On the eve of the Super Bowl, nearly 100 silent protesters “took a knee” at the Portland International Jetport to call attention to racial injustice and inequality.

Beginning at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, the protesters – including many clergy members – held signs and knelt on yoga mats, pillows and the hard floor to take back a message they say has been “hijacked” by the debate over the patriotism of NFL players who kneel during the national anthem.

The protesters, some wearing Patriots gear, lined either side of the jetport between the escalators/stairs and baggage claim, leaving plenty of room for disembarking travelers to walk a kind of prayer gauntlet in between them. Signs invited the travelers to join them: “Take a Knee in Prayer,” one read. “Will you take a moment to kneel with us in support of justice & kindness for people of color?”

Holding the sign were Andy and Dorothy Grannell of Portland, who are “veterans of 50 years as a transracial family.”

“We adopted transracially twice in the ’70s, so we’ve lived the question” of racism, said Andy Grannell, a retired higher education administrator.

“The question of racism is as apparent today as it was 30, 40 years ago,” he said. “And yes, there are enormous strides in people’s attitudes and approach, but as we can see clearly, there’s a long way to go.”

Wendy Schlotterbeck of Auburn held a sign that said “#Love thy Neighbor (No exceptions).” She said she found out about the event through email and decided to attend “because I’m really dismayed and disheartened about how we treat our black and brown brothers and sisters.”

“I thought this was a unique opportunity connecting faith and justice, and right before the Super Bowl,” she said.

The event was organized by Kate Goddard, a Freeport Patriots fan who was inspired by watching former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players kneel during the national anthem to protest law enforcement’s treatment of African-Americans and racial injustice in general. The take-a-knee movement drew the ire of some sports fans and politicians, including President Trump, who considers kneeling during the national anthem unpatriotic.

“During the season I just became more sad, angry and really ashamed at the way the NFL players who were taking a knee were having their message hijacked,” Goddard said in an interview before the protest. “All we could talk about was patriotism, and the important conversation about racial justice wasn’t happening.”

Goddard started telling people she was tempted to kneel in Monument Square with a peaceful protest sign. Her kids laughed at her, but an Asian woman she works with at the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Food Program in Brunswick encouraged her to follow through on her idea.

“That’s when I realized I couldn’t stand on the sidelines any longer,” Goddard said. “As a white lady from Freeport, I had to take a stand.”

Goddard reached out to the Maine Council of Churches, and sent out an email to a list of ministers and rabbis. She posted the event on Facebook, and within two weeks had 11,000 hits.

Karen Lillli Pax, pastor of Waldoboro United Methodist Church, was one of those who saw it and decided to attend “because I think it’s important for all of us to stand up and be counted. The silence of white people is why we haven’t made any more progress than we have.”

She said kneeling is “the most reverent pose for a protest I could ever think of.”

Shortly after 4:30, Goddard whistled and lowered her hands at the chattering crowd, indicating it was time to kneel. The room immediately quieted down. The first passenger was a young woman rolling a small suitcase behind her. She looked straight ahead without acknowledging what was going on around her.

Most travelers walked through the line respectfully. Some people smiled. An older man kept a stone face. After a young woman with a deer-in-the-headlights look passed by, some of the protesters began speaking to the travelers to put them at ease: “Hello” and “Welcome to Portland.”

Down in baggage claim, a small group of passengers talked among themselves about what they had just experienced.

“We had no idea what it was,” Kathy and Kevin Smith of Windham said in unison. The couple had just gotten off a plane from Florida, where they have a second home.

“Coming down the stairs, it was just overwhelming,” Kevin Smith said. “I saw something about color and something about veterans. If they had something at the top to tell people what they were going into, it might have felt different.”

“He kept saying, ‘Should we take a knee?'” Kathy Smith said of her husband, “and I said, ‘I don’t know what it’s for.’ ”

After an explanation, Kathy Smith said: “Everybody should be treated equal. That’s how I live, and that’s the way it should be. I think if people knew what (the protest) was, they might have appreciated it more.”

Hermela Woldehawarrat, a Colby College student flying home from Houston, was also “a little confused.”

“I wasn’t wearing my glasses, so I couldn’t read the signs, so I wasn’t sure what it was,” she said. “But after I heard it’s the Super Bowl tomorrow and they’re taking a knee in solidarity, I think it’s pretty cool.”

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

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