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  • Writer's pictureIlsa Govan

What Will You Risk for Justice?

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As I watch people debate whether Nike should have used Colin Kaepernick in their campaign and whether Kaepernick should have agreed to work with Nike, I only hope his message, Black Lives Matter, does not get lost. Kaepernick, along with many other NFL players, made a personal decision based on his convictions to make a powerful public statement about the killing of Black people by police.

In 1992, I was a senior in high school and an activist. For the past year I had been spending my Friday nights learning about Lakota culture and history from an elder named Buck Ghosthorse. He taught of the devastating, lasting impact of Christopher Columbus on Indigenous people, a history and current reality I hadn’t been taught in school. So, when he talked about a protest happening on the 500 year anniversary of Columbus’s landing, I knew I had to take a day off school to go.

As we marched across downtown Seattle, I remember a sense of connection and the rush of feeling I was part of something important—a feeling of wholeness that is still the heart of my work with Cultures Connecting.

At Westlake Center many people drummed, prayed, spoke, and sang. What stayed with me was the words of one man who talked passionately of the attempted genocide of his people. He told us he would never stand and salute a flag that represented this bloody massacre. I listened. Took in the words and emotion. I decided I would no longer stand for the flag.

As a result, I faced taunting in the bleachers and tense moments at events, where people glared and made comments behind my back encouraging me to leave the country. No one, aside from my close friends, started a conversation where we could disagree and still see one another’s humanity. My heart would race, but it was a small risk to take given the value of living my convictions.

To this day, I see Indigenous People’s Day as an important marker in my journey as a social justice activist and appreciate the people of color who taught me. It was a moment where I made the decision to give up some modicum of comfort to publicly demonstrate for my beliefs. In comparison to what Kaepernick risked in taking a similar action, I know my risk was small.

This day every year calls me to ask myself, what am I willing to give up for justice? I invite you to do the same.

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