Last September, 19-year-old Alyssa Parker, along with several other cheerleaders at Buena Vista University, a private college in northwestern Iowa, decided to take a knee during the national anthem of a football game to bring awareness to police brutality and racial injustice. A photo of some members of the squad taking a knee made national news and irritated some college donors and alums. A week later the private school instituted a policy that cheerleaders must stand for the anthem.

Refusing to Compromise

Alyssa was inspired to take a knee after the death of a Black Texas youth, Jordan Edwards, at the hands of white police, when he was coming home from a party on his 16th birthday. She decided to resign rather than comply with the new policy. 

In her resignation letter, she wrote “the cheer team is very important to me, but so are my personal beliefs. Standing for something I know isn’t right shouldn’t be forced on me... Changing how this campus thinks about social injustice, helping people understand, and moving this conversation forward is the type of thing I want to accomplish before I leave BVU. I don’t want to upset you or the team, but this is what I need to do.”

Her resignation also made national news, along with repercussions and punishments doled out to both high school and college students who chose to take a knee last fall.

Online, Alyssa got both support and hateful comments, some strong enough to make her concerned for her safety. And, in fact, a few weeks later, someone wrote the “N” word on her dorm room door.

Alyssa has not backed down. “I can’t sit still while kids like Jordan Edwards get shot and killed by police. I can’t just do nothing after experiencing racism myself. Resigning from my Buena Vista cheer team may be a small gesture, but I know it can make a difference.”

Other Winners

Second place in the contest recognized the high school leaders of Students Against Hate and Discrimination (SAHD) in Iowa City.

Third place went to Jaden Deal of Norwalk, an LGBT activist who works with other students and state leaders on civic engagement.

The ACLU of Iowa Robert Mannheimer Award recognizes students ages 14 through 19 who have made remarkable contributions to civil liberties. It carries a $500 cash prize. Find out more.