Jaylyn Sherrod has been upset, angry and sad during the past two weeks.
A young, black woman who shines on the basketball court for the Colorado Buffaloes, Sherrod has tried to wrap her thoughts around the civil unrest that has played out around the country in response to the death of George Floyd.
On May 25, Floyd, a black man from Minneapolis, died after being restrained by police. He pleaded with officers that he couldn’t breathe as they held him to the ground and one officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds.
Around the country, there have been protests – both peaceful and violent – in the fight for racial equality and against police brutality of black people.
“I was really upset and angry because this is an issue that has gone on in my community for a really long time,” said Sherrod, who is from Birmingham, Ala., and has been at home for the past two months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s just sad that this is still the world we live in. … You still have hate. I just don’t get it; I don’t really get the thought process behind their beliefs.”
Sherrod is one of many CU athletes hoping to do their part to eliminate the hate and make the world a better, safer place for citizens of all races.
On Friday, many CU athletes, coaches and staff members took part in Buffs March in Boulder to support the Black Lives Matter movement and protest against racial injustice. Sherrod could not be there, but said she believes in the importance of CU’s athletes and coaches, who are often in the spotlight, to speak up.
“I really think it’s important for us to use that platform because we have such a big platform to speak out on these things,” she said. “I know (women’s basketball coach JR Payne) has been a huge advocate. I know KD (Nixon) and McKinley (Wright), they all made statements and I know they’re kind of leading the march.
“It’s good to see because, while we can’t physically pen the paper, write laws and change things policy-wise, we can be the people that (represent those who) don’t have the platform that we have. We can be their voice. We can get the message out from other people in the community that don’t have the resources that we have.”
The message begins with having conversation and listening to those who have experienced racial inequality in their lives.
“Even on our team, there’s those differences (between players) of just not knowing,” said head football coach Karl Dorrell, who is black. “They don’t understand a lot about each other’s culture, and I’m talking on either side of the spectrum. I think our goal is to really come together as a program and discuss these issues and sometimes it is emotional issues that we’re all dealing with. But, if we can create an understanding, I think it’s going to help us be a more cohesive football team, which may be a great example for others to follow.”
Nixon and Chris Miller are black CU football players who grew up in Texas. Both took part in the Buffs March and they talked about their past experiences.
Nixon grew up with a fear of the police. Miller said he and his friends are routinely pulled over by police back home; often, the officers want to check Miller’s driver’s license – even if he’s the passenger.
“My great, great grandfathers, they’ve been through it; everyone in my family, they’ve been through it,” Miller said. “I just want everybody to support change, end police brutality and just make the world a better place.”
Sherrod has paid attention to the unrest in Birmingham, a city that is predominantly black and played a significant role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Earlier this week, Birmingham mayor Randall Woodfin had a Confederate memorial, which had stood for 115 years, removed from a public park in response to the protests.
“Since then, (the city has) received a lot of threats from other places around Alabama,” she said. “It’s really sad to say that this is still the world we live in, especially Birmingham being such a monumental city in the civil rights movement. A lot of black history comes from here. So it’s really sad that this is what happens.”
As events like that unfold around the country, Nixon has been trying to spread a message of positivity and love and said he challenges everybody to do better.
“Let’s do better around the world in everything we do,” he said. “Let’s support one another. Let’s love another. Let’s help one another. Let’s see one another win. That’s my main goal.
“Treat everybody like they’re important and watch how your life changes because now you’re going to have support.”
Support is what Sherrod and others hope the black community gets from other races, particularly white people. A white person can’t fully understand what it’s like to be a black person in America, Sherrod said, while adding it doesn’t need to be a race issue.
“We have to approach it as a humanity issue in saying that, ‘Hey, if that police officer would have put his knee on your neck for about eight minutes, you would have probably died, too,’” she said. “So it’s not so much the color of my skin, which is my outside appearance; but on the inside, we both share the same things.
“While race is the base of it, at the end of the day, you have to look at me as human, just like they have to look at you as human.”
Sherrod, Nixon, Miller and other CU athletes and coaches are hoping to help create change that is everlasting, and not just temporary during an emotional time. Sherrod spoke about the importance of all people taking action, including voting in November, to create change.
“I believe that the best thing any of us can do, no matter what race … even after all of this settles down, we have to continue to push the agenda that police brutality, systematic racism is not okay,” Sherrod said. “We need people in power, we need people in other races to help us out because we can’t do it by ourselves.
“Being educated is great, having knowledge of issues, but we actually have to go into action and just use our voices; people using their privilege to actually say, ‘We’re not dealing with this anymore. On behalf of our black brothers and sisters, we’re not dealing with this anymore.’”