It was the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s famous, "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C., to highlight the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
But T.J. Wisham, one of the group's leaders, said Friday's student-athlete march on the streets of Lafayette was more about how painfully applicable the message of that speech still is today more than the date itself.
A rally spurred by the police shooting of 31-year-old Trayford Pellerin Saturday turned into several days of protests around Lafayette, with d…
UL’s football team, along with assorted members of other athletic teams, marched from the school’s athletic complex down Cajundome Boulevard to Johnston Street and then to the Lafayette City Police station on the corner of University and Pinhook with signs promoting racial equality for Black people in America.
The purpose of the student-driven march was simple in the minds of the players who helped organize it.
“We want everyone to be treated the same when it comes to police officers,” said Wisham, who is a redshirt junior from Episcopal High in Baton Rouge and a transfer from Army. “That means when it comes to our daily lives, that means when it comes to the courtrooms and the district attorneys and the sentences they give everyone."
Wisham said he can’t wait for the day such marches are no longer necessary.
“We don’t want to have this conversation,” he stressed. “We don’t want this to be an ongoing conversation when we have our kids. It’s been a conversation for too long.
“Fifty-seven years ago today, Martin Luther King walked and spoke. That’s 57 years ago and now we’re walking and speaking on the same things. It’s time that changes.”
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Redshirt junior Caleb Glenn — a Teurlings Catholic product and son of former UL standout safety Clarence Glenn — said Friday’s march was about getting that message to as many people as possible.
“That’s why we walked so far of a distance,” said Glenn, who said organizers first wanted the march to be peaceful and follow all the rules. “We want everybody in Lafayette to see us and that’s why we’ve hit on Johnston Street and University. We want them to see our message and for them to understand it.”
Glenn said when the discussion began to circulate around the team, he volunteered to help organize the statements to be made by the Ragin’ Cajuns as a football team.
“This means than the world to me,” Glenn said. “Sports is a great community in itself and a big family here at UL specifically. It’s not just Black people out here. Our White brothers are joining us too. It’s more than just Black and White. It’s bigger than that.”
Glenn also relished UL’s coaching staff walking with the players.
Mayor-President Josh Guillory on Monday attempted a do-over of his response to the Lafayette Police killing of 31-year-old Trayford Pellerin, …
“It was player-led totally, but for them (coaches) to stop what they’re doing — a normal day of practice and meetings — and come out here and join us, that means a lot,” Glenn said. “That shows that they’ve got our back no matter what.”
Other UL administrators also joined in the march. UL senior communications representative Eric Maron said the police department only asked that the athletes not block the flow of traffic and several city police units aided in achieving that objective without being asked.
“It’s good the students get involved,” Maron said. “There’s more to them than just being student-athletes.”
UL head football coach Billy Napier said his day began by mentioning King’s speech in his daily devotional after watching the speech in its entirety for the first time.
“This is about creating awareness,” Napier said. “It’s about sports being the ultimate unifier. I think you’re seeing that around our country in professional sports and college sports. I think some of the things we experience in athletics affect who we are and make us have a stronger opinion on these things.
“Certainly, I know that’s made a difference in my life.”
Napier said more tough conversations about race issues in this country need to take place.
One of the primary organizers behind the Lafayette protests over Trayford Pellerin's death at the hands of police has become the target of vio…
“It’s one thing to be aware and have knowledge of a situation, but it’s another to sit down and have legitimate conversations with people that you know where anything goes - they can say anything and you can say anything,” Napier said. “That’s what’s been eye-opening. I would encourage all people to do that. Make a conscious effort to have a conversation with somebody that’s a little bit different than you. You’d be surprised what you hear.”
The nationwide issue came to Lafayette this past week with the shooting death of Trayford Pellerin by police officers.
Wisham said that could have been him.
“Right now, this hits home because less than a week ago we saw a tragedy happen with Trayford Pellerin and his life being lost,” Wisham said. “So this hits home. This hits home for me because I’ve been racially profiled. I’ve looked down the barrel of an officer’s weapon and I thank God that she didn’t pull the trigger.
“This hits home for so many African-Americans in our world, because this is the reality that we have to face.”