January 23, 2020

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Minnesota ‘Teacher of the Year’ kneels during college football championship

Minnesota’s top teacher said her students were on her mind when she decided to kneel during the national anthem while being honored at Monday night’s college football championship game. 

The state’s 2019 “Teacher of the Year” Kelly Holstine took a knee while being recognized on the Louisiana State University field along with the other honored teachers.

“I just decided that it felt like the right thing to do, to have a very respectful protest,” Holstine told The Hill. “It’s really Martin Luther King Jr. says it best: ‘Nobody’s free until we’re all free.’” 

Holstine had protested earlier this year  the White House ceremony recognizing the ‘Teacher of the Year’ honorees in April. Jessica Dueñas, the Kentucky honoree, also skipped the ceremony with Trump. 

Trump’s presidency has only made Holstine more apt to stand up for communities she said are oppressed under the administration. 

Honored as State Teachers of the Year at NCAA Champ FB Game. Given platform to stand up for marginalized and oppressed people. Like many before, I respectfully kneeled during Nat’l Anthem because, “No one is free until we are all free” (MLK). #imwithkap #blacklivesmatter #LGBTQ pic.twitter.com/DimP3pBtBn

“I think that the current environment that is being created and has been created in his tenure definitely adds to my feelings of wanting to support individuals who are not being supported,” she said. “I really feel like our country is not serving the needs of all its inhabitants … so many humans right now that are not being given the respect and the rights that they deserve.”

The educator said she found out that Trump would be on the field with the teachers ahead of her decision to kneel. She said the honorees were told they could place their hand on their heart, as is traditionally done, or not during the national anthem. 

The guidance made Holstine start to consider if standing without placing her hand on her heart “was enough” to support the people she wanted to support. After consulting with other educators and her wife, Holstine said she decided to kneel. 

Holstine said not everyone around realized her silent protest was happening, and those that did were “very supportive.” She stressed that there are many approaches and strategies people take to “step up for others,” and respects the choices the educators standing beside her made during the game. 

While she was kneeling on the field, Holstine said she was thinking about the students and other youth she’s worked with for 25 years. 

“Not everybody is given the opportunity to have a voice, and I can take a small moment, a respectful moment of protest, and exercise my First Amendment rights, and stand up for my students and for vulnerable adults and for people who are not treated in the way that they should be,” she said. “It feels like my responsibility to do that.” 

Holstine previously worked at an alternative high school in Minnesota that she helped design and open. She is now the director of educational equity for Out Font Minnesota, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, and released a Ted Talk last Friday discussing why she feels educators should be advocates.