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Rugby Sevens Player Kristen Thomas Shares Importance Of Education On Racial Injustice, Police Brutality & Black Culture

By Kristen Thomas | Aug. 31, 2020, 11 a.m. (ET)

Left: Kris Thomas poses for a photo in her roller skates; Right: Kris Thomas jumps for the ball at the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series on Dec. 7, 2019 in Dubai.


My name is Kristen Thomas and I represent Team USA in Rugby Sevens. I grew up playing basketball, cheerleading, and running track. I also attended programs through the Police Athletic League (PAL); an afterschool program that allows the youth to participate in a variety of activities - like basketball challenges, academic decathlons, chess championships, attend Phillies games, etc., and I personally come from a family of cops. 

In high school, I got into an argument with a classmate because the teacher posed the question: “If something bad happens at a party, what should you do?” I said, “call the cops.” I don’t remember exactly what was said, but my classmate was deeply opposed to calling the cops. I thought she was crazy! 

Between coming from a family of cops and going to PAL, I thought cops were cool. They were at every cookout, fundraiser and family event. That being said, I still considered myself to be pretty socially and politically aware as a teen. I protested reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every day because, even then, the words seemed fraudulent as there wasn’t exactly “liberty and justice for all.” 

While I didn’t understand my classmate’s fear at the time, the older I’ve got, the more I’ve seen where it originates from. Despite my personal relationship with cops, the Black community is disproportionately policed and likely to be killed at the hands of an officer. While being Black is magical and I love our culture, it sometimes comes with the risk of having your worst fears come true. 

When the government first mandated wearing masks due to COVID-19, my first thought was “here we go.” Somebody is going to find an issue with Black people walking into a store with masks. Then it came true; two Black men were kicked out of Walmart for wearing masks. 

Then we started training remotely and our team’s field closed. I was forced to run outside in my affluent neighborhood; I was legitimately scared of potential mischaracterization and always on high alert. “I’m being paranoid,” I thought. Then Ahmaud Arbery was killed doing the same thing. Turns out my fear was warranted. 

I’ve written this blog about 3 different times. I’ve had versions where I talk about the prison system and the fact that it’s a lucrative business. I’ve written about the war on drugs and how it disproportionately affects Black and Brown people. I’ve come to the conclusion, that while I want to educate you, it’s not my job and there are MANY resources out there about police brutality, racism, the war on drugs, the prison system, etc. So many in fact, that if you’re not utilizing them and learning yet, nothing I say here will change that. 

If you are utilizing those resources, I just have one point. When you are discussing racism amongst your coworkers, peers, or teammates, if your main concern is whether the white people feel that it is a safe space, you have just made that space unsafe for your Black and Brown colleagues. 

If your Black and Brown colleagues are not able to express concerns without worrying they’re going to offend someone, face backlash, be judged, or damage a relationship over a civil discussion, your space will continue to be very safe for your majority group and unsafe for the minority. 

Throughout my life, I’ve had people tell me honest truths that I didn’t want to hear in the moment. I’m glad they said them though because I’ve learned my greatest lessons through those tough conversations. I encourage everyone to have the tough conversations, I think that you’ll find that your bonds are deeper on the other side of them. In response to the protesting for the Black Lives Matter movement around the world, we’ve had lots of these conversations within our rugby team. They’ve been challenging, but really important, and I hope by acknowledging and embracing our differences we can further strengthen our connections. 

Between the effects of the pandemic, the senseless killings and the protests we’ve witnessed on the news, this year has been hard. The thought of another senseless death or continued injustice makes me nauseous. We need to raise awareness to keep up the fight, but we also need to be alright—in every sense of the word— in order to do that. 

Let’s take care of ourselves - unplug for a second, take up yoga or roller skating, watch a comedy, speak to a therapist, or connect with family and friends. Please do whatever it is you need to do to be ok. We’re strong and resilient, but we also get tired. So, if you’re tired, hand the torch to someone else for a bit and have them run with it for a while. Then take it up again when you’re ready. 

One form of self-care that has helped me has been roller skating. It’s a way to stay active, I can dance to my favorite music while doing it, and it’s given me a new sense of community while away from my family and teammates. I bought my skates two years ago and they’ve been collecting dust until this year. 

A few years ago, I went to a skating rink in Camden, New Jersey with my family; the music was amazing, the vibes were great, there were groups doing line dances and trains, and individual skaters showing off their moves. I was just so impressed by the things people could do on eight wheels, and I wanted to learn it all! I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday night. 

Roller skating has huge cultural significance to the Black community. Due to segregation, Black skaters were denied entry to certain rinks. Even after some progress, they were limited to “Blacks-only” or “adult” nights. In the 60s, there were protests to desegregate the rinks. Decades later, hip-hop artists and rappers would perform in rinks because other venues wouldn’t allow them, and even to this day, rinks hold rules like “no saggy pants” or “no tiny wheels” which discriminates against Black skaters. 

There are many articles being written about the revival of roller skating, but for the Black community, it never really went anywhere. Roller skating rinks continue to close across the country, but the community has fought, adapted, and persevered. Even amongst the pandemic and temporarily closed rinks, skaters have found smooth surfaces outside to maintain their community. 

Roller skating is unlike anything I’ve ever done. Not only is the community vibe unmatched, it challenges me every day. 

When I first started skating, I never fell. It wasn’t because I was a great skater, it’s because I was playing it too safe. I love the fact that in order to learn anything and make any progress in skating, you have to be willing to let go, fall flat on your butt and get back up and try it again. The same can be said for a lot of things in life. Even if you don’t go out a buy a pair of skates, I hope everyone finds something that brings them peace during this time. 

Keep fighting the good fight, 

Donato, A. (2020, July 04). Black People Are The Heart Of Rollerskating's Revival. Retrieved August 20, 2020, from https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/rollerskating-trend-black-history_ca_5eff4bb6c5b612083c5b9b9

Goodman, E. (2019, February 14). The Overlooked History of African American Skate Culture. Retrieved August 20, 2020, from https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/8xy8wk/the-overlooked-history-of-african-american-skate-culture

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Kristen Thomas