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Southern head coach Dawson Odums speaks during National Signing Day festivities, Wednesday, February 5, 2020, at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La.

Southern football coach Dawson Odums released the following statement Monday on Twitter, his first public reaction to the death of George Floyd and subsequent protests and riots across the nation:

As an African-American son, a father of two daughters, a mentor to young African-American men, a friend of all in Louisiana and a leader at an institution that celebrates African-American heritage in the South, I have a duty to speak. As I have encouraged my players in the past, I have refrained from speaking until I have had the opportunity to contemplate and speak clearly.

George Floyd’s family is in pain. My words cannot capture it, and it is shared by many. Americans are, and should be, outraged when they see the justice promised by this Nation taken from any one of us. It is a senseless and unnecessary tragedy caused by those we expect and demand to protect us. Law enforcement is and should be held to a higher standard.

George Floyd’s murder strikes at one of the greatest fears of the African-American community — that the evils of racism are still with us today. Racism has divided us from the beginning. We have fought a Civil War to destroy the institution of slavery, endured segregation, marched for Civil Rights, and seen African-Americans reach the highest offices in our Nation. George Floyd’s murder shows the unspoken and invisible divide we all know and feel. We feel it when we go to a different neighborhood and see people change their personality in front of us. That feeling is the fear that our hearts will be disregarded and we will be judged only by what someone sees.

We cannot fix something we do not discuss. We also cannot fix something when we destroy each other through hate, violence, and rioting. I am asking you now to do what I have asked of my players and my staff — pray for our world, leaders, family, friends, protesters, officers, teammates, institution, wife-to-be and children-to-be. This problem is too big for any one person to handle, but through unity in purpose, we can find a brighter tomorrow. Engage one another out loud with love, respect, and hope for the future. Tell our leaders that senseless violence by law enforcement is not, and never will be, tolerated. Demand that wrongdoers be held accountable. Call out rioting for what it is, and celebrate activism through love and peace. Love one another as you would love yourself.

Heavenly Father, bless the soul of George Floyd, comfort his family in their pain, and allow us to hear your voice with hearts that are happy and not hardened.