Dealing with the harsh realities of institutional racism is a tangled web for the black community, but racism becomes even more jarring when you have to face it within your very own inner circle.
Creston/Orient-Macksburg High School student Kylan Smallwood was faced with that very challenge when he found out a disappointing truth about his football teammates.
Recently, a photo of five young men wearing KKK hoods, brandishing a firearm, burning a cross and showcasing a Confederate flag went viral, The Des Moines Register reports.
Creston Community High School officials later found out those young men were students at the school, and that they were also Kylan’s teammates.
Kylan — a quarterback on his school’s team — was shocked, disappointed and saddened by the photo.
“I would see that kind of stuff like Charlottesville and think that’s pretty messed up,” said Kylan. “I never thought that would happen to our small town."
Kylan, who also plays basketball and a popular sports star at his school, went on to express his disappointment given the fact that he was close with the boys in the photo. “I thought these guys are my friends,” Kylan said. “I’ve been to some of their houses before. I’ve talked to them.”
Now he says, "I don’t want to be playing with kids like that."
Brian Morrison, the school's football coach, kicked the boys off the team.
Things are getting heated, however, as some of the boys' parents are threatening legal action in order to have their sons reinstated on the team.
Morrison confirmed that “lawyers are involved right now in the situation,” but that he is not budging on his stance.
Some members of the community would actually like the school to go further and suspend or suspend the boys, but school officials have not released any comments on that, due to student privacy restrictions.
“It’s one of those things that curdles your stomach,” Morrison said.
Kylan’s parents Robert and Danielle (who are black and white, respectively) remember their initial hesitation about moving to the small town in the 90s. They eventually settled into what they believed to be a safe and friendly small town. “Once people got used to seeing me, seeing someone different, it went away,” noted Robert.
Despite this blip, the family does point out that this situation has brought the community closer. “That’s the silver lining, I could say, about this whole situation,” said Danielle, “is how much our town has come together.”
Although some of the boys' parents are threatening to sue, one of the boy's parents have written a public apology, that called for their son to be punished even more than he has been already.
Kylan's father said that he has been receiving hugs as he goes around his daily route as a mail carrier. And Kylan says that the rest of the football team has rallied around him.
Although some are calling for the boys to be expelled from school, Danielle Smallwood doesn't want that to happen.
“I think they should have to go and look at all the high school kids that they have hurt,” she said. “Whether they’re black, white, whatever, they hurt a lot of people, and I think they should have to go back and face that."
"Even though [racism] could happen anywhere, it happened here," Principal Bill Messerole said. "So we’ve got to own this and move on in a positive way."
Overall, Kylan and his remaining teammates are moving forward and using this experience "as a way to bring us together as a family more. I know now that these guys have my back no matter what. That’s helped me a lot."