Why the WNBA is dedicating the entire 2020 season to #SayHerName initiative

The 2020 WNBA season is dedicated to the #SayHerName campaign.

The WNBA represents a greater purpose this 2020 season.

#SayHerName founder Dr. Kimberlè Crenshaw and the WNBA hosted a virtual media session Thursday, elaborating on the campaign‘s partnership with the WNBA for the 2020 season. Dr. Crenshaw, executive director of the African American Policy Forum (AAPF), spoke about the campaign’s origin, its mothers network and goals for its WNBA partnership.

“This season needed to be about something bigger,” said Bethany Donaphin, head of league operations at WNBA.

Focusing on racial injustice was a priority for its players, a league where about 80 percent of its athletes are black.

“It isn’t far-reaching for one of us to be Breonna Taylor and I think that’s the frightening thing,” Chicago Sky’s guard Sydney Colson said.

Colson is on the WNBA’s Social Justice Council. With the league dedicating its 2020 season to the #SayMyName initiative, progress is being made with the league acknowledging the movement unlike in 2016, Colson said. In 2016, the league had fined players for wearing “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts (honoring Eric Garner) during pregame warm-ups. In Minnesota, Minneapolis police left the arena when the Minnesota Lynx participated in a protest against police brutality.

Now, in 2020, the league is showing full support of the movement allowing its athletes to wear #SayHerName branded gear in warm-ups and encouraging its athletes to use their platform.

What is #SayHerName?

#SayHerName was formed in 2014 shortly after Fran Garrett, mother of Michelle Cusseaux, took her daughter’s coffin to City Hall. She did so after her daughter was fatally shot by police and there was no one to amplify or seek justice for her.

“Every movement has to have a story. There has to be narratives about what the problem is but if the movement doesn’t hold your story and it cant tell your narrative, then it can’t demand justice on your behalf. It cannot provide support for families who are grieving, it can’t create the kinds of demands that are necessary to make sure that there will be no other Breonna Taylors,” Dr. Crenshaw said. “#SayHerName simply says recognize that black women are also victims of anti-black police violence.”

The campaign also includes a support group for grieving mothers whose daughters were killed by police.

People don’t know there are hundreds of black females, like Taylor, killed by police, Gina Best said. Best was the mother of India Kager. Kager, a Navy veteran, was in her own car with her son at a family reunion when a Virginia Beach SWAT team fired 50 rounds into her car and killed Kager. Kager’s son survived the incident but was disabled and became deaf in one ear on top of having to live the rest of his life without his mother.

“India Kager, she served this country. And yet she’s ignored and erased,” Best said. “It’s a perpetual murder when we’re fighting for our children, our beautiful daughters who were killed by police. We have to deal with destructive narratives by the police, the lies, the vilification, and then we deal with the erasure.”

Not only did Kager’s death go under the radar, Best cannot pursue criminal charges for the policeman responsible for her daughter’s death. Beyond grieving her daughter, she is left to raise both of Kager’s kids — one who has autism and the other who has been disabled since the incident. The police have yet to apologize to her for the incident. Instead, Best received a bill to dispose of the car her daughter was fatally shot in.

Best is one of the members in the #SayHerName mothers network with Rhanda Dormeus. Dormeus too lost her daughter, Korryn Gaines, in a police-involved shooting.

“They don’t understand this is a forever thing,” Dormeus said.

To get through this, the mothers at #SayHerName have formed a sisterhood.

“We support all mothers, not just the ones that make headlines, but everyone,” Dormeus said.

How to help impacted families 

While no amount of resources will ever replace their loved ones, resources are needed for these families that are already grieving and have lost a provider.

“We’re functioning and living every day with amputated hearts where our psyches have been shattered. We have to write our daughters obituaries and pick out their caskets,” Best said.

The worse part for the grieving mothers is having to tell their grandchildren who their mothers were and why they are no longer here, Best said. With the WNBA stepping up, these mothers now have a representative that will amplify their voices and their daughters.

“We will be honoring victims throughout the season telling their stories in arenas and through our channels to make sure that we are elevating who they were as people, and that’s our first step,” Donaphin said.

Through this initiative, the WNBA applies three pillars to the social justice movement: education, action and amplification.