I'm speaking: A reminder to take up space, be advocates, make waves and never, ever shrink. The phrase serves as a signal to boldly be all of you. It also is a call to action for espnW's new podcast, Around the Rim Presents "I'm Speaking" with LaChina Robinson. The podcast will curate conversations with dope Black women in sports, entertainment, business and culture about how to navigate life and address the racial inequalities in our world. These are mothers, sisters, friends, teammates and colleagues from all walks of life.
In the first episode, host Robinson joins Netflix chief marketing officer Bozoma Saint John and WNBA champion and Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud, who sat out the 2020 season to fight for social justice, to talk about what "I'm speaking" means to them, the significance of having a Black woman as vice president, how they were impacted by the death of Breonna Taylor, the importance of allyship, and more.
This conversation has been excerpted from the "I'm Speaking" podcast. It has been edited and condensed for clarity. Watch the full episode on ESPN YouTube and listen wherever you get your podcasts.
LaChina Robinson: I want to start with a little bit of an icebreaker around the title of this particular conversation, which is "I'm Speaking." When I say those words, what comes to mind for each of you?
Bozoma Saint John: Shut up. Honestly, that's what comes to mind, because I feel like when you have to say that, or when you have to think that, it's usually because somebody's talking over you or not listening. The fastest way to get to somebody is to tell them to just shut it up. And sometimes that's appropriate. I'm a very direct person, but I like to do my direct with kindness. But sometimes, if somebody is being disrespectful in not allowing you to speak, then they just need to be served the same in order for them to listen to what you're saying.
Robinson: "I'm speaking" automatically makes me think of Black women, because when we're speaking, sometimes the volume is off, sometimes it's down. What we have to say just does not seem as important in different instances, in different spaces. And we'll get into that, but Natasha, what does "I'm speaking" bring to mind for you?
Natasha Cloud: You just said it exactly. I can remember I was in the airport watching the vice president debate. "I'm speaking." And in the most polite yet petty way, [Kamala Harris said] "I'm speaking." And I think far too often, as Black women, we're told to be quiet or to shut up. That's our way of letting y'all know we're here. You're going to listen to what we have to say. And if you don't, I'm going to keep saying it over and over again. It's just the relentlessness of Black women.
"I think far too often, as Black women, we're told to be quiet or to shut up. That's our way of letting y'all know we're here. You're going to listen to what we have to say. And if you don't, I'm going to keep saying it over and over again. It's just the relentlessness of Black women." WNBA player Natasha Cloud
Robinson: Black women have been through a lot over the last year. The trauma of police violence, the expectations that we have to show up as the educators and the experts on racism, the public humiliation by our former administration. And after all of that, we still remain unseen, unappreciated and unheard in society. How were each of you affected by what happened over the last year, both personally and professionally, as we approach the one-year anniversary of Breonna Taylor's death?
Cloud: I still feel all the same emotions, the same feelings, the same trauma that I felt at that very moment. Justice still hasn't been brought to Taylor or her family. And that's what I consistently think of. And so, this is why we're continuing to fight this fight -- so that no other family has to live through what her family had to live through. But man, it was really tough as a Black woman in America. This summer was beyond tough.
It affected me greatly in my everyday life and it was hard. It was heavy. It still is very heavy. And then obviously with my career, it's what led me to sitting out: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. You say their names.
These are the names that made me feel in my heart of hearts that I needed to be better for my community, that I needed to be a voice for the voiceless. And at this moment in our country, the climate's never been like this. And so that was an extra stress on me. This is bigger than the game of basketball. I need to use my God-given platform to be better and be a voice for my community.
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This has been one of the toughest decisions of my career. But, I will be foregoing the 2020 WNBA season. There's a lot of factors that led to this decision, but the biggest being that I am more than an athlete. I have a responsibility to myself, to my community, and to my future children to fight for something that is much bigger than myself and the game of basketball. I will instead, continue the fight on the front lines for social reform, because until black lives matter, all lives can't matter. #TogetherWeStand #BLM #illbeback #2021
Robinson: How did you cope? Because we don't often enough talk about coping strategies.
Cloud: It was hard. Something that isn't talked about in Black culture is mental health and how this trauma that goes on in our country affects us. And having basketball taken away from me and obviously I opted out voluntarily, but also, we were in a pandemic. We were confined to our homes. I tell people, me sitting out, I've never been more exhausted in my life because it not only takes an emotional toll on you, but it's also a toll to have to explain to people why you're fighting this fight. It's a toll to explain Black trauma to unopen ears. And I was working from 9 to 5 every night. And there just became a point where even my wife [professional softball player Aleshia Ocasio-Cloud] was like, you got to turn your phone off.
For me, it was honestly just sitting with our dog, sitting with my wife, spending time with my parents, just detaching from the world at its craziest points. But it was important to my mental health and being able to do what I wanted to do within the community and then this fight for social reform.
Robinson: Bozoma, how were you affected personally and professionally by what happened over the last year since Breonna Taylor's death?
Saint John: The repetition of trauma is what I feel has been most detrimental. It can very easily feel like, well, "We've been here before." The difference now from what happened in the early '90s [like the Rodney King riots and verdict, after King was brutally beaten by the LAPD] is that now I have an 11-year-old daughter, a Black girl, who's also being traumatized in these events and in the society. And it takes on a different feeling for me, different level of responsibility because I'm no longer just responsible for my own trauma. I'm responsible for hers.
The trauma is not even just to me, it's to my child and to her future. And at the same time, I feel somewhat defeated because I haven't seen a lot of movement. I have never seen the kind of reaction in the corporate space as I've seen this past summer. Now, I'm not saying that that's some happy rainbow, [and that] we shall skip around and be excited about it. But it is a significant move. Like I said, it's not as if this started happening last year, we've been having these problems, but no one in the corporate space has stepped into this discussion as much as I saw it last year.
I will not lie to you and pretend like I wasn't shocked out of my mind. Shocked because I have been walking these corporate spaces and fighting these battles for 20-plus years and have never been in the kind of discussions that I was in last year. The open-ended, "what shall we do?" And even though "what shall we do?" got on my last goddamned nerve, but still, I have never even been asked that question before. So, while managing my own trauma, managing my daughter's trauma, being annoyed at being asked the question, I still felt somewhat hopeful in that there is some movement that is happening and you know what, listen, I wish it was a mile that we had moved, but I will take a few inches. For my daughter, I will take a few inches because that's less that she has to deal with it.
Robinson: What are some things that you've seen happen over the last year that either worked or didn't work in terms of what allies should be considering to help move the needle?
Cloud: During this summer, I was just really trying to navigate this new world of activism. And the biggest surprise to me was big brands and companies reaching out to me like, "Tash, we're behind the eight ball on this. We don't really know where to go. Can you help us?" And that put a lot of pressure on me. Again, we talk about Black women having to be the saving grace in a lot of senses. While [that] put a lot of pressure on me, I was happy to be in that space because that's unheard of.
And to me, that is the biggest part of being an ally -- asking questions. Because as an ally, you don't know what it means to be Black in America. And so, you can't write our stories. You can't navigate through this space without allowing us to be the driver in the seat. That's the main thing. And then on a smaller scale just in my family, just in the spaces that are around me, having those hard dialogues with people that need to be had, even if it's uncomfortable, we need to have these hard dialogues and conversations. That's been the hardest thing as a Black woman, I feel that I shouldn't have to teach and educate and relive my trauma to bring allyship. But I also understand that there's a lot of platforms in this country that have done a disservice in teaching America's true history and how we have gotten and are still in this point in 2021. For me, I have to take my pride down a little bit to be that educator in a lot of senses. But have those hard dialogues, even if you don't want to, even if you feel uncomfortable as an ally, that is part of being an ally is understanding and listening. Like shut your ass up and just listen, because I got a lot to tell you.
Robinson: The presidential election. Kamala Harris. The Georgia Senate race, where Stacey Abrams, a Black woman, and a majority Black league in the WNBA, were a major part in a historical race in Georgia. How do you think those movements change the way the world sees or imagines the ability of Black women and their power?
Cloud: This summer, especially with what we were able to do from the WNBA, whether it was the Wubble or the players that sat out as a collective, it shows just how powerful our voices are in our platforms. It's no secret with Stacey leading it and the W following right behind, we changed the trajectory of our country. And in a lot of ways, Black women saved this country, whether it was just the lead-up to the election or the actual election itself, and the statistics of who voted for who. Black women saved this country, and the work that was put in this summer by Stacey and by the W, I'm just so extremely proud to be one of 144 [players in the WNBA], because we truly had impact.
Saint John: Tash, you already said it, which is that Black women saved the USA. But here's the point I want to make about that, which is that I think for far too long, Black women have been doing it. It's not as if we started doing it during this election, we've been doing it for a long time, saving the country, raising its children, building its businesses without much credit, right? I want us as Black women to stop doing it in silence. We do it far too often, where we will carry something on our backs for our families, for our friends, for our partners, for our work and our businesses. And we will do it in silence. It's almost as if we have been told that, like, "Hey, carry this thing, but don't tell anybody that you did. Be humble about it. Put your head down. Maybe somebody will recognize that you did it."
Now, I'm tired of that. That's what I'm tired of. We need to stand up and point at something and say, I did that. That was because I did it. My effort made that happen. I wanted to take more credit for it. You know what? People will say that we should be quiet. They'll ask why we're so arrogant about it. Well, look at us. We are so dope. Come on. Why are we so quiet about it? Every time that we had a breakthrough because of Black women in my platforms and places I am, I absolutely made noise about it, but I want us to do that. I want us to celebrate, I want us to celebrate each other. I want us to celebrate ourselves when we do it.