Much like the frontlines of the Black Lives Matter movement and similar protests by WNBA players, at Howard University black women have been at the forefront in protesting systemic racism. The women of HU’s cheer squad began kneeling in protest during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner” shortly after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began the form of silent protest in September of 2016. Unlike similar protests by cheerleaders at Kennesaw State, there has been little, if any, blowback.
“I think about the national anthem and what it stands for,” cheer co-captain Sydney Stallworth told the New York Times. “I think about liberty and justice for all, and how it’s not being executed in our country right now. And I think about how lucky I am to go to the greatest historically black university in the country — not arguably; it’s the greatest — and so lucky to have this platform.”
Howard’s pre-game ritual typically involves the playing of James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice,” which informally holds the distinction as the black national anthem. The band leaders, cheerleaders, and attendees commonly hold a raised fist in the air in an act of solidarity during the playing of “Lift Every Voice.” After “Lift Every Voice” ends, they switch from a raised fist to a bent knee in unison.
While Howard is roughly 50 miles away from a White House that is currently occupied by a former reality show host who referred to neo Nazis as “some very fine people,” it’s also one of the 107 historically black colleges and universities in the country. As such, there has been no booing or threats against the women kneeling in solidarity to protest conditions impacting people of color.
“H.B.C.U.s are a space of nurture where you can be surrounded by black excellence, black genius, and black excellence and brilliance can become normalized,” noted author, television hose and professor Dr. Marc Lamont Hill. “And also black resistance can become normalized.”