Three years ago, Washington Mystics star Natasha Cloud knew a decision could cost her everything she’d worked for; her name, money, reputation, and career.
But a deep-seated, long-held belief that she was placed on this earth to serve others prevailed, and the decision was made; she would sit out the 2020 WNBA season.
The reason? To work on social justice issues amidst the unrest gripping the nation after the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
It was a difficult decision that has now become one of her proudest moments.
“Honestly, the work that I was able to do in 2020 and over the past few years in my community are what I am most proud of,” Cloud said during a recent interview. “There are a lot of things you can boast about, but taking a stance in 2020…I truly believe that God intended me to be a servant for my community and to others, and I wanted to stand on that.
“And I thought I could best stand by completely removing myself from the basketball realm and diving into just being an advocate and an activist for my community,” Cloud said. “Just utilizing the blessings of what basketball and the W have given me, and really just harnessing those things and focusing my full attention on the issues that were at hand.”
Those issues at hand included a country shocked, saddened, and outraged at a series of police-involved events, including the death of Floyd and Atatiana Jefferson at the hands of police and the shooting of Jeff Blake by a white police officer that left him partially paralyzed. The results were a nationwide groundswell of unrest; Black Lives Matter protests, and the catapulting of racial injustice to the forefront of the nation’s conscience.
That summer, Cloud was front and center as the athlete-turned-activist and became the unofficial face and voice of the WNBA’s social activism. She stayed busy leading BLM marches in DC, offering advice to her teammates in the Bubble in Florida, leading to the players protesting games in support of social justice. She also advocated for the Mystics arena to serve as a polling place in the 2020 election, helped with voter registration, and more. It was something she felt she needed to do with a potentially high cost she was willing to pay.
“I don’t think people realize how detrimental to my career that decision could have been,” Cloud recalls. “For me, it was just trusting God’s vision for my life. I sat on it. I prayed on it. It just kept leading me to the thought of ‘you need to sit out and be two feet in with this’ (social activism).”
“That could have been the end of my career, but God willing, it wasn’t. I was thankful to be able to come back, and I feel like there’s so much left for me to do,” she said. “But I can’t do it alone, so I’m super thankful to the W for giving me the platform to be who I am and to be one of the main voices when it comes to advocating for our community.”
Her visibility as an activist as well as a star athlete (she won a championship with the Mystics the year prior in 2019) led to a new group of fans and supporters. It cemented her identity as a role model for the next generation, which is a role she values.
“It’s really crazy and surreal to me. I never take this title or that role lightly,” she said. “I take it very seriously. In everything I do, I am very conscious. A lot of people like to think I am impulsive, but there is actually a lot of thought behind what I do.”
Kids are the change this world needs, Cloud continues, and it’s important that this next generation of kids learn early how to harness their power, intelligence, and their voice.
“They need to be given the right resources, opportunities, and guidance, and that is what I want to do,” she said. “I want them to see themselves in me. I want them to know that whatever it is they are passionate about, if things don’t sit well with them, you speak up about it.
“I am focused on being a representative for my community, for kids that pull up to me but also to move the needle forward. I very much believe if all I did in my career is bring a championship to DC, then I failed. I failed my community and my people,” she said. “It is always at the forefront of my mind to continue to be a servant.”
Part of that servant attitude came from her “sheroes,” members of her immediate family who showed Cloud – the youngest of 5 – “the blueprint of what it means to be a strong, outspoken, and [an] independent woman.”
“My mom, sisters, aunts, grandmother…just setting an example for our family,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been surrounded by just powerful women that have guided me and taught me to not only be strong but nurturing and caring, and that comes out in everything I do, especially my activism.”
“This is why I can relate to people on so many different levels. I am super thankful for the environment I was raised in because it’s truly made me who I am today.”
Whether she’s dropping buckets on the court, marching in support of injustices, or lending a hand in the community, Cloud lives by the mantra “know your why.”
“That is something my best friend gave me in college when I was feeling all out of whack, and the pressures of life and playing were getting to me,” Cloud said. “It’s important because when you know your why, it gives you a sense of stability, and then the adversity that comes along the way can’t knock you off your path for greatness.”
It’s a truth Cloud knows all too well.
WNBA reporter Dorothy J. Gentry writes a column on WNBA.com throughout the season and can be reached on Twitter at @DorothyJGentry. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.