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The Buffalo News (New York)
Before she did anything else, she called her mother.
Tamia Bowden was about to make a stand — an unpopular stand in an unpopular way. Before the freshman at Canisius College even mentioned to her teammates about taking a knee during the national anthem at their next volleyball match, she talked it over with her mom.
Her mom, Desiree Groves Marshall, is an Army combat veteran. She served two years in the Middle East. And if her daughter wanted to take a knee during the national anthem to protest racial injustice, well, she was 100 percent behind her daughter.
"She told me that she supported me. She'd stand by no matter what," Bowden said. "She said to not let people change my perspective on it by saying, 'Your mom's in the military. You're disrespecting her.' She said, 'Don't think that's what you're doing. Because you're not.' She's fully on board about the whole thing."
So Bowden reached out to her teammates on a group text, saying she wanted to take a knee and asking for their feelings.
Two of them, Leah Simmons and Sara Wesley, said they were thinking of doing the same thing.
"And the rest of our team replied that we may not be doing it, but we support whatever you guys want to do," said Wesley, a junior from Exeter, Pa.
Then they had to tell their coach. After a team meeting when the floor is open for announcements, Bowden spoke up.
"We want to take a knee. Is that cool?" Bowden, from Lexington, Ky., asked.
Yes. It was cool, although there were a few more conversations needed. And on Oct. 2, when National Football League players were taking a knee, so, too, were the trio at Canisius.
They have taken in a knee in matches since then and intend to continue to do so. Canisius plays two Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference matches at home this weekend, hosting Saint Peter's at 1 p.m. on Saturday and Rider at 1 p.m. Sunday in the Koessler Center.
In a statement, athletic director Bill Maher said the school recognizes "the right of a student-athlete to choose not participate in our celebration of the national anthem," but noted "the national anthem is a special part of any pregame ceremony here at Canisius College. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as citizens."
The school said it has "added a moment of silent reflection prior to the start of all home sporting events in an effort to consider those whose lives are impacted by inequality and injustice."
For second-year Canisius coach and Buffalo native Lenika Vazquez, her first thought was "how do I protect them from backlash?"
"So I felt like the best way to do that was to help them figure out what they're trying to say and listening to them," she said. "I feel like that's what I did. We sat down and talked. They typed up statements. One was handwritten. And they just shared their stories with me. They let it out. I gave them that platform."
The young women had stories and concerns.
Bowden said she dealt with racism at home in Kentucky, telling an all-too familiar tale for black women who go into an expensive store only to be followed by security and told they clearly don't have the money to shop there. She said her grandmother was told she couldn't bring her bag into a grocery store because "people like her steal."
"I think people thought initially I was kneeling just to kneel," said Simmons, a sophomore from outside Philadelphia. "I had people ask me, 'Why are you really kneeling? Do you even know what you're kneeling for?' And I would say, 'Yes, race injustices.' And they were surprised. They were like, 'OK, you actually know what you're talking about.' "
Other than one angry fan yelling at them in the Gallagher Center when they went to play rival Niagara, they said most people have been respectful, even when they disagree.
"I had one conversation with a guy in my major," Wesley said. "I was doing homework with him and as he was leaving he made some comment about not liking the fact that NFL players kneel. I looked at him and I'm like, 'Dude, I kneel.'
"I was trying to judge his reaction and we actually sat down. He doesn't agree with it. He thinks it's disrespectful, but he was open to talk about it and see my opinion. By the end of it he was like, 'OK. I understand. I don't agree, but I'm no longer as judgmental toward it because you have a reason and probably they do to.' That's all I really want to get out of a conversation."
Vazquez has had plenty of conversations around the Koessler Athletic Center at Canisius. While the coach is not participating in the protest, she is staunchly helping her players express their concerns and deliver their message. Among those conversations was one in particular with a person who was "just so adamant against it," said Vazquez. " 'It's so disrespectful to our military,' they said. I used Tamia's story."
"One of my players, her mother is a combat vet. Not just a vet. She's a combat vet. She went overseas and fought for our country," Vazquez said. "And to come back and have to worry about if her daughter will be OK if she gets pulled over for a citation, that's not OK. And it was a conversation. They were willing to listen and by the end of it were, 'Oh, OK. I see.'
"For me, as their coach, I'm here to help them. Again, my initial reaction was, how do I protect them? So I have chosen to have these conversations with people, albeit I didn't decide to kneel. Because they've shared their message with me, I will share their message with people that choose to have a conversation with me."
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