#WhyIKneel: UM student explains Diag protest

James David Dickson
The Detroit News
Dana Greene

One man's protest, kneeling near the block M on the Diag at the University of Michigan for 24 hours, ended a bit earlier than planned Tuesday morning.

Dana Greene Jr., 23, a UM alum and candidate for a master's degree in public health at the university, took a knee at 7 a.m. Monday, with plans to keep kneeling for 24 hours.

There was no real plan, no organization that went into taking the knee, Greene told The News a day later, his knees still sore from all that time on the hard ground.

No one even what Greene was doing until he sent out an open letter explaining his action to UM President Mark Schlissel.

"It was just sitting with me, that I had to do something," Greene said. He woke up in the 5 a.m. hour, unsettled. "So I decided, 'I'm doing this today.'"

After a 45 minute trek to the UM Central Campus, the Detroit native arrived at the Diag and took a knee at 7 a.m.

It was an attention-getting move, Greene said — a conversation starter. But attention did not come immediately. It took about three to four hours before anyone took Greene up on the conversation he was looking to inspire.

"I wanted people to ask why?" Greene explained. "We focus too much on the how of protests, and not enough on why people are protesting. Everything in my life, personally, is going great. But this wasn't about me."

In his case, the why owed not only to how black students, or Hispanics, or Muslims are treated on campus, but "all inequality," in its various forms, on campus and off. 

Greene's protest came the day after most every NFL team participated, in whole or in part, in protests during the national anthem, a movement that started last season with former San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, and branched out to other players. In remarks at a rally on Friday, President Donald Trump said NFL owners should fire players who protest during the anthem. In response, mass levels of NFL players protested, and even some owners, including the Detroit Lions' Martha Ford, and the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones, showed solidarity with players.

Three or four hours after Greene took his knee, passersby approached and asked him about it. 

Monday was hotter than Greene expected. At some point, a supporter gave him a bottled water. Then someone gave him a Gatorade. 

"Then another one, then another one, then another one," Greene said. At one point, he looked up and saw hundreds of his classmates protesting with him. 

Classmates and strangers offered prayers during the 21-hour kneel, including the UM Muslim Students Association, which held an evening prayer at the protest. 

When nature called, supporters, who had brought a canopy to the Diag to help Greene beat the heat, would shield him from view so he could relieve himself. When nature made a call that Greene could not refuse, at about 3:30 a.m., it was time to end the protest.

"By that point, some people had been out there 11, 12 hours," Greene said. "I was trying to get comfortable, and just couldn't. I needed to sleep. And my attitude was, if I couldn't go on, they shouldn't have to, either."

With no social media presence on either Facebook or Twitter, Greene wasn't able to watch the digital response to his protest, which took on a life of its own with the #WhyIKneel hashtag. 

Greene's protest drew national attention. What he hopes, now that it's over, is that it helps start a true dialogue.

"I want people to talk deeply about the issues. People need to sit down and have real conversations," Greene said. "I don't really count hashtags or Facebook in that. People need to look each other in the face and talk."

Hours after Greene's protest ended at UM, another began, when several students staged a sit-in at the UM School of Social Work, according to a video published on Facebook.