North Texas Daily

Abii goes beyond athletics to push for justice in her community

Abii goes beyond athletics to push for justice in her community

Volleyball players Chelsea Abii, Amanda Chamberlain, Mikali Myers, Alexis Wright, and Jordyn Williams kneel during the national anthem Sept. 25.

Abii goes beyond athletics to push for justice in her community
March 22
19:32 2018

With arms locked on a Tuesday night in Wooten Hall, a group of more than 30 students begin to shout.

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win.”

As they continue to quote the words of Assata Shakur’s poem “To My People,” the sounds of their voices start to rise and passion exudes from their lips.

Moments like this are what senior criminal justice major, Chelsea Abii had in mind when she joined UNT’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter. That feeling of being surrounded by a cohesive unit is a welcoming feeling for her after what she dealt with during last year as a member of the North Texas volleyball team.

As issues of police brutality started to mount during the 2016 volleyball season, Abii and other teammates of color felt compelled to speak out against the injustice by joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in his protest. On Sept. 23 at home versus the University of Southern Mississippi, they decided to take a knee during the national anthem. Then volleyball players, Amanda Chamberlain along with Abii organized the protest.

“I was nervous,” Chamberlain said. “I mean it’s a protest. I knew the backlash it would have on the team if they didn’t decide to join me in it. I knew what I was getting into, but I was still confident that this was going to bring this conversation ahead, and we were going to talk about it. I’m not just going to let you sweep it under the rug or pass over it on Twitter. Like, we’re going to talk about it.”

While things appeared to be calm on the surface, tensions rose among teammates and coaches behind the scenes,

Some players and coaches asked Abii and those taking a knee if the team wearing a shirt against police brutality in warmups would be a good compromise so they could move forward and focus on volleyball.

They declined.

Abii and company wanted to show their protest to the Denton area and make a statement on what was important to them.

“We always see the support behind these players when they wear all pink and pink jerseys for breast cancer awareness, and that’s amazing,” Abii said. “When the black athletes decided to do something, where is the support? Where is the celebration behind us?”

As head coach Andrew Palileo aimed to build the North Texas volleyball team, one of his points of emphasis was forming a sisterhood. At times, though, that relationship did not appear to exist to Abii or Chamberlain. They started to feel ostracized for standing up for what they believe in.

In an effort to find common ground, they arranged several team meetings where players had the chance to express their feelings.

The hope was that these meeting would allow them to put their feelings aside for the sake of the team and learn to respect other opinions. Ultimately, those meeting made Abii and Chamberlain realize how hard it is for people of different backgrounds to relate to their experiences.

Chamberlain took a knee and fully supported Abii’s cause, but she admits it changed the team once they did.

“I’m usually friendly with everyone but I felt like people were kind of hesitant around me because of my decision to [take a knee],” Chamberlain said. “They’re all wondering why I chose to do it, and I had to keep explaining to them why. But, I think the chemistry around the whole thing kind of just felt off a little. Definitely off the court, you could feel people clicking up and going with their groups and not being in with each other.”

The team’s record suffered as they finished the year 13-19 overall.

As the season wound down, Abii felt as if those who protested were being tolerated for the sake of their athletic abilities. With her teammates’ unwillingness to try to understand her position and the constant attempts to stop them from protesting, Abii began to question her future with the North Texas volleyball team.

Walking away from volleyball meant giving up her scholarship and forced her to pay for college out of pocket. It was a risk she wanted to take if it meant she could use her platform at her own leisure instead of being told how she should protest.

During spring 2017, Abii announced that she no longer would be a part of the volleyball team moving forward. After watching videos of African Americans becoming victimized at the hands of law enforcement agents, she knew it was time for her voice to be heard beyond just the silent protest of taking a knee during the anthem.

“You really have to assess what you’re willing to lose and be real with yourself and understand that there are things you could lose,” Abii said. “You could lose your scholarship, you could lose some friends, but I didn’t feel [free] until I did that, until I spoke up about the things I was thinking in my head.”

She said it was a liberating feeling knowing she no longer had to filter her message for the sake of appeasing members of the volleyball team. Despite the uncertainty moving forward, she said her faith in God assured her that everything would work out for her.

Now that she is no longer a student athlete, she is far more involved with the NAACP and was named the president of the organization at UNT in the fall of 2017.

When Chamberlain thought of doing the anthem protest, there was no doubt in her mind that she would have the support of Abii. Even though it was hard to watch her leave, she knew that it was for the best.

“When she [left] I understood and I was very happy for her,” Chamberlain said. “I knew she wasn’t happy on the court.”

Throughout Abii’s tenure as president, the NAACP has looked to educate the student body about their rights as citizens. They also spark various conversations about minority representation on campus and address any pressing issue impacting the African American community.

As a member of the executive board, senior journalism student Kaleen Washington spent countless hours working with Abii. Just like Chamberlain, they became bonded by their love for NAACP and standing up to injustice.

“She’s very genuine and really cares for the organization and wants to see everybody in the organization do well,” Washington said. “It’s not for bragging rights. It’s because she genuinely wants to make a difference [on] campus.”

With her volleyball career behind her, Abii is concentrated on creating change. Everyone learned from her experience on the volleyball team and the protest accomplished exactly what she wanted it to. It made people uncomfortable. And slowly, she sees the change coming.

“I had a former teammate, who’s also not on the team anymore for other reasons, reach out to me,” Abii said. “[She said] ‘Hey, I didn’t understand when you were talking about it then, but you’ve opened my eyes to so much and thank you for that. If you hadn’t done it no one else would have.’ I think that it probably one of the biggest successes I’ve seen from it.”

Featured image: Volleyball players Chelsea Abii, Amanda Chamberlain, Mikali Myers, Alexis Wright, and Jordyn Williams kneel during the national anthem Sept. 25, 2016.

About Author

Jordan James

Jordan James

Sports writer covering Mean Green Sports and more

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