By Kati Weis

DENVER (CBS4) – 

Update 1/2/2020: This story has been amended to include more comments from Tay Anderson’s constituents following his protest of the Pledge of Allegiance in December.

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Tay Anderson’s first meeting as the new secretary of the Denver Board of Education began with an act of protest. On Dec. 19, Anderson remained seated while the room recited the Pledge of Allegiance, and he says he will continue to sit in future board meetings until systemic double-standards in American society are remedied.

“I peacefully remained seated while exercising my First Amendment right,” the at-large school board member said.

Since the December meeting, Anderson said he has received some praise and some backlash.

One constituent wrote him, “Please resign, you are an ungrateful person… I voted for you and wish I hadn’t… You are an ingrate and your kids are using drugs. Sur, please stand or leave. It’s now clear what your agenda is-divide us.”

Another wrote, “why I have little concern or respect for blacks… the reason, why it’s you sir. With 12% of the population, blacks get more of everything and do much more of the issues that harm America. Slovenly, dependent, section 8 dwellers who exist on food stamps and government hand outs.”

Other feedback he received was positive.

“You encourage and inspire me to fight harder and stand taller in the face of people who stand in the way of justice,” one resident wrote him.

Another constituent wrote, “I’d like to express my support for your decision not to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance… Thank you for using your platform to call attention to a serious problem in our country.”

Anderson said he has participated in social activism since 2016, when Alton Sterling was killed on Anderson’s birthday. Since then, Anderson said there have been numerous occasions where he felt injustices were clear.

Tay Anderson sitting down during the recital of the Pledge of Allegiance on Dec. 19. (credit: Dave Russell, Buffalo Heart Images)

Anderson also cited a recent story CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass broke regarding Aurora police officer Nate Meier, who was found driving drunk while on duty, but was allowed to keep his job.

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“I’m not anti-America… not anti-police… I’m just saying that if it were me… there would be different outcomes,” Anderson said. “Everybody must be held accountable and no one is above the law.”

Aurora Deputy Chief Paul O’Keefe announced he would retire after the incident came to light, and new Interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson made clear the department is working to regain the public’s trust.

“Let’s be honest. I’m stepping in at a very turbulent time. I acknowledge that the community is angry, that their trust has been shaken and our relationship has been fractured,” Wilson said Monday. “I will state no one is above the law.”

Anderson said he notified his colleagues prior to the December meeting of his intentions to protest the pledge, and said he was encouraged to receive their support and understanding. Some colleagues, he said, while they still stood for the Pledge, purposefully did not put their hands over their heart in solidarity.

“I thought it was going to be a Tay-stand-alone thing, but I was super excited to see there are other people who see the injustice that is going on,” Anderson told CBS4.

Denver School Board Members during the pledge of allegiance on Dec. 19, 2019. (credit: Dave Russell, Buffalo Heart Images)

Anderson said several community members and students remained seated, as well, and he has learned a group of parents plan to stay seated during the next school board meeting on Jan. 23. Anderson hopes the movement will create policy change in the school system.

“I’m hoping to show students that it’s okay to kneel during the anthem or sit during the Pledge,” Anderson said. “I want to create a policy that safeguards students, that nobody has to fear retaliation for kneeling.”

The issue of protesting the national anthem has made local headlines in Denver in recent years. Former Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall lost sponsorship money when he kneeled during the anthem at some games during the 2017 season, citing his alignment the social protest made by his former college teammate Colin Kaepernick. The Broncos eventually partnered with Marshall and donated $50,000 to a local nonprofit.

Anderson said he believes his protest is the right thing to do.

“My bosses are the constituents of Denver, if this doesn’t get me four more years, that’s okay,” Anderson said. “It’s important for people in power to shine light on these injustices.”

Additional Resources

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Click here to read the formal letter Anderson sent regarding his decision to protest the pledge.

Kati Weis