Former Minnesota Teacher of the Year Kelly D. Holstine took a knee during the national anthem at a college football national championship game attended by President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump

Holstine was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year in May 2018. She was among a number of acclaimed teachers in the nationwide program being honored at the game between Louisiana State University and Clemson University in New Orleans on Monday night. 

The educator wrote on Twitter later that night that she knelt because she was given a “platform to stand up for marginalized and oppressed people.”

She shared a photograph that showed her kneeling on the field among top teachers from other states who stood beside her.

“Like many before, I respectfully kneeled during Nat’l Anthem because, ‘No one is free until we are all free’ (MLK).” 

Holstine included the hashtags #LGBTQ, #blacklivesmatter and #imwithkap – the latter referencing Colin Kaepernick, who famously began kneeling during the national anthem at NFL games in 2016 to protest all forms of social injustice. 

The NFL has been widely accused of blackballing Kaepernick, a former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who has remained unsigned by a team since he became a free agent after the 2016 season.

Holstine told The Hill that she knew Trump would be at the game ahead of time, and that his administration helped fuel her decision to kneel. 

“I think that the current environment that is being created and has been created in his tenure definitely adds to my feelings of wanting to support individuals who are not being supported,” she said. “I really feel like our country is not serving the needs of all its inhabitants … so many humans right now that are not being given the respect and the rights that they deserve.”

Last year, Holstine was one of two state teachers of the year who boycotted a visit to the White House to meet Trump.

Speaking about her boycott, Holstine told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in May that she was frustrated with the messages and policies coming out of the Trump administration, and that they affect the students she works with, who she said “face discrimination and prejudice every day of their lives.”

Holstine, who previously taught English at an alternative high school in Shakopee, Minnesota, now serves as the director of educational equity at Outfront Minnesota, a LGBTQ advocacy organization.

Last week, she delivered a TED-ed Educator Talk, where she argued that it was “not enough for educators to be just allies, we need them to be advocates too.”

Holstine’s peaceful protest at the college football game on Monday caught the attention of Kaepernick, who retweeted Holstine’s Twitter post on Thursday. 

- Kimberley Richards