GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — On the field, they’re hailed as heroes. Now University of Michigan’s top athletes are using their platform to make universal change.
Leading the charge in their fight for racial equality is East Kentwood High School graduate and U of M student-athlete Briana Nelson.
Nelson, a thrower on the university’s track and field team, recently founded the student organization Wolverines Against Racism (WAR).
Nelson sees activism as an important part of being a well-rounded student-athlete.
“To really have the opportunity to do something bigger,” she said.
Nelson’s idea for the group was partially inspired by the Big Ten Conference’s Anti-Hate and Anti-Racism Coalition.
The coalition was created following the death of George Floyd, and consists of student, coaches and other representatives from each of the league’s institutions.
Nelson, one of U of M’s student-athlete representatives, sees WAR as a way to carry out the coalition’s mission at the university level.
“Make it an ongoing, consistent effort to engage with the community and to come together as Wolverines to really make a difference and be able to combat social injustice,” Nelson said.’
Engaging in conversations over Zoom calls throughout the summer, Nelson said the group gives athletes a safe space to talk about the struggles they face.
“Going to a predominately-white institution can be difficult sometimes as a Black student, (and) as a Black athlete,” Nelson said. “Sometimes as Black athletes, they think that we’re only there for our sport and that Michigan, being an elite institution, some people really don’t believe that as a Black athlete, I’m there because I got good grades in high school too. So, things like that, the discrimination, it can be really difficult to face sometimes.”
To Nelson, breaking down these barriers will require a team effort.
“Finding that community and really joining forces with our other fellow athletes and even our allies… people that are supportive of who we are and who love us for who we are,” she said. “I think that’s more important than anything.”
As she believes the work put in today will pave the way for a brighter future.
“At the end of the day, it’s bigger than sports,” Nelson said. “It’s bigger than just the athletic community, this is a nationwide issue.”