LANSING, MI (WLNS) – Four current and former Lansing Catholic High School athletes who took a knee during the national anthem before several football games, were recognized by Lansing City Council members Monday night.
Michael Lynn III, Roje Williams, Matthew Abdullah and Kabbash Richards have been making headlines since October. That’s when they began following the national trend by taking a knee to protest social injustice, especially racism.
Their actions have caused quite the controversy among many people on both sides of the issue and as a result, the school penalized each of them by not allowing them to start during some games.
“We are four young black men who are dedicated toward ending injustice and racism,” Roje Williams said to the crowd after being recognized. “We started off as supporting the take a knee movement, through our own journeys we have found each of us have been battling racism on our own within the walls of Lansing Catholic High School.”
It’s a move that hasn’t exactly been easy for the four young men.
“People have attacked our character, our respect for our country and have done everything they can to twist our message,” Williams added.
Lynn and Abdullah have since transferred out of LCHS.
“The Lansing City Council declares Michael Lynn III, Roje Williams, Matthew Abdullah, Kabbash Richards as local heroes and supports their efforts to leverage their positions and platforms, both present and future, to raise awareness of injustices affecting many residents in our community,” Councilwoman Jessica Yorko said as she read the adopted resolution.
Even though the athletes were punished for their actions, the council members and several members of the community in attendance Monday night gave them praise.
“I want you to keep being the role models that you’re being because you don’t, maybe not see yourself as that, but you really are,” At-Large Councilmember Judi Brown Clarke said. “I’m very proud of you.”
“One of the things I’m most impressed about is your ability to come here and not only take a stance, but then articulate your stance,” Councilmember Adam Hussain added. “I have no doubts after hearing from you guys that you have the ability going forward to, as councilmember Washington said, to get your hands dirty, to do some more work and I think you’ve actually started with that real work.”
After the special ceremony, the four young men were met with a standing ovation from the crowd.
“When people hate on you or hate you, scream the loudest you don’t really see it, you don’t feel it, but it was definitely in full effect today,” Lynn said. “The standing ovation almost made me cry.”
“It made me feel like we’re actually truly making a difference in Lansing and hopefully eventually in the world,” Williams added.
Abdullah said he felt overwhelmed by the community.
“This was amazing,” he said. “Getting to see all the people come out and support us.”
“I just felt really blessed, really blessed that everybody came out and supported me,” Kabbash added.
When the football season ended, Kabbash took his protest to the basketball court, where he took a knee last Friday during the anthem at Williamston High School.
Kabbash was benched for the entire game because of it.
Fans said they weren’t happy about his peaceful protest, adding that it has and continues to draw negative attention to Lansing Catholic High School and that high school games are not the place to participate in such a protest.
Gary Casteel, a Vietnam War veteran said while he does not support the movement happening nationally among professional athletes, he respects these four local students for their leadership.
After they were honored, Casteel commended them for their efforts outside council chambers.
“Their speeches was from the heart, I can tell that,” Casteel said. “I told them that on behalf of the veterans, we don’t think everyone’s bad that takes a knee because we fought for the American people, we didn’t fight for race, we fought for the flag.”
For those who may find themselves in the same position as these four young men, Lynn said he has a message to send.
“To the young people of Lansing, young minorities of any kind whether that’s sexual, racial, religious, speak up for what you believe in,” Lynn said. “Don’t take flack for what you are; you can’t change what you are.”
6 News reached out to the president of Lansing Catholic High School for comment on this story, but did not hear back.
Just last week, the school sent a letter to parents saying athletes who kneel during the national anthem won’t play; the letter also detailed some of the schools new policies.
The letter went on to say that while it supports social justice, it is not changing its stance that athletes should stand for the national anthem.