Sean Sutherlin ’21 is from Minnesota. He lives in a small city outside of Minneapolis, where protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in May led to rioting and looting. On the fourth day — once they felt it was safe — Sutherlin and his sister joined the march.
“When we got there it was really good to see how many people showed up to get justice for George (Floyd) and his family. It was also very sad to see how bad the damage was on some of the streets of Minneapolis,” Sutherlin says. “It looked and felt a lot different with all of the burnt buildings and looted stores.”
In addition to feeling sad, the sports studies major and member of the UNH men's basketball team says he felt really angry. That people had to protest again because a black man had died at the hands of a white police officer. That no one seemed to have listened the last time. Or the time before. Or before that.
“It was really encouraging to see how many people were there, doing everything from cleaning buildings to donating free food and supplies. It was just a great scene, one that you don’t always get to see on the news.”
But he quickly started thinking about what he could do. He knew, he says, that his city is strong, and would recover. He also knew he wanted to be a part of that in some way. A few days later, he and his friend Justin Davis decided to get people together to help clean up the city. Between 40 and 50 people turned out to help.
“A lot of them are high school and college kids, so it was great to see the young people in our community wanting to help,” Sutherlin says. “It felt really good to have a small part in getting my city back to where it was.”
The group met at a site about an hour’s walk from downtown Minneapolis. Along the way, they picked up trash and debris left in the streets. When they finally reached one of the burned buildings, there was a group already at work. Sutherlin and his friends joined in.
"We ended up splitting up in smaller groups so we could clean up as many buildings as we could,” he says. “It was really encouraging to see how many people were there, doing everything from cleaning buildings to donating free food and supplies. It was just a great scene, one that you don’t always get to see on the news.”
As the America East Conference's leading defensive rebounder in 2019-20, Sutherlin is used to getting it done. But when it comes to racial injustice, he knows it will take a united effort.
“We all have a voice. People need to start a conversation,” he says. “To me, that’s what we need to do, to all use our voices as a first step toward change.”
A lifelong Minnesotan, Sutherlin views Minneapolis’ transformation both positively and negatively, he says.
“It has changed in a positive way because a lot more people are aware of the challenges that black people face on a daily basis in America, and it is great to see how many people are advocating for a change,” he says. “And it has changed in a negative way as well because we have to rebuild our inner city piece by piece. But, after seeing what I saw when I was down there, I am very confident that we will be back in no time.”