The event was organized by the Jason Taylor Foundation and RISE, the organization dedicated to bringing equality in sports that was founded by Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross.
Stills and Thomas were part of a panel that heard from a group of mostly students whose message was that all of them deserved attention, not just athletes or those who excel in school.
“First off, out of all the town (halls) we’ve done, this was the most open dialogue,” Thomas said after the event, which lasted more than two hours. “It was very real. Hearing these kids pouring out their life experiences and how they actually feel, one actually asking us, can you please just come talk for once not to guys that play football, not to the kids who are excelling in school but to the ones who are kind of forgotten about, who aren’t doing well in school. Can you give back to them? To actually have those type of conversations with this community, that open dialogue and understanding. This is actually what the community wants to see from us as NFL players, it’s great. It was powerful and I just see me and Kenny getting involved in the community more that way.”
Stills and Thomas spoke to the students about the difficult decision they made to kneel last season during the playing of the national anthem before Dolphins game.
“Obviously, I made that decision to take a knee because of all the stuff that was going on in our community, from the shootings, the lack of justice when these shootings were happening and the lack of communication between our communities and law enforcement,” Thomas said. “I did it with a purpose of wanting to see real change, and since then all I’ve seen is different solutions come up, different people getting involved in our community. Learning so much from our legislation and local law enforcement. Taking that knee obviously it had a lot of backlash, but I’ve also seen some positive effects from it and I’m glad I’m able to give back to my community even more in terms of seeing a negative into a positive.”
For his part, Stills says he has changed a lot, grown up a lot, since the start of that 2016 football season and the first time he, Thomas and former teammates Arian Foster and Jelani Jenkins decided to kneel during the anthem.
“This past year was the first time that I voted,” Stills said. “I really started paying attention to politics and really started to see what’s happening in the world, not only what happened with me. My eyes were open and this past year has really helped me grow as a man to start really seeing things from other people’s perspective and also having that empathy and just really understanding where everyone else is coming from. It’s something that I’ve continued to grow and learn. I’m young. I feel like a lot of sad and negative emotions have come from his past year and I’m encouraged by coming here today and hearing these kids speak and listening to their poems and I’m excited about the things we can do here in South Florida.”
Ultimately, what Stills got out of the town hall meeting Monday was a positive vibe about the future.
“I’m very excited about the future and my time here,” he said. “Just hearing from these young kids and hearing from the panel, you realize how much potential is out there regardless of all the negativity that you see. It’s amazing to connect with these guys and to be here and have an open conversation. I feel like I learned some of the areas that I can step up my game and some of the areas of the community that I can start really working in. I'm just very encouraged about the future and the future generations of this country.”