USM athletes exercise for “Athletes4BLM” movement

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"Black Lives Matter" sign held at the protest in Portland, ME on Friday, June 5. The protest was the largest in the state with over 2,000 participants. Cullen McIntyre/Web Editor

By: Cullen McIntyre, Web Editor

Current events in the world have resulted in protests across the globe. When George Flloyd died in police custody on May 25, 2020, protests rallying for change broke out and have yet to stop. A unique take on the call for change is a GoFundMe fundraiser titled “Collegiate Athletes For Black Lives Matter” reads “In the wake of George Floyd’s death, student athletes from multiple universities and institutions around the nation are walking, running, biking, and/or swimming 8.46 miles on Monday, June 8th to raise money for Black Lives Matter.”

The movement began on social media, calling for athletes to share their experiences of walking, running or biking the 8.46 miles in honor of George Floyd with the hashtag “#athletes4blm” and links to the GoFundMe page. The fundraiser, giving it’s money to the Black Lives Matter organization, has raised over $79,000 since it’s creation on June 2, 2020. According to the GoFundMe page, “Black Lives Matter was founded in 2013 after Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman, was found not-guilty… Today Black Lives Matter has chapters all over America as well as in Canada and the United Kingdom. They use donation money to create legislation, to spread the BLM message, on various legal expenses, and on research how to eliminate systematic racism.”

Athletes of the Huskies Volleyball program joined the movement Monday after head coach Diane Newell shared the fundraiser with the team. Third year exercise science major Sophia Slovenski was drawn to the fundraiser because of the team aspect “Athletes across the nation came together to run and raise money for Black Lives Matter, an organization dedicated to fighting for freedom, liberation and justice. My fellow USM teammates are the people that inspired and motivated me to get active, both physically and online where the donations, phone calls and emails count,” she said.

Slovenski was joined by her two younger sisters to complete the 8.46 miles. The distance is long, but represents the 8.46 minutes that Officer Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis Police Department held his knee on Floyd’s neck. Her, along with her two sisters, reflected on why they completed the run, “We talked about how we must educate ourselves on racial injustice and how we must acknowledge our white privilege so that we may use it for good by exposing biases, challenging racist remarks and helping to amplify black voices that may not yet be heard,” she said.

For her, the exercise represented more than justice for George Floyd, but for the many African-Americans that have died at the hands of white men in the past years. “Of course, my legs are tired, but that is nothing compared to the fatigue Black American’s feel fighting for their lives and voices everyday in this country,” she said. “As a white woman, I will never fully understand what it means to be a Black person in America, but I will stand and act in solidarity.”

Teammates Jamie Jannarone, senior environmental science major, and Lauren Delissio, senior nursing major, also participated in running the 8.46 miles. Jannarone described her experience as eye opening, “I have the privilege of not experiencing racism firsthand, and had a difficult time grasping the reality of systematic racism in America. I’ve felt that these past few weeks have allowed me to learn a lot and be a voice for those who have been silenced,” she said. “I felt that this cause to walk/run/bike 8.46 miles was a great way to show solidarity and encourage others to step out of their comfort zone and speak out.”

Jannarone chose to bike the 8.46 miles, as well as Delissio. The teammates each had unique experiences but found similar meaning to why they participated, “I feel grateful to be a part of such an amazing movement, but I also wish that I could do more. However, I do think student athletes have a huge voice in our college communities and I am proud that we are using it for the better,” said Delissio.

The fundraiser was one of many movements that have brought awareness to the Black Lives Matter movement. Since May 25, rallies across Maine have stood in solidarity with the movement and calls for reform. “Honestly, I’m angry and sad that in 2020 people are still being treated unjustly for the color of their skin. That being said, I’m proud of the positive change that recent protests and petitions have made and I am excited for the continual growth of this movement,” Slovenski said. “I look forward to the day when Black Lives Matter is not just a movement but the fundamental reality of America.”

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