NORMAL — Close to 100 people gathered at the flagpole on the Illinois State University quad on Friday afternoon in a protest against racial injustice.

Those gathered, mostly black students, dropped to one knee as a recording of the national anthem was played.

Khyla Breland, media chair for the campus chapter of the NAACP, which organized the event, said the original meaning of former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick “taking a knee” during the anthem has been lost in the uproar about the NFL, NBA and President Donald Trump.

“This isn't about Trump,” said Breland, a junior in political science from Chicago. “It's about racial injustice and police brutality. It's about the messed-up court system. It's about the jail system.”

Sophomore Kendall Jordan of Chicago said he came to the event “to support my people.”

“We've got to stay strong,” said Jordan, a finance major.

Senior Jason Hale, president of the NAACP at ISU, said it's important for students to speak out on issues and “just not live under a rock.”

Problems exist at ISU, too, he said. These include microaggressions and mild racism and insensitive comments by faculty, according to Hale, a political science major from Oak Park.

Although these issues have been brought up repeatedly, Hale said, “I've been at this school for three years and not a lot has happened, in my opinion.”

Among things students have asked for is a multicultural center and more faculty of color.

“This school is very hypocritical,” said Hale, noting that university includes diversity as “one of its five main pillars, but doesn't have a multicultural center” that would help people of color “feel more welcome here.”

Tashawnna Johnson, a sophomore in criminal justice from Chicago, said many black students come from schools where they are the majority and “it's kind of difficult to come here and feel we don't really matter.”

LaCrisha McAllister, a graduate student in social work from Chicago, led those gathered in a call and response, stating, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

The protest at ISU followed one a week ago in which a group of students at Normal Community High School also chose to bend their knees in protest during recent homecoming celebrations at school.

Students that led the NCHS movement are Sara Nur-Awaleh and Liliana Wang, both seniors from Bloomington and members of the NCHS Peace and Justice Committee and Social Studies Club.

Around 45 students chose to kneel during the national anthem performance last week during an assembly at the school.

“This year alone we have seen a significant amount of racial injustices occur, particularly regarding police brutality cases. We refuse to accept that this is the nation we live in,” said Nur-Awaleh. “We hope that by protesting in such a bold manner will inspire other individuals, young and old, to also publicly denounce the oppression of African-Americans in our nation.”

More than 90 students also wore Black Lives Matter shirts for “America Monday” during NCHS homecoming week.

“By wearing the BLM shirts on America spirit day, we are showing that we want an America that protects the rights of all. That means highlighting those who have been targeted because of their race,” said Wang.

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter: @pg_sobota

Julia Evelsizer contributed to this report.

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