Natasha Cloud’s commitment to giving back and speaking out hasn't wavered during COVID-19

Next up for Cloud: Everytown for Gun Safety’s virtual event on June 5

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Natasha Cloud speaks with a referee during Game 4 of the 2019 WNBA Finals. Photo credit: Chris Poss.

Like all WNBA players, Washington Mystics point guard Natasha Cloud is in a holding pattern as she waits to hear whether there will be a 2020 season. The coronavirus pandemic has upended many of her routines, but one thing that hasn’t changed is Cloud’s commitment to community service.

Cloud is spending this time at her home outside of Philadelphia with fiancée and fellow pro athlete Aleshia Ocasio. That gives Cloud and Ocasio some rare downtime together—and provides an opportunity for Cloud to give back to both her home city of Philadelphia and her adopted home of Washington.

“It's important for me not only to be present here in my community and where I grew up … in Philly, but DC is a second home for me,” Cloud told The Next last week. She considers giving back to be her civic duty, “especially during this crazy time [when] a lot of selfless people … are putting their life and their families at stake every single day to make sure that the safety and well-being of others are put first.”

On May 15, Cloud thanked many of those people by donating food and masks to Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Upland, Pennsylvania. Along with being the hospital where Cloud was born, it borders Chester, Pennsylvania, a community that, as of 2017, was 84% non-white and had a median income that was less than half the national average. Cloud partnered with two friends to acquire the food and masks: Katie Gardler, who manages a few Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers locations (and was the director of basketball operations for St. Joseph’s women’s basketball when Cloud played there), and WNBA Kicks’ Kayce Kirihara, who has designed masks for the fashion website Emichi.

Thank you to our heroes on the frontline during this pandemic. Your hard work and selflessness doesn’t go unnoticed or unappreciated! -
Big shoutout to Katie and @freddysusa for teaming up with me to provide food for the COVID-19 Unit at Crozer hospital. 🖤
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Another shoutout to @infamouskayce for teaming up and providing masks to ensure the safety of our heroes and their families 🙏🏽💚
May 15, 2020

Cloud did not plan for her donation to take place on what was supposed to be the WNBA’s opening day, but looking back, she appreciated the symbolism of that coincidence.

“It was a hard day for us as the Mystics and wanting to play,” Cloud said, “but I think it's really cool now … that I did something in honor of our opening day without even consciously knowing.”

Cloud intends to do something similar in DC’s Ward 8, which is the poorest ward in the District and the one where the Mystics’ Entertainment and Sports Arena is located. She has made inroads on securing masks and food but wants to iron out all of the details before contacting the intended recipient. She also plans to reach out to Washington Wizards star John Wall, who has donated masks and food to two hospitals and announced a rent relief fundraiser during the pandemic.

“I think he is doing a phenomenal job,” Cloud said, “… so [I’m] just making sure that I support him in what he's trying to do … We're trying to do our jobs as people in the community of DC and making sure that we're doing right by them and supporting them.”

For Cloud, another aspect of supporting her communities is speaking out “on issues that don't sit well with me.” She told The Next, “I am a black female. It's important for me to continue to be a voice for the people that look like me and that need help the most.”

She has done that throughout her five-year career with the Mystics, most famously by instituting a media blackout after a game last June to protest gun violence. She also raised awareness by wearing an orange Everytown for Gun Safety shirt during warmups throughout the 2019 season.

Right now, the issues that most concern Cloud include gun violence, racism, the disproportionate impact COVID-19 is having on communities of color, and the increase in domestic violence during the pandemic. She specifically mentioned the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was killed by police in Minneapolis on May 25.

“It's a constant struggle every day to be black in America,” she said, “and … there needs to be a change.” A few days later, on May 29, Cloud commented at length in an Instagram story:

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She followed that up with a powerful story in The Players Tribune titled “Your Silence Is a Knee on My Neck”—a reference to Floyd’s cause of death. Cloud wrote that she had been planning to write about a different topic, but “Right now, if we’re being really real? As a black person in America, there’s only one thing that could possibly BE on my mind. And that’s fearing for my life. … It’s wanting to stay alive — in a time where the reality for a lot of people is that my staying alive doesn’t matter.”

In the story, Cloud called out one group of people in particular: “all the people who think that—in 2020!!—they can still somehow just politely opt out” and not take sides. She explained that these people help uphold racist systems by remaining silent about police brutality and even murder—and they can prevent further tragedies by speaking up. “Their silence is the knee on George Floyd’s neck.”

Cloud is also fighting to save lives through her continued work with Everytown, and she will appear in a video for the organization’s virtual “Wear Orange” event on June 5. However, Cloud said that people often misunderstand why she partners with Everytown.

“I love Everytown because it's about sensible gun laws,” she explained. “It's not about gun control; it's not about taking away people's guns. I believe in your right to bear arms. I believe in that amendment. I believe in the right to protect your family. But what I also believe is that children and kids should be able to go to school and be safe. Black men should be able to walk on the street and not get shot. … No one should be losing their lives to guns.”

In addition, Cloud has regularly spoken out about gender inequities and fought for the WNBA to get more respect. “It’s kind of just being, in a sense, a well-rounded advocate,” she said.

During the pandemic, that has largely taken the form of virtual events that highlight women. She participated in the Philadelphia 76ers’ Virtual Girls Summit and the Detroit Pistons’ Girls Dream Big Speaker Series, both on May 14. In March—which is also Women’s History Month—she joined a roundtable about women in basketball hosted by The Undefeated.

Cloud said, “I think it's important for … young kids to see strong, independent, and successful women in positions of power and using their voice.” More and more, people are looking to women to lead and speak up, and she is happy to oblige.

Conversely, when trolls degrade the WNBA on social media, Cloud doesn’t hesitate to clap back. “Come play me,” she tweeted in late April, responding to a man who wrote that the WNBA should not be considered a professional sport on par with major men’s leagues. “[Message] me and I’ll send you the addy.”

Cloud challenged another man, who wrote that he doesn’t think women’s sports are “as entertaining, fast-paced, or as intense” as men’s sports, to attend a WNBA game live. She added, “I’ll pay for your tickets. I’ll talk my shit..but I’m more about breaking barriers and exposing people to the greatness of our league.”

Cloud told The Next that, as a woman, she faces countless doubters and detractors. “But just because you're a female doesn't mean you're less than. Just because you're a female doesn't mean that you can't.”

She recognizes that she has an opportunity, even an obligation, to be a role model for girls “so they can dream to play in the WNBA and be financially stable and … go out into the world and do big things.”

That financial stability has been critical to Cloud’s ability to be an advocate this offseason. “You got to make sure your house is in order before you can help anyone else,” she explained. When the WNBA season was postponed, Cloud’s first reaction was, “How do I support my family?”

The WNBA’s announcement that players would receive their paychecks on time took a weight off of her shoulders. “We're not NBA players. We don't make millions and millions of dollars where we're fine if we don't have an income.”

Cloud also dealt with a health scare in her family and has been looking out for her parents, both of whom are still working. But with her family now in good health and her paycheck assured, Cloud can more easily be a voice and a helping hand in her communities.

Natasha Cloud warms up in an orange shirt supporting Everytown for Gun Safety before Game 5 of the 2019 WNBA Finals. Photo credit: Domenic Allegra.

Whenever the WNBA season resumes, Cloud will build on her advocacy from this offseason and from past seasons. She plans to continue wearing an Everytown shirt during warmups and inviting gun violence survivors to attend games and sit in her section of the arena. In addition, she wants to “[take] it up another step, too, with Everytown and making sure I'm doing my job as an ally … Definitely getting out in the community the same and more.”

Some professional athletes might view activism as a burden, but to Cloud, it’s a huge opportunity. That hasn’t changed, even in a global pandemic that has thrown so much into question. “People sometimes feel that because we're under a microscope, that it's a negative thing,” she said. “And instead, why not change it into something positive and turn that microscope into a microphone?”