no appreciation for the freedoms they enjoy as citizens of the United States.

While there may be some truth to that statement, the name-calling only serves to further alienate young people who are already feeling disconnected from their communities.

I propose a different solution. If I was a coach, mayor, community leader or a member of the school board, I would invite the “kneelers” to dinner (preferably at a  casual place that serves wings 😊) I would learn about their lives and listen to their stories. I would find out about the experiences they have had that led to their decision to kneel. Once I understood where they were coming from, I would challenge them to become part of the solution, besides just kneeling. Being part of the solution might mean bringing them to a city council meetings to share their insights. It would definitely mean helping them form relationships with local police officers, including doing ride-alongs to understand the dangers they face each day. It would mean asking the kids to develop ideas for how teen relations with police could be improved. My goal would be to not only listen and learn from the kneelers, but also to broaden their understanding of the root causes of complicated issues. Then I would provide a platform for them to share what they learned with other students and to take some form of a leadership role in creating change and greater understanding. That’s how community leaders can naturally develop mentoring relationship with young adults. Ask their opinion about issues and then help them learn how to gather information, build connections and make an impact on the world around them. The journey that helps them discover their voice is what strengthens the mentoring bond.

In addition, handling issues in this way tells kids that our community respects your right to protest, but we also offer opportunities for you to be part of a solution and we expect you to get involved. Even better would be if communities set aside funds to be able to provide stipends for kids who are willing to become intelligent activists. One of the high points in the tragic police shooting in Dallas was when the police chief offered to hire protestors to help develop community solutions. The best way to solve some of the frustration and disconnection people feel about social issues is to provide them with opportunities to be part of lasting and meaningful impact.

Finally, a note to Colin Kaepernick
I agree with you that we do have problems in this country. Racial injustice does exist. But intelligent activism means holding yourself accountable for understanding all sides of an issue that you are protesting. You are having an influence on our nation’s young adults. I challenge you to spend your off-season really digging into the issues that are at the root of your protest. I read about your background: bi-racial, adopted and raised by white parents, smart and successful in school, no arrest records, a well-compensated athlete. You’ve also seen and experienced racial discrimination. So you are in a perfect position to bring people together, especially in the area of police relations.  Do ride-alongs with black and white officers who live in cities such as Chicago, New York, Cleveland, along with those who work in “hotbed areas” for racial hostility. Listen to their experiences and walk in their shoes. Drill down into the stories where unarmed people have been killed and dissect where and why things took a deadly turn.  Really analyze these issues,then share what you learn and propose social change we can all get behind that protects our citizens as well as our police officers.

Finally, apologize to the many good police officers you disrespected by wearing the “pig” socks. Those socks represented hate and profiling, the very thing you claim to be protesting.

Our nation’s young people are watching you, Colin. Show them intelligent activism. Then maybe next season, you will choose to stay on your feet with your hand over your heart for the national anthem. Not because all of the problems have gone away, but because you are showing young people they can also be proud to live in a country where they have the rights and freedom to work for change. Many around the world are not so fortunate.