As Union centerback Mark McKenzie prepared for Sunday’s game against Inter Miami, he had bigger things on his mind. And as he took a few minutes Friday to talk about those preparations, he made sure his priorities were in the right order.

“First and foremost, I want to apologize to Breonna Taylor and her family, and to all the families that have been unjustly dealt with here, unjustly treated,” McKenzie said. “We’ve seen the situation where her murderers are acquitted, and that’s disheartening, because again we’re back at square one. ... We’ve failed her. Our justice system has failed her.”

Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical worker in Louisville, Ky., was shot multiple times in her home by police officers who had entered seeking a former boyfriend who did not live there.

None of the three officers involved in the incident were charged with the killing. One, Brett Hankison, was fired in June and charged Wednesday with first-degree wanton endangerment for shooting into a home next to Taylor’s.

Players, coaches and officials have taken a knee at the start of games across Major League Soccer this year in solidarity with anti-racism campaigns.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Players, coaches and officials have taken a knee at the start of games across Major League Soccer this year in solidarity with anti-racism campaigns.

There were protests in Louisville, Philadelphia, and nationwide Wednesday expressing outrage at the grand jury’s lack of charges, and the roles of Louisville and Kentucky officials. And there have been protests throughout the year against institutional racism in the United States, especially in police departments.

“We constantly go over the situation again and again, and now we see the situation that comes of the murderers of Breonna Taylor being acquitted and being charged with damage to walls and windows,” McKenzie said. “How does that fit the situation, by any means? You look at these situations, and unfortunately it’s a matter of us going, ‘Yeah, we kind of knew that was going to happen.’ It shouldn’t in any way be like that.”

McKenzie is one of the Union’s most vocal anti-racism campaigners, and became so well before this year’s protests. He has strong support from the team, especially from manager Jim Curtin, and widespread support among fans locally and leaguewide.

Union manager Jim Curtin watching his team against New England on Sept. 12.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Union manager Jim Curtin watching his team against New England on Sept. 12.

Born in the Bronx and raised in suburban Wilmington, the 21-year-old McKenzie did not volunteer to be Black. But having grown into being a Union stalwart and major U.S. national team prospect — and having drawn attention from major European scouts — he is making full use of his status and platform.

“It’s invaluable — I can’t really put a price on it, by any means,” he said. " We’re blessed to be in this position. ... We have a responsibility and a duty, myself specifically as a Black man in this position — to stand up, to use my voice and my platform to speak out against injustices and the damages that’s been done to the Black community in many ways."

McKenzie included a call to action, encouraging fans to register to vote and participate in elections.

“I can’t express how important that is in this crucial period for our country,” he said. “So make sure that you are encouraging friends and families, and the next generation, to make sure to get out there.”

McKenzie admitted “it’s exhausting to be in this skin day in and day out,” but he said he “wouldn’t change anything about it” and will continue to be outspoken.

Mark McKenzie wore the name of Black police killing victim Tamir Rice on his jersey in July..
Major League Soccer
Mark McKenzie wore the name of Black police killing victim Tamir Rice on his jersey in July..

“I love being Black, and I’m not going to stop fighting for my people,” he said. “I know many others in my position are going to fight as well. Just because the situation occurred, it doesn’t mean it’s going to stop us from fighting injustices and fighting those who are in power and shouldn’t be in power.”

He saluted Major League Soccer’s efforts, including a current campaign with the Black Players for Change Group — of which McKenzie is a member — and the MLS Players Association to encourage voting.

Players, coaches. and officials have also continued taking a knee at kickoff of games leaguewide, and many players and coaches continue to wear the Black Lives Matter T-shirts designed by Union midfielder Warren Creavalle.

McKenzie added, though, that “a lot” of people “aren’t listening and still turn a blind eye to what’s happening” to Black Americans.

“I’m still getting messages about, well, do you know the situation, do you understand the background of what happened, this, that and the other,” he said.

His response to them was as precise as his play on the field.

“When a woman is sleeping in her own home and gets shot and killed, what does that say to the rest of those who are people of color in this country?” he said. “Are we safe anywhere?”

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My name is Mark McKenzie. I’m a black man and proud of it to the core. I’m a human and deserve every bit of respect as my counterparts. I’m a son. I’m a brother. I’m an athlete. I’m a student. I’m a contributing member of society. And there is no reason why the pigment of my skin justifies whether or not my life is of equal value to another. I love who I am, I love my culture, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. Too many of my brothers and sisters have perished from unjustifiable acts of violence against them, with many of these acts committed by the very people supposed to be protecting us. History has repeated itself yet again, as it has been for centuries. But when is enough ever going to be enough? When will the bigots and ignorant finally acknowledge that this country has a problem? When is a hard line drawn and we can come TOGETHER to abolish an issue that has plagued not only this country, but society as a whole for hundreds of years? How do we call the United States the “land of the free and home of the brave” but continuously turn a blind eye to modern day slavery and institutional racism? Ask yourself these questions, take a look in the mirror, and truly figure out where you stand in the midst of all of this. My voice WILL be heard and you WILL feel my presence. Like my mother taught me, “they don’t have to like you or love you, but they WILL respect you.” And I WILL NOT settle for anything less. I understand we are in the midst of a pandemic and I am sensitive to that issue. I pray for healing and peace for each and everyone that has been affected and continues to be affected by COVID-19. But there has also been a pandemic against my people far before this virus, and at the rate we are going, this issue may continue into the distant future. I pray this is not the case and that God allows his peace, wisdom, and discernment to fall over ALL his children. I also pray for listening ears so that we may hear one another on a deeper level, tough minds to stand up against that which is evil and unjust and hate- filled, and a tender heart to empathize and LOVE one another for the people and humans we are. Let’s be part of the CHANGE.

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