ELHS Freshman Explains “Why I Sit” During National Anthem, Spurring City-Wide Discussion on Racism

Wednesday, January 17, 2018, 7:56 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Above: ELHS freshman Alex Hosey, courtesy of Samuel Hosey.

East Lansing’s City Council is considering passing a resolution formally apologizing for the City’s history of racist housing discrimination, a resolution that may also be endorsed by the East Lansing Public Schools Board of Trustees.

This action is in response to an essay, “Why I Sit,” penned by East Lansing High School Freshman Alex Hosey. Alex wrote the essay not for a class, but specifically to explain to his ELHS basketball coach his decision to sit-out the National Anthem in protest.

Alex Hosey comes from a family with a lot of experience of what it’s like to be African-American in East Lansing. In the mid-1960s, Alex’s grandfather Samuel Hosey, Sr., Ingham County’s first black pharmacist, and grandmother Helen Hosey, an elementary school teacher, wanted to buy a house in East Lansing. They wanted their children to attend East Lansing schools.

But as has been well documented by Bill Castanier, African-Americans at the time were actively barred from home ownership in our city in a practice known as redlining. Only after the federal Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968 did East Lansing’s City Council finally pass a law prohibiting housing discrimination on the basis of race.

As it turns out, Samuel and Helen Hosey did end up moving to East Lansing, and, as a consequence, Alex’s father Samuel Hosey, Jr., grew up here and has raised his children here. Alex is now on both the football team and the basketball team at the high school, and he decided during the basketball season to start sitting out the National Anthem, reflecting the national protest among athletes to highlight police brutality and racial inequality.

Alex tells ELi that his coach “was okay with it, but he wanted to understand why.” So, Alex wrote his essay, “Why I Sit,” for his coach. He says his parents encouraged him to write the essay, so that his reasons could be shared with others, too.

In the essay, which the Hoseys have provided for publication at ELi's request, Alex explains that generations of racism have resulted in large economic inequities between white and black families. He writes of ongoing racism, including in the form of the failure to teach the history of local and national racism.

“I love the freedoms that we have in this country,” Alex writes. But, he says, “my specific protest is [meant] to bring to light the injustices of the past and to have them discussed, recognized, and learned about.”

Alex Hosey asks, in his essay, for two specific things:

  1. for the East Lansing School District to teach the history and effects of national and local racist housing discrimination;
  2. for the Mayor “to issue a public acknowledgement and apology to blacks and other people of color for the city’s role in redlining, mistreatment and discrimination. The city of East Lansing, its police department and the local realtors directly caused black people not to have access to the resources (money, property and education) that their white counterparts had.”

What did he expect in response? Alex told me last night, “I thought there would be a backlash, honestly.”

He expected this particularly after the backlash against four football players at Lansing Catholic High School who started kneeling during the National Anthem. Those students are calling themselves “LCHS 4” and are also calling for specific actions in terms of educational and systemic reform in their school.

So far, Alex has received a positive response from Dori Lekyo, Superintendent of ELPS, and from Mayor Mark Meadows.

Meadows met with the family last week. Says Samuel Hosey, Alex’s father, “It was a very productive meeting. Everyone has embraced this entire issue, the essay, what [Alex] was asking in it. It’s been positive. It’s been a pleasant surprise.”

Samuel and Alex were both at Council last night. Meadows said that Councilmember Shanna Draheim had brought the matter to his attention. Meadows said he wants to “use this as an educational opportunity” and to convene community-wide conversations in March or April. He said it was important not only to acknowledge wrongs of the past but also “to discuss if there is bias or discrimination here now and how we can work to eliminate it.”

Draheim said she “learned a lot just in reading this essay” and in reading Castanier’s history. She said it was “easy to think we are in East Lansing and that’s not [happening] here and we’re above that, but that isn’t true. There are lots of issues with race in our community.”

Superintendent Leyko told Council that she and Principal Andy Wells had been scheduled to meet with Alex's coach and the ELPS athletic director last Friday. She tells ELi this was "so that Mr. Wells [the school Principal] and I could gain a better understanding of the events that precipitated this letter." But the snow day meant all school activities were cancelled. She and Wells plan to meet with them soon, and she says she expects the Board of Trustees will be very supportive of a community discussion, an examination of the school’s curriculum, and a resolution recognizing the history of discrimination in East Lansing.

“Whether [Alex] continues to choose to sit or to stand is completely up to him,” Leyko told Council. She said she sees that decision as his right. “We choose to take this letter as an opportunity to have conversations with our curriculum leaders and teachers and our students, to bring more awareness to our curriculum.”

Kate Powers, President of the School Board, was present at Council and indicated support for Leyko’s statement.

Councilmember Aaron Stephens also indicated strong support for the anticipated follow-up. He said that while he enjoyed the privileges of being a straight, cisgendered man, he had some experience with racial discrimination and that his mother, when she came to this country, had also experienced discrimination. He called the actions of Alex Hosey “brave and important.”

Mayor Pro Tem Erik Altmann did not comment on this item on the agenda, and Councilmember Ruth Beier was absent.

 

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Update, January 17, 6:50 p.m.: We corrected the spelling of Superintendent Leyko's first name and corrected the people who had been scheduled to meet with her last Friday. (We had previously reported the family was going to meet with her.)