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Howard Cheerleaders Add Voices to the Anthem Debate by Taking a Knee


        

The cheerleaders' gesture, which started in September 2016 shortly after Kaepernick's protest received notice, is the only distinguishing mark in Howard's pregame program. For the decades, at home, the songs have been added with "Lift Every Voice and Sing," the turn-of-the-century hymn that has become known as the black national anthem.

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Alex Jones, left, and Sydney Stallworth, the cheerleading captains, raised their fists during the playing "Lift Every Voice and Sing," which is known as the black national anthem. "I think about liberty and justice for all, and how it's not been executed in our country right now," Stallworth said.
                        
             Credit
            Andrew Mangum for The New York Times

            
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Members of Howard's R.O.T.C. rolling up the flag after the national anthem.
                        
             Credit
            Andrew Mangum for The New York Times

            

The "Lift Every Voice" tradition at Howard games goes back to the least to the 1980s, according to Howard's former sports information director, Edward Hill Jr. "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the national anthem in 1931, Imani Perry, a Princeton professor, whose book "Lift Every Voice" on the next year is due out.

During "Lift Every Voice," which on Saturday was played immediately before the national anthem, the Howard cheerleaders, the band's dancers and hundreds of crowds in some spectators, Black Power Salute in their arms raised. Then, with a flourish, the cheerleaders, one at a time down the line, switched from raised fist to bent knee, like a row of falling dominoes.

There was no booing from the crowd, as there was at several NFL stadiums where players have knelt The lack of drama also contrasted with what happened as the same day at Kennesaw State, a public university in Georgia, where three cheerleaders attracted controversy and drew threats for the national anthem.

"It's not surprising that when there is an anthem protest, you see HBCUs at the frontfront of the resistance, because that's where we've always been, "said Marc Lamont Hill, a Temple University professor who studies African-American culture, historically black colleges and universities.

"HBCUs are a space of nurture," he added, "where you can be around by black excellence, black genius, and black excellence and brilliance will become normalized. And also black resistance can become normalized. "

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The Howard cheerleading squad's "stop and shake" style makes it distinct from most others, Alex Jones said.
                        
             Credit
            Andrew Mangum for The New York Times

            
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The cheerleading squad lined up the football team before the game.
                        
             Credit
            Andrew Mangum for The New York Times

            

Camille Washington, the mother of a Howard player, was in the stands wearing Kaepernick's 49ers jersey. For this game, she said, she felt she did not team's apparel given that she had attended North Carolina Central University, Howard's opponent (North Carolina Central won, 13-7.) But her jersey was also a tribute, she said, to Kaepernick's protest.

"I'm a teacher," Washington said, "and I want our kids to know they have a voice, and one way to do that is protesting in a way that brings light to what they believe in."

As at many HBCUs, Howard's cheerleading squad rivals the football team in visibility and in emphasis on ritual. A Howard Cheerleader The squad's "stop and shake" style, said Alex Jones, Stallworth's fellow captain, makes it distinct from most others.

"We do add an extra flavor, a little more spice into our cheers and our dances that make "Jones said, adding that" being in that black space opens it up. "

Demarco Brooks, who became the cheerleaders' coach this season, said that he was kneeling in opposition -" It will not be my first choice "- but that he was respectful of his rights. He insisted that every cheerleader decided to kneel The captains said it had gone fine, but no one did.

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The audience included a parent wearing the jersey of Colin Kaepernick, the N.F.L. player who started kneeling through the national anthem for last year.
                        
             Credit
            Andrew Mangum for The New York Times

            
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A member of Howard's athletic staff, with a tattoo of a raised fist.
                        
             Credit
            Andrew Mangum for The New York Times

            

And the squad is intent on sticking to this ritual.

"Injustice is still continuing," Stallworth said. "So we're going to continue to kneel until we see a change."

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