On the field, they are star athletes, but off the field they are leaders making a difference. Senior midfielder Imani Thompson and junior defender Kylinn Kraemer are two student-athletes from Montclair State University’s women’s soccer team who know how to utilize their platforms to the fullest and elevate the voices of others to support minorities.
Graeham Goetrell, the assistant coach of the team, has been a staunch supporter of his athletes taking a stand against racial injustice.
“In a time where everybody has a platform and audience, it’s easy to say words today and forget them in a few days, weeks or months,” Goetrell said. “Kylinn and Imani have both been unrelenting, both in their words and more importantly their actions, to use the opportunities they have to speak for other people not as fortunate.”
Goetrell continued to express more thoughts about the young athletes and their advocacy.
“Without any regard for what others may think of them, they have a firm conviction in their hearts on what is right and what needs to be done to expose racial injustices and provide solutions,” Goetrell said.
Thompson was recently selected as one of two student-athletes for the New Jersey Athletic Conference Diversity and Inclusion Committee. She attends panels every month to discuss ways to create a more diverse and inclusive conference along with planning fundraisers. She also hosts diversity and inclusion training for coaches and administration so they are more mindful about what is said and done in athletics.
As an aspiring physical therapist, her goal is to serve underprivileged communities and make physical therapy more accessible to people in inner cities who lack the resources for care.
Thompson’s favorite athlete, Muhammad Ali, is one of the greatest examples of athletes who used their platform to help minorities and stood for what they believed in. She also admires how Ali used his platform to make a difference and wants to do the same to better not just herself, but the world.
Thompson’s family has been a part of the civil rights movement for generations, all actively trying to make a difference. Her mother grew up in Mississippi, where she was discriminated against and faced the effects of segregation; even being hosed down during the Rodney King riots.
As a person of color with a family history of slavery and racial discrimination, Thompson feels as though it is her responsibility to try and change the world. Her family has been a model of overcoming adversity, being successful despite setbacks and unselfishly giving to others.
“Coming from a family very involved in the social justice movement, this past year with everything happening, I felt like it was me and Timmy’s turn to get involved,” Thompson said.
Thompson and her brother, Timmy, put together a Black Lives Matter march in their hometown of Wayne, New Jersey, this past summer. Thousands of people marched and gave speeches about racial injustices.
Wayne, New Jersey, being a predominantly white town, took a strict approach to the protests. Businesses boarded up their buildings, military trucks were deployed and countless police officers patrolled the area. Despite the resistance, Thompson felt it was powerful. She was especially proud of being able to change the minds of some conservative people, who now understand the purpose behind the movement.
Meanwhile, Kraemer attended a Black Lives Matter march in Waterbury, Vermont. It was a peaceful protest, with a lack of police officers and no disruptions. Vermont tends to be seen as a white state, but the march proved to be diverse. One point that stuck with Kraemer was a speaker telling everyone to stop saying only white people live in Vermont, as it minimizes the issues the residing minorities are facing.
Kraemer is president of the Petey Greene program at Montclair State, which supports the academic goals of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals through high-quality volunteer tutoring programs while educating volunteers on the injustices that manifest in our carceral system.
Being part of this program since 2018, she cultivated many new passions through her experiences.
“I have been opened up to a world way beyond my own,” Kraemer said.
In November and December, she led the soccer team to fundraise PPE, prepaid gift cards, winter gear and more for citizens exiting prison.
Kraemer dreams of becoming a forensic clinical psychologist and continuing to reform the criminal justice system. She has learned how to better center the voices of those who are impacted directly by these oppressive institutions as she sees how other people are impacted by the injustices that manifest in every aspect of life. She uses her platform to bring awareness to inequalities and continuously fights for change.
As Kraemer points out, as a white person with privilege, it is best to elevate the voices of others, not speak on their behalf.
“I am compelled to continue to fight for social justice, not just in the criminal legal system or in regards to race but for feminism and every marginalized group,” Kraemer said. “As someone with privilege, it is more important than ever to center the voices of those who are directly impacted and help bring their perspective to light instead of speaking for them or ignoring the issues entirely.”
Both teammates believe soccer has played a part in fueling their passion for social justice.
Thompson believes the sport structures how you are as an individual and contributes to life characteristics including the ability to push through anything.
Kraemer believes being part of a team and working closely with other individuals makes you more empathetic as a person, as you see what they go through. Everything they do in soccer translates into real-life experiences.
According to Goetrell, they have had an impact not only on the people they have served but on their team as well.
“I find myself in awe that I get to help strong young women like this on a day-to-day basis, and their example spurs me on to not just accept instances in the world as the norm but actively work to change them for the next generations,” Goetrell said. “Words can’t describe how proud I am of them and the impact they’ve had on me since I’ve been at Montclair State.”