As rain continued to fall, a group of hundreds clad in black moved silently down the streets of downtown Tampa on Saturday afternoon in a walk of unity. Not much could be heard other than the light patter of the drizzle of rainfall, which quickly turned into a downpour, and the occasional rhythmic tap of an umbrella on the cobblestone road, almost a drum cadence for the crowd.
USF football’s KJ Sails — dressed in black dress pants, shirt, tie and mask — led the silent Unity Walk with his son King and partner Kiana Campbell following closely behind. Head coach Jeff Scott and quarterback Jordan McCloud joined Sails in leading the walk of solidarity.
The walk wasn’t just in honor of George Floyd, who was murdered almost two weeks ago. It wasn’t just to honor the life of Martin Chambers, the 19-year-old who was shot dead by police on Central Avenue in 1967.
The walk was a call for unity and guidance from the highest power and to honor the lives of black men and women who have been unjustly killed, according to Sails.
“Being an athlete we have so much power that we can use to move the world,” Sails said. “No matter what color you are, no matter what race you are, we move as one unit, as one team. It’s not you versus me, or black versus white. It’s the team. I felt by bringing my teammates and coaches together, that shows how diverse we are, and if we can work together why can’t the world use that and apply that to their life.”
The unity walk started outside a condominium complex on N. Franklin St., weaved its way throughout the city and stopped on the steps of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church.
“I went to this church right here as a young boy,” Sails said on the steps. “Singing, dancing, singing in the choir. My grandmother raised me to go to this church and to be a God-fearing man.”
How he was raised shaped his path of leadership, according to Sails.
“My grandmother used to tell my mom that, ‘one day, that boy is going to be big.’ That was her exact words,” he said. “But it’s not about me, it’s about God. And like I said, God is moving through me and when he says to move, that’s when I’m supposed to move.”
The Unity Walk came about by a desire to just do something and to not stand by idly.
“I was just laying in my bed and I was thinking like, ‘Man, I have to do something. I can’t just sit silent, I just can’t sit here,’” Sails said. “I called coach Scott the next day, and he said he was all for it.
“We walked down here and mapped everything out, and we just went to moving.”
Sails’ desire to take action made a direct impact on Scott.
“Young men like you and your teammates are going to be the difference,” Scott said outside the church. “You’re going to help us make the change that we need.”
While Scott has a role to lead and teach his team, he’s learning from the knowledge and drive of his players.
“I came down here from Clemson back in December thinking that I was going to be the one sharing a lot of knowledge, and so far, I’ve learned more from the young men on our team than I’ve been able to teach them,” Scott said.
Leadership isn’t something new to Sails. His nickname “The Mayor” among fans and teammates alike reflects the actions he’s taken in the community. His desire for social change is amplified by learning from Mayor Jane Castor.
“She definitely wants change and she’s trying to reach our younger generation to see how she can create that,” Sails said. “That’s what I admire most about her. I’m going to be mentored by her in the fall.”
One of Sails’ main motivations alongside fostering unity is his love for his teammates.
“It could’ve been one of them. It could’ve been me. That’s the last thing I want to happen,” Sails said in reference to the death of Floyd. “I just want to see the world more positive and do better, that’s all.”