Nya Buckner is a student-athlete at Oregon State, a redshirt sophomore on the volleyball team currently spending her summer in her home state of Arizona, and right now, Nya Buckner is also an optimist.
That optimism, that hopefulness Buckner feels, stems from the recent energy and attention surrounding Black Lives Matter and the protests for racial equality and against police brutality that the organized movement has brought with it in the past month.
“The Black Lives Matter movement has tremendous momentum in this country,” Buckner said. “This has been a fight that Black people have been fighting for over 400 years. And we seem to be knocking on these doors and trying to push through and right now, America is finally in a place where they want to listen.”
Since the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department on May 25, organized protests from the Black Lives Matter movement have taken place in all 50 states throughout the country, as well as in countries throughout the world. In that wide-sweeping reach, along with the continued appearances of rallies and protests across America, Buckner is optimistic that this movement might be one that sparks lasting change.
“I think 10 years down the road, 20 years down the road, when we look back on this time it will be a pivotal moment in history,” Buckner said. “I can only hope and do my best to make sure that everyone that I can reach will be on the right side of history.”
And since the Black Lives Matter movement truly began picking up steam in 2020, Buckner has done much more than remain optimistic from the background. From social media to rallies, from group protests to an individual level, the Oregon State student-athlete has been working to raise awareness of systemic racism throughout the country.
Buckner’s involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement for racial equality has taken on many forms, but perhaps most prominently, her involvement has taken the identity of a frequent member in Arizona protests as well as attending meetings with members of the university in an attempt to create change on a local level. In doing so, Buckner hopes to keep the conversation of race on the forefront and hopes that change is demanded rather than asked for.
“Down here in Arizona I have been going to protests, I have been attending meetings, just using my voice,” Buckner said. “Because that’s all we can do right now. Just speak out and not ask that we be heard, but demand that we be heard.”
But Buckner is not alone in her involvement. Even beyond daily participation in protests from people across the globe, Buckner’s friends and teammates have been involved in the movement as well. While she is using her voice in Arizona, other members of the Oregon State volleyball team have been representing the Black Lives Matter movement as well in Corvallis.
“All my teammates and my friends that I’ve seen have been really active, and I’m so very proud of them,” Buckner said.
That continued involvement, from the people in her life, across the country and across the globe, is what has set this movement apart for her from any other in her lifetime. She does not think that there was a specific moment where she recognized that Black Lives Matter’s impact had the legs to last, but after weeks of protests and continued discussion, eventually Buckner realized that this was different.
“It felt different when you were watching it on the news, or on social media, the way that people were talking about it and how enraged they actually were,” Buckner said. “I was a little bit taken aback. I was like ‘Oh, people are paying attention. Like, they’re looking at this.’ Because we’ve seen so many instances like Philando Castile, like Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and yes people were upset… but it kind of went away after a week or two. But this one, you could feel the power and the anger coming out of people.”
But gaining the attention of the country is only part of the fight, as Buckner sees it. Between the anger caused by George Floyd’s death and the protests that have sparked it, she hopes that it can spark lasting change on a national level.
Buckner has visions and ideas for what she believes that lasting change should look like. Ideas that span from short to long term solutions, and ideas that can be started on a local and countrywide level.
“I think that the police in America need to be held accountable for their actions. I think that they are given way too much power and I think the amount of money that we invest in police departments could be better spent elsewhere,” Buckner said. “In [the] more short term, I think we should see more training on diversity inclusion, de-escalating tactics. The police need to know when they have implicit biases against people of color.”
By removing a portion of funding from the police departments, Buckner says that more money and resources could go into creating “affordable housing” for people in need. Calls for shifts to policing budgets have not been uncommon in the past months, with some places like New York City responding to these requests by moving large sums of money from the police department.
But even with change like that in New York City being seen in other places across the country, Buckner urges people to keep the movement going through having discussions and keeping educated on the issues Black people face stemming from systemic racism.
“Educate, ask questions, [and] not be afraid to have difficult conversations,” Buckner said. “It’s easy to talk to someone like your friend who has the same views as you, but reaching out to someone who doesn’t have the same views as you. See why they think the way they do, see why they think the way they do… and take your education and your knowledge and then be like ‘Okay, but, understand a different perspective. Do you see why this would make someone angry?’”
For Buckner, lasting change can continue through having those difficult discussions, reaching out to those who may not understand the effects of racism and explaining the anger surrounding the death of George Floyd and why the protests are taking place.
More than anything, Buckner wants people to recognize the importance of the momentum that Black Lives Matter has and to keep it going. By keeping the pressure up, she believes that the societal changes needed to end police brutality and create a more racially equal country can happen, so long as people keep those changes in mind.
“Take this opportunity, because we may never get this chance again,” Buckner said. “Talking to my parents, they’re like, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it [the protests].’ It’s really a special time, and I don’t want people to take it for granted and to miss out on the opportunity to make real change.”