By KERI SCAGGS, Contributing Writer
This past Saturday, the SEC found itself in the midst of another story involving athletes kneeling during the national anthem. While this was done expressly to counteract an event happening on the Ole Miss campus, it didn’t take long for it to be THE story.
There was a time I would’ve found this upsetting, feeling it was disrespectful. When the kneeling began, I found myself disturbed, thinking it to be a slap in the face of our nation. I grew up in a musical family in Boyd County, the daughter of a proud Marine (redundant, I know). A strong sense of patriotism was instilled in both me and my late sister. That has never left me, though the way I view it has changed dramatically.
Standing center court at Rupp Arena is pretty darn special, as anyone who bleeds blue knows. I got the privilege not once, but twice due to singing the national anthem. I never took it lightly, whether performing for the Cats, NBA, NHL, Boyd County High School or the Little League.
A few months into the NFL furor, I came across an interview with Seattle Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin. He spoke of all the poor behavior he’d seen in the stands during the anthem. It was as if a movie projector was turned on in my mind, and it began to play all that I’d witnessed, too.
When you’ve sung “The Star Spangled Banner” for over 500,000 people, you’ve seen and heard a lot. Folks leaving their hats on, yelling, laughing, goofing off — being anything but quiet or solemn. Before Baldwin’s take, I hadn’t even considered that part of my experience.
I moved to Los Angeles in the mid-nineties, which was an eye-opener to say the least. Going from a town of 23,000 to the second largest city in the U.S. was a perspective changer. I grew up in an area that was over 95 percent Caucasian, moving to the only state where whites are in the minority.
But before that, I’d begun traveling to Nashville to scratch the music itch. I’d become friends with the late great Jackie Street, one of the best musicians in town. While his musical prowess was second to none, it was his heart that captured just about everyone he met. I learned more about loving people by seeing how he treated others, no matter how inconvenient it might be. It took awhile, but I realized I referred to him as “my black friend Jackie” yet knew he didn’t describe me as his “white friend Keri.” I was just his friend.
I’ll never forget the day I picked up the phone and said, “I’m pretty sure I’ve said some ignorant stuff that may have been hurtful. That was never my intent, and I am so sorry.”
I’d never met a more kind or caring soul, and when he shared how the parents of the love of his life (who was white) forced them to break up in high school, my heart broke. As I later shared with my Dad, “You know, there are things we’ll never have to deal with simply because we are white.” He looked at me funny, but I got it. He’d never lived outside of Ashland, and for the bulk of my life I’d never thought that way, either.
This may seem like a long-winded way to get to the current issue regarding the anthem, but it’s not. Between Jackie, moving to LA, dating an African-American man for 4 years, I simply began to see life through a different lens. My fella and I had a lengthy discussion around the Ferguson, Missouri, unrest, mainly about how people don’t feel seen or heard. Rioters are labeled thugs. Peaceful protestors taking a knee to shine a light on issues far removed from many of us are called the same.
I hear many say that there’s a better way — yet they never seem to know what that way is. What are people to do? That’s an answer that must come from within the community of those who’ve been disenfranchised, not those of us living on the sidelines.
I’m not apologizing for who I am, nor am I suggesting anyone else should, either. I’m not saying folks who’ve lived in the Bluegrass their whole lives are narrow or uninformed. I’m crazy about My Old Kentucky Home, and the fine people who live there. More than anything, I’m trying to express that we don’t have to have the same life to show compassion or a willingness to learn.
When I sang The Star Spangled Banner, I sang for all of us in this great nation. Of course this included the women and men of our armed forces. They have fought — and are fighting — for us to have the right to protest and disagree. We were founded to be the shining city on a hill, where from many we are to become one. Seems most days we act as many from one, digging in our heels for our singular point of view.
More than ever, it’s time for us to be understanding, even when we don’t understand. We are a diverse and beautiful nation. Our history is woven with the hope that we would and could unite.
Agree to disagree when necessary. This ideal is not out of reach — regardless of the divisive images shoved in our faces. Be willing to look at the big picture surrounding the anthem (and our own hearts) to see it’s not totally black and white. It’s way more diverse than that, just like us.