Lansing City Council is presenting a resolution to recognize and thank the Lansing Catholic football players who knelt during the national anthem, and other peaceful protesters for racial justice in Lansing's Catholic schools.
Tashmica Torok is the mother of a student who decided to kneel during the pledge of allegiance at school. He attends the private, Catholic elementary and middle school Immaculate Heart of Mary- St. Casimir, in Lansing.
"He’s like, 'yeah, we decided to start kneeling, it’s about police brutality and racism.' And I said 'OK well here’s my rule: you are allowed to do that as long as you can always tell people why, and you can say it clearly and honestly. Then I’m good with that.'"
The school principal told Torok they had decided all students would stand during the pledge, and then kneel to pray for all injustice.
"And I said Isaac isn’t really concerned about all injustice, he’s really frightened and concerned with police brutality and racism. She kept reiterating that we need to pray, and I said you know there’s this African proverb, 'pray but move your feet.' And Isaac is really trying to move his feet right now.
Torok’s son and the other students at Immaculate Heart kneeling during the pledge took place in the wake of four Lansing Catholic High School football players kneeling during the national anthem. They’ve since been referred to as the LCHS 4. Michael Lynn Jr. is the father of one of these four, and he says his son, Michael Lynn III, came to him and said he wanted to kneel during the anthem.
"It was an accumulation of his own stresses that he’s been going through and his own silenced voice and his own oppression. Plus, what he’s seen in the world. He realized 'I can speak for the people who can’t. So I'm gonna take this knee and start the question so people ask me what is it I'm doing this for, and I can have my voice on a national or a local stage.'"
The punishment for kneeling during the anthem ended up being that the four players, who were starting players, weren’t allowed to start that game. Lynn Jr. says his son ultimately left the school because of his experiences with racism that went unaddressed.
"No kid wants to tell on anybody, so the boys weren’t really telling us all the racist stuff they were dealing with. And when they were telling us we were bringing it to the administration and they weren’t doing anything about it. So, this all was a cumulative factor in us eventually deciding to transfer out."
Torok says rather than have a dialogue with her family about the issue, as she had hoped and asked for, Immaculate Heart came up with a policy to address the students who knelt during the pledge.
"It said that if your child kneels, they’ll have to be sent home from school. Then they'll be sent home on the second occurrence for a week, and then on the third occurrence we’ll assume the family no longer wants to be a part of the parish. They're actually threatening us as families, and saying, 'we're assuming that if your child doesn't do this that you no longer want to be part of this community.' And that is absolutely not what we’re saying. We love this community, we want to stay in this community. But we want our community to recognize the struggles that our son, as a young black man, is going to experience in his life. And when he protests those things or tries to bring awareness to those things, we want his educators to be able to recognize those things with empathy and support him."
Torok is also deeply disappointed in the school’s response because her family has been part of Lansing diocese community for four generations.
"We always tell our children to feed the hungry, and clothe the naked, and help the sick. That’s political! That’s what we want them to vote for when they get older. So, I don’t want my church to have a conflict of message as my child is developing the very social justice skills that they are actually encouraging him to have."
WKAR reached out to Lansing Catholic High School and Immaculate Heart of Mary- St. Casimir for comment, and did not hear back by news time Monday.
The ceremony to honor the LCHS 4 and the students of Immaculate Heart who peacefully protested will be tonight at 7pm on the tenth floor of City Hall.