Concordia kicked off its biggest athletic renovation project in nearly two decades with a ceremonial groundbreaking Friday, as several school officials took shovels to the football field that will be excavated next week to make room for a turf replacement.
“It's really great, and really exciting for us, to move forward in this direction and make some progress on the upgrades to our athletic complex,” said Mychal Thom, Concordia head of school. “We're anticipating, at some point during the week next week, having the vendors out and moving some dirt.”
Outside Zollner Stadium, about a dozen protesters, nearly all of them Concordia alumni who graduated between 2014 and 2019, held signs demanding changes beyond the planned athletic facility upgrades.
“We are the real groundbreakers,” read one sign, while others contained slogans including “Teach anti-racism” and “Black Lives Matter.”
The protesters objected to a video devotional posted June 8 to the school's Facebook page, in which the Rev. Chad Hoover addressed the killing of George Floyd, which he described as “the horrendous death of an innocent man at the hands of a police officer.”
Although Hoover acknowledged peaceful protesters who marched after Floyd's death, some viewers objected to the focus on those “using (protests) as an occasion to indulge the sinful flesh, and so they are engaging in rioting and looting and assaulting of others,” and the fact that the four-minute talk did not directly address racism.
Until Friday, the disputes over the devotional video had largely been confined to social media, and the protesters said they wanted to do something to show that this was more than an online controversy that would soon be forgotten.
“I thought it would be a good idea to have our voices actually heard and to be seen, instead of just commenting,” said 2016 graduate Todd Jackson II, who was on the football team. “You can say whatever you want to on your phone or on your tablet, but are you actually going to show up and say the same thing?”
Last week, Concordia released a statement that read, in part, “We ardently believe in the sanctity of Black lives and stand together with the Black community to stand up for what is right” and “do what we can to aid in efforts to end these senseless injustices.”
The video remains on the school Facebook page.
Thom said he did not interact with the protesters Friday outside of Zollner Stadium and did not have further comment beyond the school's original statement.
Abby Schwantz, a 2016 graduate, said her she took notice of the devotional not just because of the content itself, but because it was the first message from the school that responded to the Black Lives Matter movement since Floyd's death May 25.
“They love to boast about a Christ-centered education, plus a racially diverse student population,” Schwantz said, referencing the fact that 22.64% of the 710 high school students for the 2019-20 school year were racial minorities, according to the Concordia website. “But you can't just ignore part of your student population. That's your community. And if you're going to boast on them in athletics, academics, ROTC, you can't ignore them when it's a problem only they're facing. That has to become your problem, too.”
Jackson said that he does not consider Concordia, as a whole, to be racist or prejudiced. But he said he experienced racism at school functions and saw few consequences.
“It's mainly the people watching it, you face a lot more from the spectators,” Jackson said while describing racist language during football games, though he did say he once heard it from an opposing coach. “I feel like more initiative needs to be taken when it's reported.”
This summer, schools across the country, including Concordia, face the daunting task of figuring out how to keep students safe from the coronavirus when they return to school buildings in the fall. And to add to that challenge, Jackson said he hopes that Concordia will find more ways to protect students from racial abuse and support the Black members of the school community.
“They have yet to address the problem the video caused,” Jackson said. “They're going to have to take it down and issue an apology or something of that nature. Because as a Black alum, I'm not feeling supported.”