Media members entered a quiet Mystics locker room Friday night after the team lost a tense game, 74-71, to the Seattle Storm in a rematch of last year’s WNBA Finals. When a reporter asked if Elena Delle Donne would answer questions, the forward said Natasha Cloud would speak for the entire team.
Cloud had made headlines Thursday when she called for a “media blackout” to raise awareness about multiple shootings that have impacted Hendley Elementary School in Ward 8.
“Tonight, obviously it didn’t go as planned, but we’re talking about a game, a loss of a game,” Cloud told the assembled media. “There’s a lot more losses going on within our community, especially within in this community of Ward 8. So we as a team want to only bring light to the issue going on within this community, and that is the violence around kids going to school. We need to be able to ensure their safety, and that starts with raising the awareness and bringing the attention it needs to be held on this community. We would be doing a disservice if we didn’t bring light to the terrible things that are going on in this community.”
“So there will be no statements made about the game,” she continued. “Again it’s just a game. We’re talking about people’s lives within this community. We want to be a part of the solution. We are in 100 percent support. And again, we just want to make this community better.”
Cloud learned about the shootings before a prearranged reading event at Hendley on Thursday afternoon. After learning a bullet had struck the building a day earlier, Cloud took to social media to specifically call out Mayor Muriel Bowser and Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White for what she believed has been insufficient action.
White, who grew up in Ward 8, responded Thursday in an emailed statement to City Paper that emphasized his involvement in the community and implored Cloud to join his efforts. On Friday, around the same time as the Mystics game, White participated in a violence prevention concert connected with his Resources to the Block initiative.
On Saturday, White criticized Monumental Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Mystics.
“Isn’t @MonSportsNet a multi Billion dollar corporation who got $60 million in tax dollars to build an arena in Ward 8? We welcome all help,” he tweeted. “Our community don’t care a ‘black out’ we need that influence to join us and help liberate families, not tweets & videos.
During a press conference Friday, Bowser told NBC4’s Mark Segraves, “I think the more people talking about crime, the better … I was in that community just yesterday afternoon. Our police were in the school hosting an event when it happened, and I think more people being outraged about access to guns and the careless use of guns in our city, I think, the better.”
Asked if she would participate in White’s future events, Cloud responded, “Absolutely.”
“I want to be in this community,” she said. “I want to hear how I can help. I think a big part that we miss sometimes is listening to the people within the community and their concerns and what they think will work. This is a collective solution. We need to figure it out together. It’s not just going to be one person. And we know that. I know this issue isn’t going to be solved overnight. That’s the reality of it, but I’m here to work. I’m here to help in any way I can. So if someone has something to tell me, that’s cool. I’m going to be doing my homework on the side, and whenever Tray’s ready to meet, I’m ready to meet.”
“Sometimes we’re really slow to put things in place,” she added. “If there’s a bullet, it needs attention. It needs immediate action.”
Moving into the new arena in Congress Heights has made the Mystics part of a historically underserved section of D.C. Mystics team owner Ted Leonsis, the players, and coach Mike Thibault have all spoken about giving back to the community.
“We want to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem,” said Thibault, who added he doesn’t “really want to have more” media blackouts. “And so if we’re going to have our players talk about and they want to talk about it, my thoughts to them is that they have to follow up and be a part of the process to do those things. We’re here in Ward 8 to be a part of the community. We’re having those kids from these schools come here, doing clinics, coming to games, and doing awards for scholastic stuff … That’s gotta be an ongoing thing, it cannot be a one-off thing.”
Cloud said that she’s heard from “a lot of people in the community” thanking her for bringing more awareness to the violence in Southeast.
Shortly after the game ended, Kristi Toliver, who was ejected in the first quarter after picking up two technical fouls, and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough participated in a discussion with local high school students, one of the many events that players believe keep them engaged.
“When we moved in this community, I wanted to make a difference,” Cloud said. “I wanted to be part of the solution for a community that was struggling and not getting the attention it deserves. So for me personally, I’m not here for open-ended promises. I want to give back to this community.”