For his entire life, Trey Flowers has always understood the importance of voting — even before he was old enough to cast a ballot. Growing up in Huntsville, Alabama, it was always explained to the Detroit Lions defensive end — both in practice and from examples through his family.
And it was often told through the premise of the March 1965 Selma to Montgomery march, in which his grandfather and uncle participated.
“Just the stories from my dad telling us and how much family, personally, sacrificed to go out there and march — and then my grandmother on my mom’s side, she was pregnant at the time, but she was going out there giving them water, helping in that way,” Flowers said during a virtual town hall on voting rights put on by the Lions and RISE on Tuesday night. “Just, you know, just a shaky, scary moment I guess.
“She kind of passed through and was delivering the water and there was a white lady behind her that they actually killed. They were going out there trying to stop the protests, and they actually killed that lady. It kind of hit kind of close to home knowing that grandmama and my granduncles, they were that close to being sacrificed and putting their life on the line for voting.”
“And so I think just grown-ups or adults knowing the sacrifice that people here in the Deep South and all over the world has put towards the right to vote and just that experience right there encouraged me to make sure I registered to vote,” Flowers explained.
Even after Flowers left Alabama for college in Arkansas and then to play professionally with the New England Patriots and the Lions, he said he made sure to cast absentee ballots so he could vote and make use of the rights for which his family members protested.
“That’s why it was so important to me,” Flowers said. “I was taught on it growing up and taught the importance of it, and I think just knowing how much, how far we came as a country, as a whole, to get the right to vote, get people the right to vote and how important it is to let your voice be heard.”
Flowers was one of three Detroit players — along with quarterback Matthew Stafford and defensive back Duron Harmon — to spend part of an hour during a voting rights town hall meeting and explain why they believed it was important to vote and to register to vote. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson also participated in the town hall, and she explained how to register to vote.
Flowers, Harmon and Stafford all looked to education and leadership as ways to emphasize the importance of voting.
“Everybody on this call can be a leader in their own community just by, shoot, sharing the story Trey just told,” Stafford said. “That’s going to inspire people. That’s going to get people out there and get them off their butt to go out there and do what’s right — and that’s using their voice for change.
“Just because you are in a certain place in your life doesn’t mean you can’t lead people.”
Stafford pointed to the passed ballot measure in 2018 that allows for absentee ballots without a reason as one way leadership mattered even when the consequences weren’t clear — such as the COVID-19 crisis in 2020 when absentee balloting became more of a need.
“That right decision turned into 2020 needing, a lot of people need to stay safe and stay home but need to get their voice heard too,” Stafford said. “And that was a leadership without seeing the end, doing what was right at the time. And look at what an opportunity that gives all of us, all the people of Detroit, the state of Michigan, the ability to make change from their couch.
“And that’s an empowering thing, and those people were leading us without even knowing it. So don’t ever think your voice doesn’t count or what you say to somebody doesn’t matter, because it can make a difference in the long run.”
Stafford also discussed what they try to do at a community center he works with in Detroit — using sports as a “carrot” to make sure education comes first — as a way to help and an issue he is passionate about accentuating in the community. He explained at the center that his name is tied to in Detroit, kids can’t play sports until their homework is finished and they’ve read for 30 minutes. It’s one of many after-school facilities doing similar work in Detroit.
Growth in education and the acknowledgement of an education gap between some cities — including Detroit — and suburban areas is something Stafford, Harmon and Flowers said they believe is the root of problems in society.
“When we’re looking at who we’re voting for, we have to look at who is prioritizing education, who is trying to close that gap so that the brown and Black kids and the kids in the inner city of Detroit are having that opportunity to go to college,” Harmon said. “To educate themselves and to give themselves more opportunities so that they can change the world and create less poverty and create less drug-infested communities so that we can create change.
“Because that’s where the change starts. It starts with the children. Put them in great positions and empowering them so that they can break the cycles that have been there for generations after generations and enable them to empower themselves to empower their communities.”