Ashley O'Shay didn't get involved with social justice movements to make a documentary, but after witnessing mainstream media's coverage of the peaceful protests that followed a multitude of police killings of unarmed people of color, she felt compelled to use her filmmaking skills to combat the misrepresentation she saw on the news.
The Indianapolis-born director began studying the Black Liberation Movement in Chicago from its inception in the late 1960s to its resurgence today for the same reasons that many other black youth have. She's galvanized, informed and surrounded by others like herself — young people who understand that their involvement can make an impact on the future of race relations in this country. Her documentary follows the bittersweet journey of black women activists Janae Bonsu, Bella Bahhs and Page May as they attend protests and engage in discussions with their community, local legislatures and peers about police brutality, the worth of black and brown bodies in America, and options for moving forward from talk to action. O'Shay chronicles moments from the Let Us Breathe Collective, Assata's Daughters, and scenes from the Black Lives Matter movement in Chicago for her documentary Unapologetic, an exceptionally candid and decidedly feminine contribution to the film world.
By the time O'Shay graduated from Northwestern University, she was already well-versed in cinematography and film, but the leading ladies in Unapologetic — Bonsu, Bahhs and May — were already well-known in Chicago for other reasons. Bella Bahhs is a Chicago-based rapper and youth advocate, Bonsu is a writer and National Public Policy Chair of the Black Youth Project 100, and May is an activist, public speaker and cofounder of Assata's Daughters. The common thread between these four young women is their passion for social justice issues, their determination to empower young women of color, and their desire to keep their rebel spirit unapologetically lit. Unapologetic is due out next year.
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Another video. Another black person lying dead in the street. Another police officer, nameless, faceless, shouting into radios, “he’s dead.” A mother feels a pang in her stomach, her ears ring a sound she’ll never hear again. Charlotte, North Carolina. Ferguson, Missouri. Tulsa, Oklahoma. Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And those are just the ones that make the news. The Washington Post (the paper of Watergate) keeps a running tab on who police are shooting. It seems they’re shooting more and more. And they’re fearing more than ever, too.
There have been days of protesting in Charlotte. People are fed-up. They’re tired. Day one ended in bloodshed after a man shot a protester in the head. Point blank. The crowd erupted. Social media followed suit. First, we heard that a protester shot his activist kin. Then, that it was the police. Now, finally, the truth: an assailant opened fire on Justin Carr setting off a tidal wave of rioting. The response was deafening, as usual.
What's going on
The violence feels senseless. The reactions to black people doing completely ordinary things seem absurd at best. And King Mez, a North Carolina emcee on the rise, agrees. “Unless something comes out that’s firm, hard evidence, it’s hard to pinpoint what’s actually going on,” he stated. “It doesn’t feel right to me. Especially since it’s a recurring theme.” Such a recurring theme, in fact, that the political right has readily jumped to the fantastical idea that the “mainstream media” is race-baiting, so ready liberals are to suit up for a racial holy war. How arbitrary those folks would rather do some magical thinking than deal with the reality: African-Americans, Latinos, and other POC are disproportionately affected by policing strategies that value escalation.
“That’s the thing that frustrates me, too,” says Mez. “People are always talking to us like we’re crazy like we’re supposed to be beyond this. I don’t even see how that makes any sense. We’re still dealing with this to this day.” His voice rises and falls in waves. You can feel the tension in it. His fear. Fear that all our lives are up for grabs in this free-for-all of a situation. We hit them with #BlackLivesMatter. Some argue that we’re separatists. We hate America. We want this discord, and, most disturbingly, that we deserve it.
The narrative of race
The narrative is a simple one. "Brown people commit the most crime, they argue. Of course, they’re the ones we should watch the closest." But these institutions have given themselves away. For, if you’re watching us as closely as you say you are, then it stands to reason that you could be stacking the deck. Who's watching the folks this media narrative presupposes is not committing a crime? And, the kicker, who is watching you? The examples of oversight are almost too numerous to claim. In June of 2015, an officer approached a young, black woman in a parking lot in Austin, Texas. The resulting exchange went viral. The officer body slammed her and generally acted the fool. She was arrested and placed in the back of another cruiser where she asked the question on everyone’s mind. The officer replied that blacks had “violent tendencies.” He elaborated, “Ninety-nine percent of the time … it is the black community that is being violent. That’s why a lot of white people are afraid. And I don’t blame them.”
I do. These narratives are costing us our lives. But what King Mez wants to know is where are the artists that are willing to speak out about these issues? “As an artist, I feel like I’m excited to do the things I can do with this art to make things better. But I’m really disappointed in anybody who ain’t using everything they have to make this sh*t better,” he notes. “I’m disappointed in the artists who won’t use their voice.” There are a few that are.
The artful protest
Some of the best musical output this year has been "protest" records. Jamila Woods Heavn and NoName’s Telefone are exuberant, somber redresses to bigotry. Colin Kaepernick’s silent kneeling during the National Anthem inspires both an image of prayer and of defiance. And Charlotte, too, has been artfully protesting. Through curfews and state emergencies, they’ve marched.
Even now that partial viewings of the dashcam and body camera videos of police officers involved in the shooting were released, still they march. Because, despite the rhetoric, protesting is an act of love. It’s a peaceful reminder that people matter. Mez wants to show that, as well. And he understands how hip-hop’s influence can shape the world. “Hip-hop is the most influential culture in the world. Even pop music sounds like hip-hop. Hip-hop culture influences the whole world. All we have to do to be together, but people’s minds are on so many other things,” says Mez. “It’s so much bigger than me. It’s so much bigger than my career. I’m so passionate about this.” With everything going on in his home state, how else could he be?
The Last Question
Blavity: Is there anything you do for self-care? It can be hard to watch all the media around this stuff.
King Mez: I’m going to be honest with you. It’s hard for me to watch [the videos] all the time. I definitely don’t like to see, but I honestly, in some instances, force myself to watch it. I want to feel those emotions. [That] will directly affect my art, directly affect the way I carry myself and the decisions I choose to make. What a lot of people don’t even realize is at this point all the decisions you make as a black man you’re not just making for you. You’re making them for everyone. You’re making them for the culture. As an artist, it’s not just about you anymore. It’s about everyone.
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The NBA preseason starts October 1st, and many are wondering if the national anthem protest by players will spill over into the basketball season. The NBA has long had a rule that players must stand for the national anthem. Before Colin Kaepernick there was Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. During the 1995-1996 NBA season, the $13 million contract-extension player told his coaches the he would no longer stand for the national anthem. Without much notice at first, Abdul-Rauf suffered no consequences for his actions based on his religious beliefs. On March 10, 1996 that all changed. Having previously been called anti-patriotic because of his stance which took place after the Oklahoma bombings, during the March 10th game Abdul-Rauf decided to sit in the middle of the anthem and the rest is history. The NBA suspended him for one game and decided that he had to stand but could pray silently in his hand while standing. Abdul-Rafur's career suffered a great blow and he never rebounded from it.
With more and more black people becoming target practice for police departments, professional sports leagues are having to find a way to respond to the way players protest. The NFL has had a tough time figuring out what to do and who to collect a check from when it comes to enforcing the stand. The NBA has decided to take a proactive approach to whatever stance and protest strategies their players may have. CBS Sports reports: "To that end, the NBA is looking to not merely deal with the aftermath of whatever protests or statements the players might make regarding these issues, but is working to actually foster a conversation in advance so that the league can support the players, but also so that it can try and prevent incidents that could harm their image or sponsor relationships."
It seems as though the NBA is willing to have a conversation about it but isn't willing to risk their image or sponsorships, so they want to get ahead of it. Coaches have stated they plan on talking to their players in the locker room about matters of this nature, and the NBA Commissioner Adam Silver sent out a letter to players.
NBA & NBPA have sent the players a joint letter announcing they are working together on... https://t.co/iWsctLWRLZ pic.twitter.com/YVjJ8sy9Kg— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpearsESPN) September 22, 2016
As the conversation gets started in the NBA about how to handle players potentially breaking a rule that very much still exist, it will be interesting to see who is willing to take a knee or keep standing.
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Colin Kaepernick has spawned a movement amongst his NFL peers and many other athletes. The protest of the national anthem and the flag has been polarizing to say the least. It seems as though everybody, to varying degrees, has picked a side. And many of our faves are falling from grace like flies.
But Charles Woodson is not one of them.
Full 4 minute clip of Charles Woodson making SO MUCH sense about why he supports the protests in the NFL pic.twitter.com/tLL16HEqH6
— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) September 12, 2016
The legendary cornerback/safety-turned-NFL-Countdown-host/winemaker has some thoughts about the matter that make a lot of sense – and mirror much of the community. There is no right (or wrong) time to peacefully protest or exercise our freedom of speech. And the anthem that our country holds to be so sacred isn't exactly singing the praises of people who look like us. Colin Kaepernick and anyone else using the very rights that military men and women give their lives to protect should be respected at all times, right?
People immediately weighed in.
Charles Woodson kept it 1000 🙌🏽
— Wavy Bone Jr (@Jerm_T_Smith) September 12, 2016
Charles Woodson ✊🏿
— Nick Jones Jr. (@njfuture) September 12, 2016
@ShaunKing Yes. It's so sad that most don't get it...well stay tuned, you will.
— Da Way Eye See It (@JocelynBooze1) September 12, 2016
And although the dissension doesn't seem to be ending anytime soon, it's important that we're having the conversation at all. All we can hope is that this will lead to a much deeper cultural understanding for everyone about what it means to be black in America.
But it's safe to say that when Trent Dilfer started talking, we were all Randy Moss.
Look at how Randy Moss is looking at Trent Dilfer. 😂😂😂 pic.twitter.com/LrQbVfmKlc
— Erick Fernandez (@ErickFernandez) September 11, 2016
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Several athletes, both professional and non-professional, have taken a knee in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. One in particular is Mike Oppong. The junior at Doherty Memorial High School in Worcester, Massachusetts decided to take a knee during the national anthem at the first game of the season.
Ima pull a Colin Kaepernick and sit during the national anthem on Friday
— BLACK LIVES MATTER (@Oppong_5) September 6, 2016
Oppong talked to Worcester reporter Carl Setterland about what happened and what the repercussions were for his decision to take a knee.
Doherty's Mike Oppong took a knee on Friday in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. Says he will be suspended for it. pic.twitter.com/Z3YendSKoq
— Carl Setterlund (@CarlSetterlund) September 11, 2016
Twitter wasn't too happy about the student being suspended for one game because of his decision.
Baby, we got you. https://t.co/Rpl6YjHsUY
— Tiff Hobbs (@SpiffyTiffyH) September 12, 2016
We support you young man, keeping standing up for your beliefs https://t.co/IV1LpxVOeo
— Justice (@just_ife) September 12, 2016
Stand up for what you believe in. That's the only way!! Sending prayers your way young fella!! https://t.co/0tlTBwcGtC
— Kenny Gabriel (@DaBoyKG22) September 12, 2016
With support from people on and off social media, the one-game suspension was ultimately lifted.
Thanks to all your love and support my suspension of 1 game has been terminated! pic.twitter.com/a8RB9c200N
— BLACK LIVES MATTER (@Oppong_5) September 12, 2016
This young man makes us all proud, taking a knee and fighting for what he believes in.
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The list continues to grow as athletes join San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick in his protest of the national anthem. Since he made the announcement last month and kneeled during a preseason game, teammate Eric Reid and Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane also opted out of the anthem.
Clearly, Kaepernick's strong beliefs against police brutality and America's harsh treatment of African-American worked. Just last week, his team announced a million dollar partnership to improve race relations in the Bay Area.
Veterans, more NFL players, in addition to collegiate and high school athletes are now expressing strong support of Kaepernick. They've decided to take a stand by taking a knee or showing a salute to black power as the anthem plays at games. Here are 15 recent moments of solidarity with Kaepernick.
1. Doherty Memorial High School player, Mike Oppong.
He has to sit out one game because of the protest.
My coaches and principals have decided to suspend me for 1 game.
— BLACK LIVES MATTER (@Oppong_5) September 11, 2016
2. Black players on West Virginia Tech University's womens volleyball team.
3 . Woodrow Wilson High School football players and coaches in New Jersey.
Video of Woodrow Wilson players and coaches taking a knee for national anthem before Saturday's game vs. Highland pic.twitter.com/JBhtaslq0i
— Philip Anastasia (@PhilAnastasia) September 10, 2016
4. Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall.
*Note: Marshall has since lost a sponsorship deal with Air Academy Federal Credit Union
5. Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters.
As his team locked arms in solidarity of 9/11, Peters raised his fist.
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) September 11, 2016
6. New England Patriots’ Devin McCourt and Martellus Bennett.
Martellus Bennett and Devin McCourty kept their fists in the air after the anthem. pic.twitter.com/VoPWkipGbl
— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) September 12, 2016
7. Miami Dolphins’ Jelani Jenkins, Arian Foster, Michael Thomas, and Kenny Stills.
The team released a statement acknowledging the individual rights of players to observe the anthem in their own way.
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) September 11, 2016
8. Maury High football players in Virginia.
The coach took no issue.
Several Maury players took a knee during the national anthem. Coach Fraser spoke about giving his players freedom pic.twitter.com/H1ovC4Muhh
— Brian SaundersII (@SportsWriter_BS) September 10, 2016
9. Lincoln Southeast high school football players.
10. This young man at Waggener High in Louisville.
Following Colin Kaepernick's lead a Waggener player takes a knee during the national anthem @WHAS11 @WHAS11Sports pic.twitter.com/y7QI32v3qo
— Holden Kurwicki (@WHAS11Holden) September 9, 2016
11. A group of players from Auburn High in Rockford, Ill.
12. University of Tulsa cornerback Keanu Hill.
#TU issues statement on Keanu Hill kneeling during anthem yesterday. The university's response at 5:30 on @NewsOn6. pic.twitter.com/taRQ7xSYix
— Scott Pfeil (@scottpfeil) September 11, 2016
13. Players in Minnesota.
Young brothers in Minneapolis took a knee for injustice last night during the National Anthem. pic.twitter.com/CMMsxMSVEB
— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) September 10, 2016
14. Jurrell Casey, Wesley Woodyard and Jason McCourty from the Tennessee Titans.
Tennessee Titans. The movement grows... pic.twitter.com/aeyKH6zQi1
— Michael Skolnik (@MichaelSkolnik) September 11, 2016
15. U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe.
Who got next?
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Have you seen Twitter today? If you're a football fan, it might look something like this.
#BoycottNFL has taken over our timeline, and it begs the question: Are you big mad or little mad? People are still upset that Colin Kaepernick protested the national anthem. And their hatred is bubbling over now that more players are following his lead.
Thursday, Denver Broncos' Brandon Marshall took a knee during the anthem and was very clear about his motives.
"I'm not against the military or police or America at all. I'm against social injustice and I feel like this was the right thing to do."
That act of solidarity was too much for "Dog Avi Twitter" to take. Some people refuse to hear the truth. They're convinced his protest is about the flag and disrespecting our servicemen and women.
If more losers continue to disrespect our flag I will #boycottNFL I will hold owners and coaches accountable.
— PJG (@redarmy67) September 9, 2016
Is the NFL decides that it will make a mockery of September 11 15th anniversary I say I will never watch a football game again #boycottNFL
— Charlie Onions (@CharlieOnions) September 9, 2016
#boycottNFL Stand up and spend your money on good things not some crybabies looking for attention. If they cared they would be out helping
— Angela (@Ike19777) September 9, 2016
Players are cry babies? Players aren't helping? The last time I checked, both Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers organization were putting up millions.
Black Twitter's not here for the hypocrisy.
People wanna #BoycottNFL because it "disrespects the military" but pretend like #VeteransForKapernick didn't happen https://t.co/veoJwoUNe3
— P aka Jim Bob Cooter (@chillin662) September 9, 2016
The #boycottNFL thing is confusing. You want to boycott b/c players are exercising their constitutional rights? Who's the patriot again?
— britni danielle (@BritniDWrites) September 9, 2016
Colin Kaepernick doesn't stand for the national anthem
Trump trashes United States on Russian TV
"He's a patriot!"
— Yukio Strachan (@boldandworthy) September 9, 2016
You care about rights and saving lives? Since when?
When you wake up and see #boycottNFL as a trending topic! Over a flag, not a unarmed man killed by a cop, a flag!!!! pic.twitter.com/TMEBqHiJoq
— Chris P (@ThaCouchCoach) September 9, 2016
So let me get this straight - you don't want to #boycottNFL over
but over peaceful protest?
— Darryn M. Briggs (@darryn_briggs) September 9, 2016
Y'all didn't #boycottNFL when Ben raped those women or Ray rice beat his girlfriend. But y'all boycotting over a flag. Go play in traffic
— L. Darcel (@BelleUnplugged) September 9, 2016
Oh, and if y'all really about that life...
You can send me your Ravens season passes if you want to #boycottNFL.
God bless y'all. pic.twitter.com/0dT90o6jxe
— TariqTouré طارق تورى (@TariqToure) September 9, 2016
#boycottNFL is trending???????????? lmaooooooooo, I'll see ya'll Sunday. #YallTrippinpic.twitter.com/j11mIyAJCW
— Stankie Muniz (@DJDarkWahlberg) September 9, 2016
This #boycottNFL hashtag is very interesting...... watch those same accounts tweet about their teams on Sunday pic.twitter.com/orFNC4gUVI
— LizzLocker (@Lizzs_Lockeroom) September 9, 2016
You know how this ends, right?
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Colin Kaepernick is putting his money where his activism is. The 49ers quarterback who came into the spotlight by not standing during the national anthem in protest of police brutality, is donating $1 million to communities in need.
On Thursday night after the 49ers' preseason finale against the Chargers, Kaepernick made the announcement. He stated that he plans to donate the first $1 million he earns to charities that help communities in need.
"I've been very blessed to be in this position and to be able to make the kind of money I do," Kaepernick said, "And I have to help these people. I have to help these communities. It's not right that they're not put in a position to succeed or given those opportunities to succeed."
This move is perhaps one of the best ones Kaepernick could've made. When he first protested, people tried to belittle him by critiquing his dedication to activism because he's a well-paid athlete. Now, he's backing his actions with funding.
But the critiques against his identity didn't end there. They also questioned his blackness, but on Thursday night, Kaepernick came out with the fro.
Black Twitter showed support with #KapSoBlack.
@MoreandAgain started the trending topic and the rest of Black Twitter chimed in.
Bruh. Kap's fro. . . . #KapSoBlack he got a diamond in the back, sunroof top, digging the scene with the gangsta lean. Woohoooooooo.
— Cocky McSwagsalot (@MoreAndAgain) September 2, 2016
Because with a fro like that...
#KapSoBlack he sent in a letter saying he'll only stand if they change the anthem to 'knuck if you buck'
— でじことdex digital (@dexdigi) September 2, 2016
#KapSoBlack the only anthem he's standing up for is the International Player's Anthem. pic.twitter.com/1uzAYPFkpS
— Ashley Christina (@_itsashleyc_) September 2, 2016
Many just want to braid it.
#KapSoBlack Rachel Dolezal wanna braid his hair & have his babies. pic.twitter.com/vJkfb8Ov52
— britni danielle (@BritniDWrites) September 2, 2016
#KapSoBlack I just wanna sit him between my legs and part his hair and rub some Murrays in it pic.twitter.com/SxNIALYV8m
— Glowing Keyblade (@Tinytay19) September 2, 2016
And some people are convinced he'a from another era.
#KapSoBlack there will be a Soul Train scramble during half time. pic.twitter.com/nGrd7bC3Zr
— WhatFreshHellisThis? (@LisaBolekaja) September 2, 2016
#KapSoBlack this is how he arrives to practice. pic.twitter.com/9Rjw0hrx76
— Leon Mormont (@mrthompson) September 2, 2016
But this one took us out.
#kapsoblack Kris Jenner is on the phone with his publicist RIGHT NOW, arranging a date for Kourtney .
— Grace Blackleaf (@unicorninkk) September 2, 2016
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Athletes taking a political stance against something is absolutely nothing new. Times being what they are, it's no surprise that we're witnessing more and more athletes show their activism by protesting in revolutionized ways.
Most recently, Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the 49ers and Myke Tavarres, rookie linebacker for the Eagles, have opted not to stand during the national anthem in response to America's treatment of minorities.
"We've got an issue in this country in this day and age, and I feel like somebody needs to step up and we all need to step up," Tavarres said to ESPN. "We've got that right. There's just a lot going on that people don't want to talk about, and I feel like us as athletes, we're looked at as role models. And I feel like with Colin Kaepernick, he's doing a great job for standing up in what he believes in, and most people may not like that, but that's his opinion, he's entitled to it, and I respect him for doing it." Tavarres later decided to stand for the anthem.
What Kaepernick is standing for is a form of protest just like Tommie Smith and John Carlos holding up their fists at the 1968 Olympics and Muhammad Ali denouncing the Vietnam War.
One famous black athlete, in particular, wrote about his feelings on the national anthem, and that athlete is none other than America's great baseball legend, Jackie Robinson.
In his autobiography I Never Had it Made, published shortly after his death in 1972, Robinson wrote the following excerpt:
"There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made."
Kaepernick lives in a world different from the world Robinson, Smith, Carlos and Ali grew up in. This is not to compare them and say that all of them are they same. They are not. However, the actions of protests are rooted in controversy, and anytime someone goes against the mainstream or does something that is unpopular, you better believe the media clapback will ensue.
After Ali's passing earlier this year, people across the nation revered the beloved champion for what he stood for, and he deserved every drop of that reverence. Yet certain people seemed to forget why Ali protested the war in the first place or that he was vilified by the media as well. The vilification was oh so real. He was one of the most hated public figures in America. And at the time of Ali's stance, many other athletes and public figures viewed him as being too radical, including Jackie Robinson.
You may agree or disagree with Kaepernick's decision, but this is how he chooses to protest, and his protest is peaceful. The situation is layered, but Kaepernick's actions shouldn't be taken at face value. People in protest are rarely ever popular in the mainstream at the time they are protesting, but at the end of the day, Colin Kaepernick isn't fazed about it.
Robinson and Ali were also unbothered. History is making a loud statment about black athletes and their relationship with America...again. We hear you.
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