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Grambling president: Far Right hijacked Kaepernick’s protest message

Richard Joseph Gallot, Jr., president of Grambling State University. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The message behind Colin Kaepernick’s protests — now morphed into #TakeTheKnee — has been lost, hijacked by the Far Right to divide people, even though it had advocated “one America.”

That’s what the president of one of the country’s best-known historically black universities said in an interview this week with the Chicago Sun-Times.

“The Constitution absolutely protects our right to protest our government in a lawful way, and if you look back at how Colin Kaepernick’s protests started, it was a simple ‘take a knee’ to protest unarmed black citizens in this country being killed by white officers,” Grambling State University President Richard Gallot Jr. told the Sun-Times.

“I think his protest was justified. But somehow the narrative has shifted. It has now become that those who take a knee are disrespecting the flag, which is not what it was,” Gallot said. “I don’t know how the narrative shifted, but it has shifted in such a way that the Right is winning right now.”

In town to watch his football team — the 2016 national champs among historically-black schools — play Clark Atlanta University at the Chicago Football Classic, Gallot spoke to the recent controversy over the protests, fueled by President Donald Trump’s comments that will hang thick over the young African-American athletes Saturday.

San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Eli Harold (left), then-quarterback Colin Kaepernick and safety Eric Reid kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in October 2016. | Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP photo
In October 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback quarterback Colin Kaepernick,center) was joined by Eli Harold (left), then an outside linebacker, and safety Eric Reid in kneeling during the national anthem before a game against the Dallas Cowboys. | Associated Press

Speaking at an Alabama rally on Sept. 22, and in ensuing tweets, Trump had referred to the mostly African-American protesters in the NBA and NFL as “sons of bitches,” urging the leagues to fire those employees. It led to the Golden State Warriors being “disinvited” from the White House by Trump, and more than 200 NFL players kneeling during the anthem last weekend.

“If we are all created equal under the law and we all are afforded equal protection under the law, then we should all be treated fairly. That was the original narrative behind the protests. I’m sure there are data analytics that can better explain how the message shifted, but it has shifted, and with it public opinion,” Gallot said.

Unlike some presidents of historically black colleges who have been outspoken about recent conflicts between those schools and Trump over faltering White House support, Gallot said he never expected different from this president.

President Donald Trump is shown at a rally last week in Huntsville, Alabama, where he decried activist National Football League stars as “sons of bitches” who should be fired for kneeling or sitting during the national anthem. | Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Get
President Donald Trump is shown at a rally last week in Huntsville, Alabama, where he decried activist National Football League stars as “sons of bitches” who should be fired for kneeling or sitting during the national anthem. | Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

White House/HBCU relations have deteriorated since a controversial February Oval Office meeting between Trump and a host of HBCU presidents, where Trump promised support. A staged photo opp, which included Kellyanne Conway sitting cross-legged on a couch while checking her phone, went viral.

In May, however, Trump threatened to terminate some HBCU-designated federal funds, describing them as affirmative action. In August came Trump’s controversial comments on the white supremacists’ rally in Charlottesville, which led HBCU leaders to seek postponement of the annual White House/HBCU conference held last week. Trump refused. So only 29 of the 107 historically black colleges and universities in the United States attended. Gallot was one who stayed away.

“This year, I was just simply too busy to fit that into the schedule,” he said, adding that he doesn’t expend anger or disappointment on Trump’s actions.

“I think the worst thing we can do is get caught up in our feelings about this president. He’s going to be who he is, and if we forecast and plan based on what his Twitter feed is going to be tomorrow, it’s going to be a rough four years. I’m just not getting caught up in feeling some kind of way about this administration,” Gallot said.