At the opening of Pittsburgh’s meet against Temple on Sunday, the whole team knelt together for a moment of silence recognizing racial injustice. That moment of unity represented the Panthers’ approach to planning a meet devoted to racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It was a team effort,” said sophomore Ciara Ward. “I don’t think it was one sole person, I think we came together as a team “
The decision to devote a meet to racial justice stemmed from team conversations over the summer. Much like the Pride theme of Pitt’s last home meet, the whole team decided that it was important to communicate its stance on important social issues to its fans.
“The conversations were about putting the principles of community, justice and equality in action, making sure that we live and breathe that on our team and making sure that that was something we let our fans know was important,” said Katie Chamberlain, a junior.
These conversations necessarily included a new focus on the experiences of the team’s Black gymnasts and gave them an opportunity to share the ways their race affects their daily life and their treatment by others with their non-Black teammates.
“We just all come from different walks of life, and we just talked about how daily struggles affect us differently. We wanted everyone to just understand how being African-American is affecting us,” Ward said.
And while the meet was organized collectively by the team, its Black voices appropriately had a prominent position in the discussions.
“Everyone took our ideas into consideration,” Ward said.
A key theme of Pitt’s activism this year has been commitment to the causes past the superficial level. It’s this logic that led to the decision to print “BLM,” for “Black Lives Matter,” on the sleeve of a new leotard.
“We brainstormed ways to be bold about this—we didn’t just want to slap a graphic on a T-shirt that we have to take off, and that’s what led us to putting the “BLM” on the leos,” head coach Samantha Snider said.
“We wanted to be bold in our statement that this is not something that’s going away, this is not just a moment, this is a movement, and in order to effect real change in the world you have to be persistent and persevere. We’re not just wearing it this weekend, we’ll wear it throughout this year and other competitions, and it’ll be within our program for years to come. It’ll become a mainstay.”
Freshman Nay’yarrah Winder felt that her team’s commitment to activism affected her own feeling of includedness within the team.
“Being on this team, doing something like this and being able to know that your team supports you no matter what is amazing.”
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Article by Rebecca Scally
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