Singer Denasia Lawrence on taking a knee while she sung the National Anthem at an NBA game

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November 02, 2016 By Ituff - Blavity

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During an NBA preseason game, a young woman took a knee to sing the national anthem. She did it while wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt. This was a very bold move, considering the negative response NFL players like Colin Kaepernick have gotten. The movement to make a bold statements like these were bound to make its way from the NFL sidelines to the basketball court. The NBA decided to get in front of the issue before the season started, and "embraced" players using their voices for social good. Needless to say, we won't find many NBA players, if any, taking a knee. This is okay, because singer Denasia Lawrence did it for them.

The 24-year-old from Paterson, New Jersey is fearless and inspiring. During a sit down with Blavity, she discussed what taking a bold stand felt like, the black women she looks up to and what black millennials can do to use their voices. The youth therapist, who finally became comfortable with her voice in college, teaches us a few jewels that we can use in our own lives. 

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Almost 25 years ago, Denasia made her way into this world, but not without complications. Due to a rare blood disorder, thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP),her mother died twice while giving birth to her. After the doctors finished the c-section, Denasia was immediately taken to ICU and a specialty doctor from New York flew in on emergency, bringing her mom back to life. Despite those efforts, Doctors still informed Denasia’s family that she may not make it through the night, and if she did, she would have several disabilities and not live past the age of six or seven. Years later, she's still here and kicking. 

Working as a youth therapist, she uses her voice in more ways than one. This voice she now uses was once something she hid from. "I started singing when I was seven years old, at my home church in Passaic, N.J. When I reached high school, I stopped because I was shy. I was too afraid of the power behind my voice. I started singing again once I discovered the Black Celestial Choral Ensemble at my college, Syracuse University. I immediately felt at home and I became comfortable using my voice." 

The comfort she found in singing is similar to the comfort she's trying to push people beyond. She chose to take such a bold stand during the preseason game because she had a point to make. "I wanted to shed light on what's going on. I wanted to make people uncomfortable and start a dialogue. We can't stop fighting until our voices are heard." 

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She most definitely was heard. The team never cut her mic off while she performed. "I thought about what the crowd would say...if people would boo or if a fan would become aggressive. I thought about my family and friends. I thought about Corey Jones, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Mike Brown, Philando Castile and Alfred Olango," she said.  

Despite those thoughts running through her head, there was never a moment where she was afraid. "I wasn't afraid at all. I had to speak up for what I believe in. If they had cut my mic off, I would've continued to kneel and sing." 

With a fire to craft change through action, she had to be inspired by those who came before her. "I admire Claudette Colvin, Dianne Nash, Ruby Bridges and Dorothy I. Height. Ruby Bridges was so young as she stood as a symbol for school desegregation, and Dorothy Height fought right until her death." 

Drawing present day inspiration from women like Melissa Harris Perry, Denasia offers some advice on what she thinks is next for black millennials. "We have to move beyond using our voices on just digital platforms. We need to go past social media and do the groundwork. Education for our youth is so important. They can't be mobilized if they don't understand who they are and why they are. We also need to get involved locally, placing emphasis on state and local elections." 

Denasia celebrates 25th birthday this week. Even though we should be the ones giving her a gift, she closes out with a gift to us. For every young black woman who is afraid to use her voice and not sure of how to do so, Denasia offers  "Just be yourself."


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