Monday after students and student-athletes at the University of Missouri raged against the machines of racism and institutional complacency with nonviolent protests, they got the change they desired; Timothy Wolfe resigned from his post as President of the University. His tone deaf resignation helped many understand exactly why the activists called for his removal and leaves many anxiously awaiting the future to see if the genuine change the community seeks materializes. Now I could go on and on about the courage it took for the black football players to risk their scholarships, transferability and safety in the name of justice because it really was a courageous, mature thing to do. I could write ad nauseam about the true power that athletes (students and professionals) possess to change their world outside of sports. And of course I could write feverishly about the economics of college sports and how the NCAA marginalizes student-athletes. But I’m not going to do any of that because there are a lot of great writers who are already giving you insight on those topics more. Instead, I’m going to ask for just a little bit of your time to introduce you to two women.
Meet University of Missouri students Ayanna Poole (bottom) and Danielle Walker (top). While Poole and Walker have not had a great deal of limelight in comparison to others involved in the struggle for racial justice at the University of Missouri, they have been highly instrumental in the fight. They are, in fact, a large part of the reason that we know who Jonathan Butler is and why the Mizzou football players decided to take a stand. These two women helped form Concerned Student 1950, a group named in remembrance for the first year black students were admitted to the University. Concerned Student 1950 have hosted rallies and promoted the movement on social media. Poole and Walker have been rallying, protesting, writing and reciting poetry for change on Mizzou’s campus for the months and months that led up to Wolfe’s resignation. No, they aren’t student-athletes themselves. It is very likely that they know little about the taxing life of a student-athlete, but it is their refusal to accept the status quo that encouraged the Mizzou football players to take a stand. It is their vision and steadfastness that helped make Mizzou a topic of discussion for something other sports. For that, they should be recognized.
Unfortunately, I don’t have much more information to give you about these two ladies but their actions, the actions of Mr. Butler and the actions of the black football players (and the support of their coaches and teammates) make one thing clear, change happens collectively and broadly. Poole and Walker’s fight for justice required the help of someone willing to go on a hunger strike. Their fight in turn required the help of athletes who were willing to risk their livelihoods. What started as a fight for racial justice at the University of Missouri has begun conversations about the power and the position of students on college campuses and in other settings. It has reignited conversations about the perceived injustices in NCAA athletics and encouraged activists in other movements to reexamine their strategies. That’s why working with people who don’t have exactly the same experiences and strategies is so important; you get a broader, more effective movement. Everyone should take note. If you want to improve the status of women, of people in the LGBT community, of the homeless, of immigrants, of children, of any marginalized group; think collectively and with those whose walk in life might take them down a path that is different than yours. That’s how you get change.