'Vote with your heart': Duke's Coach K urges students to register and vote to end systemic racism, social injustice

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Thursday, August 27, 2020
Duke coaches, students speak out about social injustice
Duke coaches, students speak out about social injustice.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Thursday afternoon, in the famous Krzyzewskiville courtyard, Duke athletics came to a temporary halt. Athletes from every team on campus gathered to discuss the ongoing issues of systematic racism and injustice that continue to plague the country.

It lasted for roughly 45 minutes, raw emotions on display. Pain, hurt and some hope mixed in as well.

Duke professor Mark Anthony Neal was one of the speakers. Among his words, a challenge to the athletes in attendance.

"The question is not whether or not y'all have power. The question is what you're going to do with that power," he said.

It came together in under 24 hours, the brainchild of Duke assistant basketball coach Nolan Smith.

"I've had guns pulled on me, multiple times," Smith said. "Y'all, you know me. I'm not a drug dealer. I'm no thug. But I'm Black ... I'm Black."

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski also took the stage, speaking passionately for nearly six minutes.

WATCH: Mike Krzyzewski's full remarks

Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski addresses ongoing social injustice Thursday from Duke's campus.

"Systemic racism and social injustice is here. In order to solve a problem, you have to acknowledge it," Krzyzewski said. "Today is for all of us to acknowledge this problem, to share our feelings."

Duke women's basketball coach Kara Lawson couldn't even get words out initially, too overcome with emotion until her team came to her side.

"Every day when you wake up, you feel anxious of every moment knowing that on your drive to school or your drive to work or going to a restaurant, sitting in your house, hanging out with your friends at a park - that could be your last moment on earth," Lawson said.

Football coach David Cutcliffe and his team were also present.

Incoming basketball freshman Henry Coleman spoke of anguish.

"Words can't explain the pain of how my mother looks at me every night," Coleman said. "Words can't explain the pain of my father and the shawl of the tremble in his voice when he talks to me about death. Before seeing death in any movie or any event ever. But that will change."

Smith closed the event with a call for action.

"This is not a moment. This is a movement," he said.

He urged the coaches in attendance to check on their players. To ask about the pain they are most certainly feeling.

At the conclusion of Thursday's rally, Duke's basketball team members headed immediately inside Cameron Indoor Stadium to register to vote. They were followed by student-athletes from many of the other teams as well.

"We need to have a display on campus where every student on campus is registered and will vote, and then you vote with your heart," Krzyzewski said. "I'm not telling you who to vote for, but if we don't get the proper leadership at every level in our country, this is not going to go away. We can look at and see the police brutality, but what you don't see are the amount of educational opportunities that are deprived young black kids, health and welfare opportunities, economic opportunities. These things can only be changed with proper leadership and organization. And so the first step in that is for all of us to vote."

WATCH: Full video of Duke coaches and students

FULL VIDEO: Duke coaches and student-athletes speak out about social justice Thursday.

He said it was the current generation that was going to help America live up to its ideals and values.

"Your generation is the generation that's going to do it. I grew up a long time ago in the 60s, I thought it was headed in the right direction. Damn, I was wrong. I want to be right. I want to be on your team. I want this systemic racism and social injustice to be defeated," Krzyzewski said.

The event at Duke University came a day after NBA players, some of whom Coach K had coach either in college or with Team USA, refused to play. The players forced the NBA to postpone the playoffs in light of the shooting of Jacob Blake.

Blake, a North Carolina native, was shot in the back seven times by Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey. Days later, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse traveled from Illinois into Wisconsin with a firearm. He ended up shooting three protesters, two of whom died from their injuries.

In June, Krzyzewski made an impassioned video for Duke University where he defended Black Lives Matter, saying it was a human rights statement, not a political one.