On October 21, Denasia Lawrence — in a blue blazer and Black Lives Matter shirt — took a knee for injustice in front of fans while singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the last NBA preseason game between the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers.
Lawrence is the second woman to make this type of stand during the early return of basketball to American televisions. Leah Tysse, a white woman, did something similar during a Sacramento Kings preseason game. In her first interview since her protest, Lawrence detailed what transpired that night to SB Nation reporter Tyler Tynes.
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The truth is, I expected a lot of negative reactions — positive, too — but never the magnitude to which it’s exploded. I didn’t think fans would turn their back to me as I sang. I wasn’t expecting the glares, the general confusion, the yells and whispers and the entirety of it all. It was overwhelming.
In front of fans, in front of the NBA, in front of the world, I took a knee for injustice while singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in a Black Lives Matter t-shirt.
My name is Denasia Lawrence, I’m 24, from Paterson, New Jersey, and now reside in Florida where I work as a social worker. But I was blessed enough to be given the talent to sing. The Miami Heat were aware of this and invited me to sing the national anthem for their last preseason game.
As soon as I got the opportunity set in stone, I knew what I would do. I wanted to ignite something in somebody. I wanted to spark dialogue. Honestly, I wanted to make people uncomfortable so that we could continue to talk about what’s really going on. Yes, I knelt while singing an oppressive, racist anthem that is non-inclusive of people who look like me, and the two actions (singing and kneeling) can coexist.
I sang because I am American. I sang because I want those same freedoms for black people that were supposed to be endowed to all of us by our creator. Despite the systemic racism that goes on in America, my ancestors helped build and shape this country. We belong here. Our black history is American history. I kneeled as a form of support for this movement, in support of black lives and against police brutality, and it was my way of saying I’m fed up with the injustices that are going on. My community is hurting.
Truthfully, I’ve always felt this way. Rage boils inside of me when I think of the recent black men, women, and children shot down by officers across the country. When a helicopter operator said Terrence Crutcher — who was killed in Tulsa last month — “looked like a bad dude” I could only think of my brother, 17-year-old Anthony Williams. He’s a tall, muscularly-built young man. That, in combination with the color of his skin, is naturally threatening to some law enforcement. At any time, anyone could act on a preconceived notion that he might be a “bad dude.”
Working with kids in Florida, seeing the obstacles they’ve continued to face in their lives, and the pain of processing these recent events was my spark, what led me to that floor and that protest.
For weeks, I went back and forth deciding between kneeling or raising a black power fist. But kneeling was more significant. Colin Kaepernick’s original stance played a large part in my decision, but it was also my spirituality — I kneel to show reverence when I pray. But I knew, regardless, I’d be wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt.
When I got down on one knee, that moment will always be etched in my memory. I was nervous about the reaction from the crowd. I was afraid someone at any moment might throw something at me if they didn’t approve of what I did. I didn’t know if someone might even attack me. That walk back to my seat was the longest 45 seconds-to-one minute of my life. But protest does not come with resounding applause at the end, or feelings of comfort. It’s disruption. It’s interruption. It’s a severance from normalcy. And you hope that it impacts something or someone.
Nothing I did was about fame. I wasn’t searching for the limelight. I just wanted to be heard. This wasn’t for me. It was for everyone who couldn’t speak up. It was for us.