The corner of Washington Street and Court Street was louder than usual Wednesday, thanks to the Bobcats Lead Change protest at the Athens Courthouse.
The 15 or so student-athletes protested with signs reading “Honk for Black Lives Matter” and “Honk to end racial injustice.” Their requests were met with mostly positive reactions as drivers laid on their horns and pedestrians shouted “honk, honk!”
Bobcats Lead Change is a student-led organization that seeks to give Ohio student-athletes a voice to express their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“A lot of athletes feel really suppressed out here. You feel as if you’re only used for what you can bring,” football player Julian Ross said. “So to be able to stand up for yourself and who you are and what you really identify with is something special.”
The organization was created with the support and help of the Women’s Basketball Director of Basketball Operations, Tia Jameson. Jameson started the group with 10 student-athletes, and it has expanded with time.
“The day that George Floyd was murdered, there was a call to action on my heart,” Jameson said. “I said we have to get in front of these student-athletes.”
Jameson wanted to make sure that student-athletes who were away from home and out of their comfort zone would have an outlet to be active or just talk. She enlisted the help of Athletic Director Julie Cromer to form the initial group.
The support from Cromer and the rest of the athletic department has made a huge impact on the student-athletes — like Kaylee Bambule of the women’s basketball team.
“Julie has been the best part of this,” Bambule said. “I think she has been the best AD in the MAC (Mid-American Conference) when it comes to just making sure her athletes are heard.”
Bobcats Lead Change has already seen a positive effect from its protests.
Lee Pratt was driving up Court Street when he saw the signs. Pratt found a parking spot shortly thereafter and joined the protests with a Black Lives Matter sign provided to him.
“The things that are going on in this country are uncalled for,” Pratt said. “That starts at the top, and I guess it’s going to be us from the bottom to make the change.”
Another interaction ended with a change in heart.
At the beginning of the protest, a man shook his head in disagreement at the signs being displayed. Jameson made a point to go have a conversation with him. After 30 minutes of discourse, the man got back into his car and honked in solidarity with the protesters.
“That’s what I’m encouraging these young athletes and everyone here on campus to do, is have those uncomfortable conversations,” Jameson said. “Everyone has a different lens; everyone sees something differently.”
When students return to campus, Bobcats Lead Change will seek to integrate more students from all programs. The goal is to make a campus-wide push against the racial and systemic injustice in the world.
“It was one of our student-athletes (who) said that we’re going to become a brand, and this is worldwide,” Jameson said. “We don’t want to just pigeonhole ourselves to athletics. We want this to be open to any and everyone on campus.”
Bobcats Lead Change doesn’t want to stop with the Black Lives Matter movement, though, Bambule said.
“Right now, it’s about Black Lives Matter, but we’re not going to stop there,” Bambule said. “We’re going to make sure that we continue on that message and we continue on other messages of people that need to be heard.”