The Paw Print

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Editorial Issue 1

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Part 1: The Protest

Last August, NFL player Colin Kaepernick began to protest police brutality and other injustices toward people of color in the United States by kneeling during the national anthem before games.

In his own words, Kaepernick protested because there are consistent injustices.

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”

Kaepernick started his protest by sitting during the anthem, but then began kneeling as a sign of respect to veterans and military personnel.

I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country,” Kaepernick said. “I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country… People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That’s something that’s not happening.”

As the 2017 football season started up again, so did Kaepernick’s protest. Except this time, he has been accompanied by pro-athletes from many different sports and, now, high school athletes.

Part 2: The Email

On October 9th, the athletic coaches of Kansas City Christian received an email from Todd Zylstra addressing how KCC should, at the moment, respond to the nationwide kneeling protest.

“Since it’s happening all over, we were just trying to be proactive,” Head of School Todd Zylstra said regarding the purpose of the email that was sent. “I didn’t want to wake up and come to school and have 150 emails because a student protested […] We were not making a statement.”

KCC’s board and administration does not have an official policy regarding whether or not students should stand or sit for the national anthem.

“Since we didn’t have [a policy], we just said, ‘Don’t do it.’ Josh [Poteet] sent it. It wasn’t a statement or an official anything, “ Zylstra said. Despite the email having actually been written and sent by Athletic Director Josh Poteet, at the bottom of the email it was attributed to Zylstra.

Zylstra further explained the motivations behind the email.

“We aren’t making a statement about whether or not people should stand or sit for the national anthem… We’re not saying anything.” Zylstra said,“What we’re saying is that no one — that includes the adults — can use Kansas City Christian School as a platform to make a statement. At your athletic event you’re representing your community […] whether you stand or sit or lock arms or whatever you do.”

Zylstra explained that this wasn’t personal opinion, but his desire to represent the community.

“None of this is my personal opinion. I’m trying to represent the community as a whole. It has nothing to do with me,” Zylstra said.

Zylstra intends to make it clear that the school cares about the injustices being addressed by this protest, but that the school would like students to address then in ways other than kneeling during the anthem. He felt that students at KCC kneeling wouldn’t do anything more than what had been done by NFL players already.

Zylstra wanted to be clear that the goal was not to restrain student expression, but ask students to express concerns in a different way.

“We don’t want to silence the students. We don’t want to silence your passion for injustice at all — that theme is all over the Bible,” Zylstra said.

He said that that is why it is very important to have official policies in times like this.

“That’s why it’s so important to have a policy. It’s really not for me to make that decision on behalf of — how many people [the entire KCC community]?” Zylstra said, “It’s the boards decision,”

Although Zylstra said that forming the policy would ultimately be up to the board, he did suggest what a possible policy could look like.

“Maybe the policy should be a) don’t use the school as a platform to make a political statement and b) it’s important to provide our statements with avenues for personal expression that are aligned with our values and call attention to injustice,” he said.

“We’re basically saying before we can talk about it, just don’t [kneel],” Zylstra said.

He concluded that to form a policy it would be important to include student feedback.

“We won’t vote and pass a policy without student feedback,” Zylstra said.

Part 3: The Coaches

The head coach of the boys soccer team, Allan Chugg, received the email.

“It was kind of like that, though — ‘We’ve heard that students are wanting to do this but we haven’t formed a policy yet.’ Well, there really were no students that were gonna do it,” Chugg said. “[The students] had just mentioned the fact that it would be a dumb thing to do, but it was heard wrong in the hall.”

The email sent to the KCC high school coaches did not explicitly tell the coaches to speak to their players about not participating in the protest, but soccer coach Allen Chugg felt a duty to communicate the concept to his players even prior to the email.

“Before I got the email I had already told my students they weren’t supposed to do anything. I said, ‘I don’t think it’s a good idea’,” Chugg said.

He continued, elaborating on why he thinks the email was sent.

“I think the concern was to make that we weren’t just trying to do it as somebody trying to imitate professional athletes, that there was a thoughtfulness to it if it was going to happen,” Chugg said.

Assistant coach and high school Spanish teacher Seth Turner also received the email, but hadn’t heard anything from students planning to kneel.

“I didn’t really hear from any kids anyway that were planning on doing it,” Turner said. “I didn’t hear joking or anything like that, not that every student talks to me about what they’re gonna do, especially if it’s something that’s stupid… When we got to practice I was setting up drills anyway, I think Allan [Chugg] talked to all the guys about it.”

Turner interpreted the email similarly to Chugg.

“I interpreted it kind of explicitly, I wasn’t trying to read between the lines, but it seemed like really it was just to avoid what could be thought of as a trend right now; because if someone treats it as a trend it’s not necessarily something that’s important”, Turner said.

He also feels that having dialogue about this as coaches or even a school would have prompted better communication.

“It’s probably better if we met all the coach’s together and said, ‘Hey, look,’ and actually had some dialogue about it — the importance of it. Or not even just coaches, but as a school and the administration,” Turner said.

He feels that the administration was trying to establish that any protests be done for the right reasons.

“Like I said, I understood,” Turner said. “The way I interpreted is they were just trying to avoid making fun of it while still — which was really cool of them — still saying, ‘Not that we don’t want you to protest, we just think that since this is such a popular thing right now, it’s all over the news, let’s find, if you really want to protest, let’s find another way to do it, so that we don’t look like we’re just making fun of it.’  So that’s just the way I interpreted it.”

Part 4: The Players

After soccer coach Allan Chugg brought up the kneeling protest with his players, they had mixed reactions.

“I think we kind of thought it was kind of obvious,” senior Gabe Reid said.

Although Reid understood where the response came from, he was confused by the way it was communicated.

To him, it sounded like it was being said that if the players had actually wanted to kneel for legitimate reasons, then they would have been doing it before it was addressed. He thought that was confusing.

Reid thinks that in the end the real question is if it’s helping the cause.

“It gets down to the whole issue of what is it doing, is it helping the issue directly,” Reid said.  

Senior Josh Kucera felt like some of his teammates were actually surprised by the statement.

“A couple people acted surprised, just because we were told we could not kneel — that wasn’t our right,” Kucera said. “But overall the team didn’t really care about it, because I don’t know if people were planning on kneeling. I don’t think they were.”

He also acknowledges that free speech rules are different in private schools.

“I mean, I do know I go to a private school, and it’s not really up to me. It also wasn’t up to the coaches as much. They were telling us how it was a lot the school board,” Kucera said.

Kucera feels that if he ever had kneeled, it wouldn’t even had had much of an impact. He also doesn’t feel like he’s informed enough about the movement.

Part 5: The Community

This email and the way it was addressed causes questions other than those regarding policy. It raises unasked questions about the Kansas City Christian community’s own discussion of race.

At KCC, the majority of students are white. Does the KCC community make clear Christ’s values of equality to create the most inclusive community?

Junior Day Newman feels like her experience growing up in such a close-knit community has affected her experiences regarding being half-black in a majority white community.

“I feel like I obviously don’t have the same sort of experience that a completely black person would have,” Newman said. “I grew up in this school. Most of my friends are white. I have friends outside of school that aren’t white, but all my school friends are white for the most part.”

She says that at times it still can be challenging.

“It’s challenging because physically, looks-wise, I’m separated from most of my classmates,” Newman said.

Newman said that when she was younger, she sometimes felt this extra-focus on her because of her race also.

“Obviously in elementary school more-so, but whenever we had like a unit on slavery, I’d feel the glances back at me, people looking at me like, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s she gonna say, what’s she gonna do?’” Newman said. “I don’t feel completely separated but I still feel like everyone’s kind of, not looking at me differently, but in ways where it’s just kind of focused.”

Senior Ian Ko, who has also grown up at KCC and is of Korean descent, has felt the same kind of focus.

“There hasn’t really been like very overt acts, [not] stuff like “Hey you’re different”, you just get stupid questions every once in awhile,” Ko said.

Some of his experiences, like Newman’s, have come from people’s ignorance.

“I feel like I’m in good standings with most people, so I personally haven’t felt like ostracized just for the way I look. I mean, in middle school and elementary school you get comments like, ‘Oh, where are you from?’ even though I’m from Overland Park,” Ko said. “But just small stuff like that, you kind of have to brush off.”

Ko and Newman both feel like there are ways that KCC could create a better community of inclusion.

Ko feels like the greatest opportunity for change isn’t actually something that affects him, and would call for people to be more aware of the feelings of the people that they are talking to.

“We have a lot of exchange students from different countries, and… there’s very targeted questions in certain classes just like, specifically asking a question just because, ‘Oh, you’re different, give us your point of view,’” Ko said. “Which I understand you want different types of points of view but — and I can’t say that I speak for all the exchange students or people who are more culturally tied to a different country —  that kind of gets old.”

Newman thinks that creating a more inclusive community can begin in the classroom.

“I think it would be super cool to have some sort of class, or at least some day in one of the classes, where we just talk about black history and be focused on that,” Newman said. “Because, you know, most of the history we learn about is, I don’t want to say white history, but it’s not really focused on that, until we get to the Civil Rights, obviously,” Newman said.

Spanish teacher and soccer coach Seth Turner feels that positive change can start when KCC starts evaluating the answers to some serious questions.

“How can we, as a school that’s supposed to represent Christ, who loved every single kind of person… how can we show that that is important to us, that is what we’re all about?” Turner said.

Turner, being half-black and half-white himself, feels that he got to see the most intimate example available of true love and acceptance between people of different races growing up, and that this has helped him to have a greater understanding of equality. Having this background, and also having positive experiences working in the KCC community has affected the way he thinks the community at KCC can be more inclusive and loving.

“Having a white mom and a black dad is kind of like being able to see that equality and love first hand, and that’s something a lot of people don’t get to experience. They don’t get to see it everyday like I did, and to be raised knowing that everyone is created equally and in the image of God,” Turner said.

But despite the love Turner got to experience growing up, he also got to see the tension caused by racial prejudice.

“My mom’s parents didn’t approve. There was a lot of tension because of not only race but also religion. My mom grew up Catholic so her parents wanted her to marry Catholic, and she married the opposite,” Turner chuckled, “But they had to deal with that a lot. My mom’s had to stick up for my dad a lot, too, whenever people talk down on black people, you know being uneducated. My dad’s really fought hard for a lot — to get educated, to get a masters — to be where he is now, and it took a long time, and our family had to progress very slowly. It was very gradual.”

Later, after he himself married a white woman, he experienced this prejudice firsthand.

“[My wife’s] aunt won’t talk to me,” Turner said, “So whenever we go to family functions, she won’t acknowledge me — she won’t say hi. She said she didn’t approve of me when Tori married me.”

Not only blatant racial prejudice fosters feelings of separation; being the only black person in a room can, too. Working in a school with a majority of white students, and being the only person of color on the teaching staff, there have been times when Turner has felt set apart.

“There’s been times I felt isolated,” Turner said. “Some days you just realize it. Especially like when Charlottesville went down, there’s just that tension and I feel like that’s really prevalent right now.”

Turner says when people from his own community don’t reach out after racist events like these, it can be hurtful and can feel like carelessness.

“But because being here I’ve felt like I’m part of a family, when things like this[Charlottesville] happen, and you don’t really hear about it, and no one comes up to you like, ‘How do you feel?’,” Turner said. “It just feels…like it’s almost ignorance, or it’s like, ‘Do you really care?’, like do you actually care about me? Because this is something that is very hard for me.”

Turner says when people express that they want give care and support, the point isn’t really about the means.

“We don’t necessarily have to protest, we don’t have to do any of that, but for us to sit idly by while such big events are happening, in my my opinion it’s wrong. And honestly, to me it’s almost hurtful.” Turner said.

Turner saw this movement as possibly opening doors to discussions that weren’t happening.

“And I felt like kneeling and making that very thought-provoking gesture is not a bad thing,” Turner said., “And I don’t think really anyone would say that it’s bad to get people to talk about a tough topic, and I don’t think anyone would say it’s a bad thing to open the eyes of people who don’t understand what black people have to go through, and I don’t think us as a school would say that either.”

Although he has seen this movement have positive effects, he sees why it has caused dispute because he has military ties within his own family.

“The negative side is that a lot of people think it’s offensive to the flag and to our country, and I mean I understand that, I talked to-my dad he also works on a military base,” Turner said. “He said that he’s not comfortable with that, because he’s seen soldiers over and over again, some that have died for our freedom, for that flag, and so to dishonor it and disrespect it-he did not approve of that.”

While understanding that belief, he feels that his experience as a person of color has given him different perspective.

“And I understand that viewpoint and in no way am I saying I discount that and it’s not credible — that’s true,” Turner said. “At the same time — and this is where I think my personal experience as being a colored person kind of differs from someone that’s white is that, that flag is supposed to symbolize something — it’s supposed to symbolize equality and liberty and prosperity, peace, whatever — it’s supposed to symbolize those things, and I think that right now in our country we’re at a point where it’s kind of not.”

He feels that if not all Americans are being treated equally, then is it even representing its original ideal?

“We as a country were not representing that flag,” Turner said. “Sure it represents equality but but if I’m getting discriminated against all the time is it really? It’s not.”

The greater issue to him is empathizing with people as a Christian community.

“I think it’s our responsibility as Christians to do our best to understand how people may be feeling. How can we be loving this group of people better?” Turner said.

Turner feels that a discussion about stance and support is not only inevitable, but profoundly necessary.

“I think that our school is coming to a point where — and it kind of starts with this article, it starts with some current events that have been rather impactful — is that we really do need to talk about where we stand,” Turner said, “ We really do need to start talking about our kids, our students, how they might be feeling during this kind of a time-how do we show that we stand by them, we support them.”

Not only will it help to support students, but he also feels like it will help the KCC community to heal.

“There might be times when a black kid here in our school doesn’t want to talk about it, but to at least offer — that is a huge step into healing,” Turner said.

So where will this community kneel? Where will KCC stand?

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