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Natasha Cloud On Listening, Learning, And Pushing The Movement Forward Beyond The 2020 Election

Natasha Cloud was one of the WNBA players who chose to sit out the 2020 season in the Bradenton, Fla. bubble to focus on her work off the court fighting for racial justice in a pivotal summer in America.

Cloud partnered with a number of her fellow athletes in the WNBA, NBA, and beyond, as they focused their efforts on fighting voter suppression and working to get out the vote in the Black community for the 2020 election. As the calendar gets set to turn the page to 2021, for most of the country outside of Georgia, where two key Senate races head to a runoff, the voting part is done but the work cannot stop there.

We got a chance to speak with Cloud on behalf of her new partnership with Hennessy about where we must go from here now that the “low-hanging fruit” of getting out the vote is checked off the list, how she spent her time away from basketball, why she’s so proud of the Mystics and the WNBA’s efforts in leading off the court, and much more.

First off, how have you been doing and how have you been balancing during this offseason the work you’re doing off the court with getting ready for next season on the court?

Yeah it’s been really crazy. When I sat the 2020 season out, I knew that I was gonna hit the ground running and have to pick up things quickly, but I didn’t know how exhausting it would be. In 2019 we won a championship and this year I’ve been more tired than I ever was going through the championship season. It’s a lot because I want to do the work, so I’m loading on a lot of things to my plate, but also it directly affects me. Being a Black woman, being a bisexual Black woman. Being married to another Black woman. This directly affects our home and our everyday life, so there’s an emotional toll that’s also attached with it. But I’m really proud of the work that I did while sitting this season out and the people that I aligned with, the companies I aligned with to help me.

I think that’s been one of my biggest takeaways is in America we’re sometimes so quick to talk instead of listen, so when I sat out my biggest thing was to first listen. Because there’s people in grassroots organizations that have been doing this and devoting their life to this for years now, so I wanted to learn what works, what didn’t work, what they haven’t tried, what we can do moving forward. Educating myself on laws was a big thing as well, cause when you’re looking at systemic racism and oppression, it’s really hard. It’s such a big monster, it’s like, ‘What do we tackle first?’

Obviously our first initiative was our voting initiative, which not only the WNBA and NBA took on, but other sports leagues as well. So I had teamed up with Chris Paul and his Social Change Fund, with Malcolm Jenkins’ Players Coalition, with LeBron James’ More Than A Vote, and making sure that we were not only educating voters but also giving them the opportunities and resources they didn’t necessarily have and have been taken away with voter suppression. Really proud of the result that we got. We just got it official with the electoral votes I think it was Monday. But now moving forward it’s holding that leadership accountable, and making sure they uphold the promises they made to our community and making sure we’re continuing to be present within our community to help.

Something I’ve found interesting is the election was in a sense an easy thing for everyone to kind of wrap their arms around.

Yes.

It was something the leagues could easily say “Vote.” Because the leagues aren’t going to want to be super radical.

Yes.

But voting is an issue that anyone can say and, obviously there are people who felt it was but to sane people it’s not a radical thing to say.

Yes.

But my question is, what are your thoughts on how to move forward and how to continue to push the league and partners you work with to embrace some of these things that they might see as more divisive than just saying “Vote,” but are important because like you said, that was the first step?

Yeah, that was the first step and like you said, it can be seen as radical to some, but to sane people the initiative to get Americans out to vote and to make sure that they’re registered and educated on the candidates that they’re voting for, not only federally but locally too. Because we forget that locally is more important than federally. In the case of Breonna Taylor, [Attorny General Daniel Cameron] is in an appointed position, so when we look at that case and how it was completely messed up and terrible and the outcome of it, people are complaining about Daniel Cameron not knowing he was an appointed official. If they’d gone out and voted, he wouldn’t necessarily be in a position to try Breonna Taylor’s case. Its just making sure people get that information out there.

And then moving forward, it’s just doing the same thing. You know, going into it was like, OK, what are low-hanging fruits that we can have immediate impact on. Voting was one of them. Moving forward we need to figure out, OK we checked voting off our list, what is our next initiative, because like I said, when you’re looking at it as a whole, there are a lot of things in this country that need to be fixed. Sometimes I feel like we’re still in the 1700s when We The People only counted for white men. And that’s just being honest as a woman and a Black woman, it can sometimes feel like that. So, OK, how do we go about changing certain things and dynamics of our country that are just so embedded into us. I’m excited to get back to work, not only with the WNBA and the Mystics, but also these beautiful relationships with the NBA and with different companies like Converse and like Hennessy that truly believe in doing things the right way and believe in helping the community. And believe in equity across the board in every facet. That’s the beautiful things that I found during this time and during my sitting out this season, that there’s a lot of good people and companies that are willing to do the right things and to not only speak about it, but to be about it too. And Hennessy is definitely in that.

I wanted to ask about how you came to this partnership with Hennessy and what you see as things y’all are going to be able to do together and what they’ve told you they want to do in the community to help see this change forward?

Yeah, I’m so excited. I keep saying it over and over again. Hennessy, I’m a dark liquor drinker, so socially, I see it in my house already, and so socially it fits me perfectly. But then you go from an ethical standpoint, a moral standpoint, a value standpoint, and we align in all the right ways. Their mantra is Never Stop, Never Settle, and I think that’s a testament to who I am, not only as a player that came from a mid-major school and a second-round pick to five years later running point guard for a championship team. But also in the community too. Never stopping, never settling for the bare minimum. Never getting complacent and continuing to push those boundaries and those lines that sometimes corner us in a box. You’re only a liquor brand or you’re only an athlete. Stay inside that box. And what I’ve found really, really cool with Hennessy is they’re like, forget the line, we need to push the boundaries. We need to be innovative and think outside these lines and continue to be bigger than ourselves, because if we do that, then we are helping a lot of people that look like us and face the same struggles as us every day.

This is something you’ve obviously been very pointed with when aligning with brands because of what you did with Converse this year and now with Hennessy. How important has that been to you and what has been your vetting process for finding these partners you can work with who are going to support you even more importantly with what you want to do off the court than just align themselves with a player like yourself on the court?

Oh man, it’s been a really cool process for me. Because I’m patient and I really, truly keep everything in house in kind of a family setting. That’s so important to me from my agent to who I surround myself with in my inner circle, to brands that I work with. It has to feel like a family environment. And the second biggest thing for me is representation. Do you have Black and brown representation within your company. Again, you can have companies out here that made a statement in the summer, but then haven’t done anything to back that statement up. And that’s not what I wanted. So, with aligning with Converse and now aligning with Hennessy, representation matters.

Hennessy’s spokeperson is a Black man. That matters. In Converse, representation for signing the first WNBA player and she’s a Black woman, same with Hennessy. You already have the Black man, now you have the Black woman who’s continuously fighting for social reform. That representation matters so much to their youth who can now see themselves in a different light moving forward. They see themselves in – OK, I have the opportunity to play in the WNBA. I have the opportunity to be more than an athlete and get into different avenues for finances, whether it’s different avenues for aligning with different brands and companies. Moving forward you can say, I like dark liquor, I’m gonna go with Hennessy because there’s representation that fits me, and I think that’s such a beautiful thing that we either take for granted or forget about. Is that it really matters where you can see yourself.

I want to get back to the Wubble and what it was like for you watching [from afar]. To start, from a basketball perspective, obviously the Mystics played I think above what a lot of people projected with so many of y’all out. How impressed were you with how the team responded and how they played down there and what that means for you guys going forward into next season when you do get yourself and Elena [Delle Donne] and others back to build on that?

Oh man, I was extremely, extremely proud. Even though we sat out, we’re still a part of the Mystics organization in every facet. So Elena and I were constantly talking to Ariel Atkins, Myisha Hines-Allen, Tianna Hawkins, and the beautiful thing about it was they were so challenged in that bubble to step up. We had four out of our five starters not go to the bubble, so now it’s OK, we have this team, how do we work with it? What are our roles? Now other people need to step up. And I was extremely, extremely proud of the leadership of Ariel Atkins, Myisha Hines-Allen, and Tianna Hawkins, who really did an amazing job. And the for the rest of the Mystics squad stepping up and being that underdog that, I don’t care who we’re going up against, y’all are going to feel us and y’all are going to know that the Mystics are here. So they definitely did exceed people’s expectations. I think if you asked Coach T, they exceeded his expectations too.

But, I’m more so proud of the work they did outside those lines, outside of the court. Because it was the Mystics that sat out a game after the Milwaukee Bucks and continued that cohesiveness between our leagues and teaming up together. It was the Mystics that were at the front of that, speaking on all the news stations and everything. So while I’m so proud of them for the work they did on the court and playing, I’m more so proud of what they did off the court and making sure they used that platform of playing in the bubble and all eyes on them, they used it in the best way that they could. And I’m really proud of that.

The league as a whole, this is something the WNBA has always been doing is being on the leading edge of pushing for racial justice, gender equality. And it seems like something that’s a through line players take a lot of pride in. Is that something you noticed when you came into the league and was it something maybe veterans talked with you about, like we do this on the floor but we also really take pride in what we do off of it and representing women and such a diverse array of women from different backgrounds?

Oh man, I’m so proud to be part of the WNBA. I’m really proud to be an athlete during this time when athletes really stepped up this summer, but I’ve always been really proud to say I’m part of the WNBA and one of 144. We have 144 badass women in our league. And it’s not a spoken thing. When I came into the league as a second rounder in 2015, I was just trying to be a sponge and get acclimated and try to make the roster and then try to stay on the team. It’s not only getting drafted, but staying in the league for a duration of time is really, really hard with the amount of talented players and the lack of spots we have in our league. But it’s something I learned early. I found my voice.

When you’re constantly surrounded by intelligent, powerful women who are outspoken and passionate about what they care about, it’s really easy to fall in line. So it’s not really a spoken thing, but we lead by example. This is who we are. It’s our identity. It’s in our DNA. The WNBA has always been at the forefront of every social issue, regardless of what it is, and what I argue is, we have more to lose. Obviously we’re not making millions like our male counterparts. When we speak up and when we step out into the light at the forefront, we have a lot to lose, because sponsorships are scarce. Endorsements are scarce. Opportunities financially for the WNBA are scarce. So the repercussions that can sometimes come for speaking out can be hard, but that’s what makes me so proud about this league. We don’t care.

We will continue to be at the forefront. We will continue to use our voices. And we will continue to lead. Whether we get the recognition or not, it doesn’t matter, because you’re gonna continue to see us there and I think it’s just something that, it’s who we are.

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