Student-athlete forms new social justice group


Symone Brown

Symone Brown (right) wearing jacket with names of victims who died to police brutality.

Rey Green, Sports Editor

On May 25 George Floyd was killed in Minnesota by police officers, which led to protests all from Minneapolis to Ellensburg. The video of Floyd’s death showing police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck sparked CWU Women’s Basketball sophomore Symone Brown to start a group in order to invoke change. 

“The Student Athletes for Social Justice is a group that we are putting together in order to create an environment for students to come and discuss the issues [in] our world today pertaining to the inequalities that [people of color] are still facing today,” Brown said. 

Brown said it wasn’t just the death of George Floyd that sparked her to start Student Athletes for Social Justice. It was in the sixth grade when she witnessed racism for the first time. George Floyd’s death was just the breaking point. 

“The first real racism that I have burned in my mind was when my mom, sister and I were at the Farmer’s Market and a [Latino] couple was in front of us, who didn’t understand English very well,” Brown said. “Then an older white man sitting next to the counter who was listening became infuriated because they were taking too long. He then called them racist names and told them to learn English.” 

At that time, Brown’s sister was five years old and she was 12 . Brown said after the man was finished with his tirade, he looked down on her and her sister with so much hate that she could feel it. 

Brown said her mother used to always experience that same hate when Brown was a toddler because Brown’s mother is white. People would give them dirty looks and talk badly about them because it was rare to see a black child with a white parent. 

“Racism is something that I will never be able to understand,” Brown said. “Hate is not good for the heart and with a world as diverse as ours, it blows my mind that some people really look at a large percentage of our population as less than and have hate for us.” 

Developing Student Athletes for Social Justice

Brown said she has always wanted to voice her opinions and start making change but didn’t know how to get started. After building up the courage to start the group, her coach gave her ideas on how to show student athletes that there are changes they can make. Her coach also showed her the steps forward student athletes could take in the world of social justice. Brown said she knows she isn’t the only person who wants to be able to express how they feel on social justice issues on and off campus. 

Women’s Basketball Head coach Randi Richardson-Thornley said Brown has been passionate about social justice and wanted to take action. Richardson-Thornley said her and Brown thought forming a group would be the best idea instead of just posting awareness on social media.

“Posting on social media spreads awareness but we wanted to create a group where student athletes see face to face and are talking and having these conversations,” Richardson-Thornley said. “I just can’t wait to shut up, sit back, listen and learn. There’s so many student athletes that have so much to say.”

Richardson-Thornley said forming this group also gives a good platform for students to speak up on their experiences and express any of their thoughts on discrimmination, racial profiling and systemic racisim. She said it’s a great opportunity for student athletes to use this platform and it’s also great for them to have a group of support. 

“If I were to have a group like this when I was in college, I believe we would be far more educated on the subject and be more aware of our misunderstandings,” Richardson-Thornley said. “The horrific events that are taking place are not new, it’s been going on, it’s now just being brought to light. My hopes and prayers are that ten years down the road we will be in a better place for everyone.” 

Assistant Football coach AJ Cooper said when he found out that this group was starting he couldn’t be more proud of Brown for invoking change at such a young age. He said it’s inspirational for her to do this as a young black woman. 

“I never had anything like this when I was in school,” Cooper said. “It feels good to know that we have some leaders in the athletic department. Our students are showing that they are more than athletes.” 

Cooper made it clear that it’s important for young adults to use their platform and continue to build on their foundation. He said being a part of something, especially a group like this, is what’s going to make a difference and if not, it’s a step in the right direction. 

“My main focus is to just be an ally, and an additional voice to help [student athletes] be heard,” Cooper said. “Because I’m in meetings with the bosses who make decisions, and I’m in there to make sure students are heard.” 

Cooper believes it’s important to understand the different levels of diversity. He said there’s surface-level diversity, and that’s just the things you see like the color of people’s skin. Then there’s deep-level diversity like culture, what you eat and what you can learn from someone’s upbringing. 

“The biggest thing that I want people to understand is that, if we don’t value our student athletes as human beings then we’re doing the wrong thing,” Cooper said. 

As time progresses, Student Athletes for Social Justice will grow on a bigger scale. As of right now, Brown said the people who are involved in her group are still to be determined. Brown also said that a lot of student athletes, advisors and coaches are excited about the opportunity to be involved.