Detroit Lions' Trey Flowers a voting rights advocate thanks to family's civil rights past

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press
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Trey Flowers registered to vote for the first time as soon as he turned 18.

He was away at college when he cast a ballot in his first election, by absentee, but after hearing the stories of relatives who took part in the Selma-to-Montgomery marches in the 1960s, he knew it was something he had to do.

New Lions defensive end Trey Flowers speaks to the media Thursday, March 14, 2019 at the practice facility in Allen Park.

"Just the stories coming from my dad telling us and how much the family, as far as personally, sacrificed to go out there and march," the Detroit Lions defensive end said. "And then my mother on my mom’s side, my grandmother on my mom’s side, she was pregnant at the time but she was the one out there giving the water, she was helping in that way. And just a shaky, scary moment, I guess, she kind of passed through and (was) delivering the water and then there was a white lady behind her that they actually killed. ... It kind of hit kind of close to home knowing that my grandmomma, my grandfather, uncles, they were that close to being sacrificed and just putting their life on the line for voting."

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Flowers shared his story Monday in a virtual town hall for voter education hosted by the Detroit Lions' Inspire Change initiative in conjunction with the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equity (RISE).

Flowers and Lions teammates Matthew Stafford and Duron Harmon took part in a panel discussion with RISE CEO Diahann Billings-Bufford and Michigan secretary of state Jocelyn Benson.

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford advocated for widespread voter participation in a virtual town hall for voter education hosted by the Lions' Inspire Change initiative in conjunction with the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equity (RISE) on Tuesday evening.

Lions coach Matt Patricia and others shared recorded messages encouraging people to vote in local and national elections this fall, and Lions president Rod Wood read a statement from team owner Sheila Hamp and her husband, Steve.

"We all desire real and lasting social change, racial healing, abundant opportunity for all and meaningful social justice progress in many aspects of our democracy," Wood said on behalf of the Hamps. "But for this to happen, our democracy needs to be responsive and to improve. We all need to register to vote, learn about the candidates who are running for office and then cast our votes in person or by absentee ballot through the mail. Our democracy is an inspiring and noble enterprise, but it is not perfect, nor has it lived up to the vision laid out for all Americans in the Declaration of Independence. It's time we fix that."

Flowers, Stafford and Harmon advocated for widespread voter participation, with all three saying topics related to education are chief among their concerns when it comes to casting their ballots.

The panel of (top row, from left) Lions safety Dumon Harmon, defensive lineman Trey Flowers, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, quarterback Matthew Stafford and the moderator of the chat discuss voter registration on Tuesday, July 21, 2020.

Benson said she wants to foster a meeting between Flowers, his family and the family of Detroit civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo, the white woman who was killed in the Selma to Montgomery marches; Liuzzo's family still lives in Michigan.

And Harmon shared his own story about when he first voted, in 2012 when President Barack Obama was elected to a second term.

"My mother, she sat me down and she explained the importance of voting, the ancestors that died — we’re talking about really died — who died on the streets for us to have this opportunity," he said. "You got to think about it, 60, 70 years ago, my grandmother couldn’t vote. My great-grandmother who just passed, she couldn’t vote. That’s just what it was. And she fought for us to have that opportunity, and then I had a son at 20 when I was in college and she broke it down even further, like, 'you’re voting for your son as well, for the rights that he will have eventually. You’re trying to set that legacy to let him know that this is the opportunity that we fought for as a group of people.' Let’s not take it for granted because 50, 60, 100, 200 years ago, they had no shot. So I just, it’s my duty to vote for the ancestors who laid down their life for us to have this opportunity."

Monday's town hall was the first of several voting advocacy events Lions players will participate in over the coming months.

On Wednesday, Harmon, Flowers, Christian Jones and Jalen Reeves-Maybin are scheduled to host an online educational forum, in conjunction with the Advancement Project national office, Players Coalition Charitable Foundation and ACLU of Michigan, to discuss the prosecutor races in Oakland and Wayne counties.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Read more on the Detroit Lions and sign up for our Lions newsletter.

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