After their team completed their Thursday afternoon practice session, Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud and her teammate, Ariel Atkins, headed off to read books to the students of Hendley Elementary School, which is located in Ward 8 in Washington, D.C..
While awaiting the kids, Cloud chatted up the school’s staff. It was then that she heard about what had happened prior to her arrival — the students had missed their Field Day earlier in the school day. It had been canceled because a bullet had been shot through a window at the school on Wednesday afternoon, leaving administrators fearful of allowing the kids to play outside.
The school’s librarian went on to tell Cloud that this had been the third bullet to hit the school in a month. Cloud was appalled that she’d never heard about these incidents, despite the close ties she’d formed with the educators at Hendley.
The message from the school was clear: “We need help.”
This issue hits particularly close to home for the Mystics, because Hendley is just seven minutes from the Mystics’ new arena and practice facility, the Entertainment Sports Arena. So, Cloud did what she does best: She took action. She immediately went to Instagram and called out Ward 8 representative Trayon White and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser for the lack of support from the city to both Hendley, and the Ward 8 community as a whole.
Cloud said that if she did not hear back from Bowser and White promptly, she’s planning to hold a media blackout. Which means on Friday, when the Mystics host the defending champions, the Seattle Storm, in a rematch of last year’s WNBA Finals, Cloud will refuse to talk to the media about basketball; she will only speak about gun violence in the district and the lack of action by elected officials.
Here’s @T_Cloud4 on Instagram, announcing a media blackout tomorrow at the WNBA Finals rematch if Ward 8 rep Trayvon White and Mayor Bowser don’t get back her w/ a plan to address gun violence in Ward 8. She visited an elementary school that’s seen 3 bullets in 1 month. pic.twitter.com/LjDOmrmLto
— Lindsay Gibbs (@linzsports) June 13, 2019
“From Mayor Bowser and Trayon White, I want solutions,” Cloud told ThinkProgress on Thursday night. “I want to sit down and figure out how to make our kids safe at school. I want our kids to have an opportunity, I want our kids to see a light.”
Hours after Cloud’s post on Instagram, White, a Hendley alumnus, gave a statement to the Washington City Paper defending his commitment to the community.
“We had a big violence strategy meeting last night at the Arc and I didn’t see the people who just tweet,” White said. “Years from now when they are on to the next hot topic in their lives Trayon White will still be here committed and serving. Don’t tweet join us!”
Cloud responded to the statement by tweeting, #blackoutisago.
I’m confused as to why your email tried to boost yourself and tried to belittle people wanting to help this community. Didn’t do anything but prove my point. WHAT ARE YALL DOING?! I’ll wait patiently for my response as I have been for 8 hours now. #blackoutisago
— Natasha Cloud (@T_Cloud4) June 14, 2019
ThinkProgress has reached out to both Bower and White, but has not received a response at the time of publication.
Cloud anticipates that her teammates will all join her in this protest. Before she made the announcement on Instagram, Cloud reached out to her teammate, 2015 WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne, and told her what happened at Hendley, and the lack of response from the mayor. Delle Donne responded in a text message, “We will make her listen, we will make them listen.”
Cloud also gave her head coach, Mike Thibault, a heads up before going public with the announcement. She said that he was 100 percent behind her. The entire team plans to discuss the issue before shootaround on Friday.
“You’re talking about the safety of our children going to school. And being in school, you’re talking about the safety of our teachers who teach our youth,” Cloud said. “If kids don’t feel safe in school, they won’t go to school. If they don’t go to school, they end up on the street, if they end up on the street, they end up in the system that does not play in their favor. For the rest of their life.”
Cloud has been an outspoken activist over the years, speaking out against the attack on abortion rights and the rise of white supremacy in the age of Trump. But this particular strategy — holding a media blackout — echoes the Black Lives Matter protest that Cloud and other WNBA players participated in during the summer of 2016, after black men Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were both murdered by police officers. After the league fined some players for wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts during warm-ups, teams across the league held media blackouts, and refused to talk to reporters about anything other than police brutality and systemic racism.
Cloud said that protest taught her just how far her voice can carry.
“If I don’t use my voice, if I don’t use my platform, I’m doing a disservice to so many people. I learned the power of our platform, the power of us being a team, and having strong women in one room who believe in something for the greater good of not only our community, but for our whole country. This is not just a D.C. issue. This is a whole country issue,” Cloud said.
As Cloud spoke on Thursday night, she was still audibly upset by the fact that this violence was happening so close to her adopted home, but wasn’t getting any media attention.
“We’re talking about much more than just the bullet. We’re talking about our children’s lives, we’re talking about our children’s future. We’re talking about our society as a whole. And the problems that go on within our communities, and especially our minority communities,” Cloud said.
“Because it is in the black community, we don’t care, it’s expected.”
She hopes that her voice can create a sense of urgency among elected officials in the district.
“Mayor Bowser and Trayon need to do their jobs,” she said. “This is what you signed up for. To make this community better, so make it better.”
UPDATE (6/14/2019): On Friday morning, Cloud spoke with her teammates, and confirmed to ThinkProgress that she planned go forward with a media blackout after the game against the Seattle Storm that evening.
“Our job is to raise awareness in this community,” Cloud said after shootaround. “We’re a part of this community, and we would be doing a disservice if we didn’t bring awareness to issues going on. And so we will be making a statement tonight after the game, I will be making the statement tonight after the game. This is important to us.”
When asked whether the statement would be a part of a team-wide media blackout, she nodded.
“We’ll make our statement. And that’s it,” she said. “That’s it.”
Cloud said she had not yet heard back from Mayor Bowser, and hadn’t had any further communication with councilmember White — though he did tweet her a flyer inviting her to an anti-violence block party event he’s hosting on Friday night, which is taking place during the Mystics’ game.
“I’m more than willing to sit down and help figure out a solution, because it’s a problem that directly affects us, as well,” she said. “You know, we want our kids in this community safe. We want our fans and our people to be safe in this community. So I’m always willing to lend my position and my platform. You know, this team, we’re here. We’re here to help.”
Head coach Mike Thibault hadn’t yet spoken to the entire team about it, but said he would be supportive of what they decided as a group.
“My general thing is, when you do things like this, they can’t be one-offs. They have to be a concerted, ongoing effort to make a change about something,” Thibault said.
“Be specific about what you’re trying to change. That’s my message.”