A group of Illinois State University student-athletes has planned a march and rally Friday in response to ISU athletics director Larry Lyons' remark that “All Redbird Lives Matter” and the athletic department’s action plan for social change which followed.
The rally will begin at 6 p.m. Friday outside Redbird Arena. Following speeches, participants plan to march through campus.
Luke Nelson, an ISU graduate student and pole vaulter, helped organize the event. He said the event is not intended as a protest, but a way to show empathy for those who are in pain.
“I want our Black athletes to feel like they are being heard. I want people to understand what they are feeling,” Nelson said. “I would say this is a very empathy-oriented march. It’s love based.”
Nelson, who is white, said he doesn’t want to speak for his Black teammates, but he said he recognizes how his experiences are different because of the color of his skin.
“People look at me differently or people look at me differently with a blank slate because I am white and people don’t (do the same) because they are people of color,” Nelson said. “We just want to educate and make sure that different view is positive and understanding.”
Nelson added that’s why he feels it’s important to show solidarity with his Black teammates.
“I think it’s important not to put undue stress on your Black peers in such stressful situations,” Nelson said. “I’d like to see myself as an ally or an accomplice.”
Lyons later apologized for the "All Redbird Lives Matter" remark, but some student-athletes said the apology didn’t seem sincere and that the athletic department's racial disparities were more systemic. They responded with a boycott of all team activities and a series of demands, including diversity education for staff and more diversity hiring in leadership and athletic training.
The athletics department responded with an action plan that sought to address those concerns. Lyons described it as a “living document” that student-athletes can help shape.
Nelson said he didn’t feel that it was appropriate for him to discuss the action plan, that it was for the Black student-athletes to speak to whether it will address their concerns. But Nelson said he feels this has sparked a conversation that will lead to better understanding.
“I am convinced that positive progress is already coming and will come further,” Nelson said.
March organizers said masks are required at the event. According to an announcement posted on social media “If you do not meet COVID safety regulations, you are taking away from the meaning of the march.”
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