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Five student-athletes take lead in forming group for Texas A&M’s Black students

Five student-athletes take lead in forming group for Texas A&M’s Black students

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A&M Unity Walk

Texas A&M students Keeath Magee II, from left, Jean Jenkins and Karlina Sample lead a student-athlete-led walk near Kyle Field in College Station on Thursday, June 11, 2020.

For some time, Texas A&M soccer player Karlina Sample has had something to say. That message, out of fear and a sense of isolation, had always stayed lodged in her throat. 

Being a minority on a campus that is predominantly white, while also being a student-athlete, can create that sense of isolation, which is why Sample, along with other Black student-athletes, created The B.L.U.E. print organization.

The blue in B.L.U.E print stands for Black Leaders who Undertake Excellence, and is an organization that will provide leadership opportunities and a community for Black student-athletes, while also giving them the ability to do what Sample could not for so long — feel empowered to use their voice. 

“Right now, student-athletes are realizing how much more power that they have and that we hold more power than we thought we did,” Sample said. “That is just something that I’ve learned in the creation of The B.L.U.E print and the start of B.L.U.E. print is that we are powerful, more powerful than anything. It’s just finding a way how to use that power for the right things.”

Sample first had the idea to start a group for Black female student-athletes, after attending a January 2020 conference on mental health and Black athletics in which she heard from athletes from Ohio State who started something similar. After the death of George Floyd, who died while under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis, Sample realized both genders of Black student-athletes need a place to help enact change in the campus community. 

Forming a partnership with A&M track & field distance runner Jean Jenkins, who hoped to attend the conference, but was unable, the pair begin to lay the framework for the organization. Along the way, women’s basketball standout Ciera Johnson, football defensive back Keldrick Carper and football wide receiver Chase Lane joined. 

This core group, plus a few additional A&M student-athletes had their first organizational success in organizing a Unity March that began at the 12th Man statue next to Kyle Field and progressed around the Simpson Drill Field back to the origin point. Several hundred individuals came out to support the peaceful demonstration, aimed at highlighting racial injustices on campus and around the country, including athletic director Ross Bjork, head football coach Jimbo Fisher and many other administrators and coaches.

“Just having their support at the Unity March made me more excited for when we would eventually present The B.L.U.E. print to them and just kind of put them on the right foot and in our heads of what we think about,” Sample said.

From the first week of classes in spring semester, the core group, which now serves as officers in the organization, created multiple drafts of proposals for the group, including meetings, speakers and a budget. In all, the formation took approximately eight months, Sample said.

Sample will serve as the president, alongside Johnson, the vice president. Carper will take on a community relations role, while Jenkins serves as social media coordinator and Chase Lane takes on treasury responsibilities.

The B.L.U.E. print will meet as a group on the second Tuesday of every month to provide a place of community for Black student-athletes. Speakers on different subjects, such as Black history and mental health will be provided to give new perspectives to those in attendance. Many of the meetings will be open to both Black student-athletes and allies of other ethnicities, but some will be focused on having impactful dialog within the Black student-athlete community, the leaders said.

“The way we are choosing to carry out and go about it is definitely about unity and about bringing people together,” Jenkins said. “The B.L.U.E. print was not made specifically and only to exclude every other student-athlete and just for Black people. It’s about everybody and the empowerment of black student-athletes and letting them know their voices as well.”

Along with the student-athletes in charge of The B.L.U.E. print, A&M quarterback Kellen Mond and former head coach R.C. Slocum were named to President Michael K. Young’s commission for diversity, equity and inclusion, which will look into racial intolerance, historical representations, policy and practices at A&M. Through the summer Mond has been outspoken on issues of racial injustice on his social media platforms and helped lead a march for the removal of the Lawrence Sullivan Ross statue on A&M’s campus. 

On many of Mond’s posts, including one that announced his participation in the commission, many have spoken against the need for the committee and questioned the reasoning for Mond’s inclusion. 

“We definitely expected some negativity with the drop of The B.L.U.E print, but we’re so focused on the future and the plans that we have for The B.L.U.E. print that we’re not even worried about that,” Sample said. “We’re not going to let them try and stop us, because we have so many positive and supportive people backing us up. We would be foolish to let a couple of ignorant people get in our way.”

The organization has the full support of Bjork, as well as deputy athletics director Kristen Brown, who organizes the student-athlete experience. 

“In early June of this year, Texas A&M athletics organized the Unify Aggies petition with three stated commitments:  Educate, engage, and help Texas A&M get better,” Bjork said in a statement. “The B.L.U.E.print club will set the standard for these commitments, and the pillars of success they have established will allow our student-athletes to reach their full potential as Aggies.”

And, part of that potential is having the confidence to use your voice, the leadership group said.

“I’ve never felt like other people would understand where I’m coming from,” Johnson said. “So, when Karlina brought this to me, and after the George Floyd incident, I just saw a lot more people that I didn’t expect or know step up and talk about things. I was like, ‘Ok, well, hey, I have a platform now. Let me utilize it.”

While the overwhelming response to the group, which has a handle on Twitter, has been positive, there has been some deserting and critical voices, which only further enforces why The B.L.U.E. print is vital, Sample said.

“I think that just speaks for itself and why we need a club like this,” she said. “To show how racism is still relevant and how these topics that we need to talk about, need to be talked about. People still need to be educated on what it’s like to be Black in America, what it’s like to be a Black athlete in America and what it’s like to be a Black athlete at a [predominantly white institution.]”

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