When Ishmael El-Amin decided to remove his name from college basketball's transfer portal and return to Ball State for his senior year, the Cardinals got more than a leader on the hardcourt back.
They got a leading activist on campus as well.
The former Hopkins standout guard planned a peaceful protest that went on Thursday evening from Ball State's Bell Tower to Muncie City Hall in Indiana.
Thousands of students, faculty and members of the community joined together to form what local media estimated was one of the largest protests ever for the city. At City Hall, the massive group held a moment of silence for nearly nine minutes to remember Floyd, many kneeling to the ground.
El-Amin became more passionate about marching for a cause when his hometown was in turmoil last week. George Floyd's death after being knelt on by a white police officer happened on 38th Street and Chicago Avenue just blocks from where he grew up in Minneapolis.
"My emotions are all over the place," El-Amin told the Star Tribune. "It's a very tough time we're going through in the world today."
The son of former Minneapolis North and UConn legend Khalid El-Amin, Ishmael made a name for himself at Ball State in three years. As a junior, the 6-foot-1 combo guard averaged 13.8 points, 2.3 assists, 1.1 steals and nailed 77 three-pointers, third most in school history. He was named All-Mid American Conference third team.
Floyd's death stoked protests and eventual riots in the Twin Cities and across the country. El-Amin understands why people are angry and frustrated.
"We need to come together as one and let our voices be heard," he said. "We need to demand justice and demand change. That is one of the reasons why I put the protest together. To show there is a right way to make a difference. Violence isn't the way to get the justice we seek."
Hundreds were on board with his idea for a peaceful protest in Muncie, Ind., after he posted the message Sunday on Twitter.
"With everything going on, this is the best time to do it," El-Amin said. "With my platform, I felt like I could do something."
Ball State's athletic director is Beth Goetz, the former interim AD for the Gophers.
"We applaud and admire Ish's willingness to bring a community of voices together to collectively confront racism," Goetz said in a statement. "I stand with him and those who are committed to actions leading to meaningful change."
The Gophers were among several teams showing interest in El-Amin when he announced he would transfer in the spring. But he eventually decided his college career should end where it all started.
El-Amin misses his family, even more so with the pandemic and now protests in his neighborhood.
"It's hard because I'm not back home and able to see my family," he said. "What I see on TV and social media is bad. It definitely makes me want to be back home with them, but I just continue to pray and check on them as much as I can."
Protesting keeps the world's attention on the Black Lives Matter movement. But El-Amin said the real change will come when people show up to vote in November, especially black voters.
"We have to get smarter," he said. "We have to register to vote. We can be a part of who is elected into office and who will affect our states, our cities and towns. That's the area we need to start."