I Am A Cheerleader, And Here's Why I Take A Knee

Originally published on December 4, 2017 12:01 pm

My friend Teana Boston is kind of a big deal. She's 16 years old. And she's already been invited to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at professional sports games. But recently, she wrote her own remix:

For the land of the free ...

Watching this TV, the news feels like a movie.

How can this be?

But I'm not surprised ... it happens every day, lives are taken away.

But there is something about this sight. He crawled in the street, hands spread out like his feet but he was still shot in his heart. And I don't get that part.

Teana felt compelled to write her own version of the national anthem, one that deals with race.

"I did my research on what I was really singing about, and I have to realize that it's not the land of the free. So we have to not just say, yeah, freedom, yeah," she says.

She wanted to protest police brutality against black people.

I'm protesting, too.

I'm a cheerleader. Every Friday during football season, I'm freezing in my red and black uniform on the sidelines of the games.

Teana and I go to the same high school, James Logan in Union City, Calif. We took the same ethnic studies class, which made us both think hard about American history — through a black lens. We learned about suffering and that sometimes history isn't even history. I was 10 when Trayvon Martin was shot, and the man who killed him didn't even go to jail.

When Colin Kaepernick started taking a knee, a lot of people thought he was being unpatriotic. But for me and the other black cheerleaders on my team, we were inspired. We saw an opportunity to call attention to racial injustice. We began taking a knee, too, but the football players remain standing.

A varsity football player, Bud Laimont, told me, "Why do I stand? Because the coaches make us. And I guess it's like, you're just supposed to do it."

"What do you think about the cheerleaders taking a knee?" I asked.

"Do it!" Laimont said.

Doing it is not so easy. When the announcer says it's time to stand for the national anthem, we kneel. When we first started doing it, the stadium was shocked.

"They found it as disrespectful. They kind of like side-eyed us," says my friend Jada McMurry. "But in the end I did what I did because that's my right."

It wasn't just the fans who were upset. We felt the heat, even from the coaches.

"They got mad and said that we can't be doing that. But I was like, I'm still doing it. I don't care," McMurry says.

I think us taking a knee came as a surprise to people, because a lot of people in the school think of cheerleaders as airheads. They think we're oblivious to what's going on in the world.

But they're wrong.

I got into cheerleading because I wanted to be a role model at my high school. I didn't expect it to turn into this very public protest.

But the truth is, I experience racism. I don't want to be treated like a criminal when I walk into a store. I don't want to worry about my younger brother and his safety.

So here was this small thing I could do to call attention to racism, and not let it go by. I questioned how I fit into the school and the sport. I decided to take a knee.

This story was produced by Youth Radio.

Copyright 2017 Youth Radio. To see more, visit Youth Radio.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The act of taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racism has spread beyond the National Football League. Athletes across the country are faced with the question. Do they kneel, or do they stand? Well, at one North California high school, the football players don't take a knee, but others do. Here's Youth Radio's Sasha Armbrester.

SASHA ARMBRESTER, BYLINE: My friend Teana Boston is kind of a big deal. She's 16 years old, and she's already been invited to sing the national anthem at professional sports games. But recently she wrote her own remix.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER")

TEANA BOSTON: (Singing) For the land of the free...

When I did my research on what I was really singing about - and I have to realize that it's not the land of the free, really, like, at all. So we have to not just say, yeah, freedom, yeah.

ARMBRESTER: Teana felt compelled to write her own version of the national anthem, one that deals with race. She wanted to protest police brutality against black people. And me - I'm protesting, too.

UNIDENTIFIED CHEERLEADERS: G-O spells go. F-I-G-H-T spells fight. W-I-N.

ARMBRESTER: I'm a cheerleader. Every Friday during football season I am freezing in my red and black uniform. Teana and I go to the same high school, James Logan in Union City, Calif. We took the same ethnic studies class, which made us both think hard about American history through a black lens. We learned about suffering and that sometimes history isn't even history. I was 10 when Trayvon Martin was shot. And the guy who killed him didn't even go to jail.

So when Colin Kaepernick started taking a knee, a lot of people thought he was being unpatriotic. But for me and the other black cheerleaders on my team, we were inspired. We saw an opportunity to call attention to racial injustice. So we began taking a knee, too. The football players remained standing. Here's Bud Laimont, a varsity player.

BUD LAIMONT: Why do I stand? Because the coaches make us. And I guess it's like you're just supposed to do it.

ARMBRESTER: What do you think about the cheerleaders taking a knee?

LAIMONT: Do it.

ARMBRESTER: Doing it is not so easy. When the announcer says it's time to stand for the national anthem...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Does that star-spangled...

ARMBRESTER: ...We kneel.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: ...Banner yet wave...

ARMBRESTER: When we first started doing it the stadium was shocked. Here's my friend Jada McMurry.

JADA MCMURRY: They found it as disrespectful. They kind of, like, side-eyed us. In the end I did what I did because that's my right.

ARMBRESTER: It wasn't just the fans who were upset. We felt the heat even from the coaches.

MCMURRY: They got mad and said that we can't be doing that. But I was like, I'm still doing it. I don't care.

ARMBRESTER: I think us taking a knee came as a surprise to people because a lot of people in the school think of cheerleaders as airheads. They think we're oblivious to what's going on in the world. But they're wrong. I got into cheerleading because I wanted to be a role model at my high school. I didn't expect it to turn into this very public protest. But the truth is I experience racism. I don't want to be treated like a criminal when I walk into a store. I don't want to have to worry about my younger brother and his safety. So here was this small thing I could do to call attention to racism and not let it go by. I decided to take a knee. For NPR News, I'm Sasha Armbrester.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE)

UNIDENTIFIED CHEERLEADERS: W-I-N spells win. Let's go.

SIEGEL: And that story was produced by Youth Radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE WEDNESDAY'S "MONACO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.