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Natasha Cloud logged on to her Instagram account Thursday afternoon with a serious and urgent message for her nearly 24,000 followers.
Cloud and her Mystics teammate Ariel Atkins had just left Hendley Elementary School, where they made a scheduled book reading appearance with the students.
While chatting with the school’s librarian shortly before the event, Cloud learned that a bullet broke a window in the lobby of the building on Wednesday. The shooting, which occurred as students were inside for an end-of-the-school year movie night, resulted in the school being placed on lockdown, according to media reports, and Cloud says the school had to cancel its field day on Thursday as a result. WJLA reports that this is the second time in two weeks that bullets have hit the school.
In a series of Instagram stories, Cloud said that she would institute a “media blackout” on Friday prior to the Mystics game against the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm if Mayor Muriel Bowser and Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White do not respond to her with a solution or schedule a meeting for a solution.
“We’re talking about 5-year-olds being safe going to school and bettering themselves,” Cloud says. “And if they don’t feel safe going to school, they won’t be going to school. And then they’ll be out in the streets, and by going into the streets, they’ll fall into a system that they can’t get out of.”
In an email response to City Paper, White, a Hendley alumnus, says his involvement in violence prevention goes beyond social media, and points to the community engagement events he’s participated in as examples. He did not answer questions on whether or not he plans to meet with Cloud.
“I have been doing youth violence intervention and mentoring some of the highest risk youth in SE for 17 years,” White writes. “We have to go visit [m]others when they lose their children and be at the crimes scenes when someone is on the ground fighting for their life. During these times I don’t see the people that tweet. When we have programs in the schools, like Ballou last week, I don’t see the people who just tweet. We are getting more teams and returning citizens to be in the community to address the neglect and social ills that influence violence. We had a big violence strategy meeting last night at the Arc and I didn’t see the people who just tweet. 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!”
After reading White’s response, Cloud wrote on Twitter, “#blackoutisago.”
Markus Batchelor, the Ward 8 representative on the D.C. State Board of Education, told the Washington Post that he has emailed city leaders three times in the last two weeks in regards to the violence surrounding the elementary school.
“It’s been a consistent problem … and for some reason there doesn’t seem to be any progress made,” Batchelor told the paper. “In any other part of the city it would be more intolerable and a more urgent matter.”
Cloud, who recently spoke on a panel hosted by The Atlantic about athletes and activism, believes that she has the platform and the responsibility to lend her voice to social causes.
She tells City Paper that if she does hear solutions from either Bowser or White by the time Mystics practice begins at 9:45 a.m. on Friday, she will refuse to answer questions about basketball. Instead, Cloud will only talk to reporters about the shootings that have happened around Hendley Elementary School.
“They get a pay check to take care of this city,” Cloud says, adding she will proceed with the media blackout if they respond after practice but before the game. “This needs to happen in a timely manner … At 3 p.m. another life can be lost.”
Cloud has already reached out to teammate Elena Delle Donne and coach Mike Thibault, who she says are both on board with her decision. She predicts that the majority of the team, if not all players, will participate in the media blackout. The Mystics posted a tweet Friday morning expressing support.
“This is our community and for us as pro athletes we inherit certain responsibilities and roles,” Cloud says. “We represent this community, and especially moving into Ward 8, I made it known I didn’t want to be any part of gentrification … I take this as one of my responsibilities as an athlete with a platform in Washington, D.C. to make this a better place.”