As the national anthem echoed across the Lansing Center at last week’s 35th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day luncheon, newly elected Lansing City Councilman Brandon Betz sat placidly in his chair and refused to stand.
He and his partner, Melina Brann, were among the only people that remained in their seats, he told City Pulse.
“Economic and social racism remains a present reality in our country, and even Lansing,” Betz explained. “Martin Luther King Jr. stood up to oppression through peaceful protest. On the day honoring him, I decided to show courage in my convictions. My partner and I decided a long time ago that we would sit or kneel in solidarity with activists all over this country to protest police brutality and oppression of people of color.”
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick garnered national attention for refusing to stand for the national anthem in 2016 over wrongdoings against African Americans and minorities in the United States.
Like Kaepernick, Betz and his partner refuse to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses people of color.
“This nation was built on the backs of black and brown people who were enslaved by our ancestors. They deserve solidarity,” Betz said, noting that systemic racism still persists. “I don’t think that I’m the right person to be a spokesperson for the black activist community. I am acting in solidarity with them, not on behalf of them.”
At a nearby table, Michael Lynn Jr., a firefighter and vocal advocate for racial equity who is suing the Lansing Fire Department for alleged racial discrimination, remained seated in his chair too. His son also made headlines for kneeling during the national anthem as a football player at Lansing Catholic High School back in 2017.
“It’s clear to me that if Dr. King was still alive, he would be organizing and leading the peaceful protest that Kaepernick initiated,” Lynn said. “Anyone who still believes that we are doing this to disrespect the military or our vets are practicing willful ignorance. There’s too much information out there to still believe that narrative.”
And it doesn’t appear Betz is alone in Lansing. The City Council honored Lynn’s son and three other football players who knelt during the anthem with a formal resolution in 2017. Representing then-Mayor Virg Bernero, Bishop David Maxwell said taking a knee was about “love for the nation,” just like a hand placed across the chest.
“As it pertains to the audience in attendance that did not stay seated, in my opinion, this activism isn’t for everyone,” Lynn added. “Some people work behind the scenes, some up front, and some are in fear of speaking out. I know personally the cost of speaking out, but I also know the cost of silence. I chose to fight.”