On one knee

Meet the kneeling Georgia Tech dancer in photo that went viral on social media

A photo showing Raianna Brown kneeling during the national anthem before a Georgia Tech football game last season. (Twitter)

Over the weekend, amid the furor over national anthem protests in the NFL stirred up by President Trump, a photo showing a cheerleader for the Georgia Tech football team kneeling during the national anthem went viral on social media. The image, which was posted on Twitter Saturday night by Raianna Brown, the 22-year-old member of the school’s dance team seen in the photo, has since racked up more than 35,000 retweets and 129,000 likes. In her tweet, Brown, who goes by the Twitter handle @freeSPIRIT_5678, wrote, “Thank you @Kaepernick7 for inspiring to #TakeAKnee to take a stand,” referencing the former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose anthem protest beginning in August 2016, initially drew media attention.

Many who shared the photo on social media thought it was an image of a new event, but it actually depicted Brown kneeling before a game that was played nearly a year ago, less than two months after Kaepernick had begun his anthem protest — and long before Trump had made doing so such a divisive issue. She initially posted it on her Instagram account last year. Both The Cut and Teen Vogue caught up with Brown, who is still a student at Georgia Tech, and talked with her about the photo and its resonance. Brown said she was “surprised” at the reaction it got, but that the positive support she’s received from people has outweighed the negative “blowback” she’s seen. She said some have told her they hope she’s kicked off the team, but that hasn’t happened — and she has an academic scholarship to the school, so she’s not worried that such an outcome will happen. “I’m just glad that the conversation is being had,” she said. By and large though, as tweets like the one below demonstrate, she’s been seeing a positive response.

Brown, who is studying industrial and systems engineering at Georgia Tech, went on to explain how she sought approval from her coach before kneeling on the field and how she told her teammates about what she planned to do ahead of time, but, as the photo shows, none of them joined her. That didn’t affect their friendship, though, she said. She also noted the crowd at the game that day didn’t seem to react to her kneeling during the anthem. Brown said she posted the photo this week as a show of solidarity with all of the NFL players who would be kneeling after Trump’s Twitter tirade.

Speaking to Teen Vogue, Brown made it clear that she means no disrespect by kneeling during the anthem (She continued kneeling throughout the 2016 season). “Some people think kneeling during the anthem is a form of disrespect but I don’t mean any disrespect and I made sure to research why the anthem is played at sporting events and when that began before I did it,” she said. “But it didn’t feel right to stand when so many people are being killed unlawfully or being treated unlawfully in prison systems. It’s important to put yourself on the line, even if you’re nervous, and make a stand for something you believe in.”

Read the full story at The Cut and Teen Vogue.


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