IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa Gymnastics program sets forth the mission to use their platform to educate and bring awareness to social injustices, both locally and nationally. Throughout Black History Month, the team has spent time honoring, recognizing and discussing matters of Black history and finding ways to use their platform to share this with others–Participating in athletic department activations, raising their voice in advocacy, gathering for discussions with DEI representatives on campus and incorporating the song, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to the pre-meet ceremonies of their home gymnastics meets at both Xtream Arena & Carver-Hawkeye Arena–just some of the ways the student-athletes and staff have collectively put words into action.
What is the importance of creating space for student-athletes to be advocates in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion?
Lorenda Holston (Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion): “My personal mission continues to be to empower our young scholars to not only be self-advocates but to be advocates for others. These young people are the voices of tomorrow and it is our duty as an institution of higher learning to help them learn how to do that in a way that is intentional, authentic, and meaningful to them but also educates and unifies us all.
As a child, I remember learning the words of this hymn and the history of it from my school mom. From there it has been a constant reminder that the fight for social justice has a place for all of us. The Star Spangled Banner was written during a time when people who look like me were not granted the same freedoms as others. However, Lift Every Voice & Sing allows us all to see ourselves as benefactors of social justice.”
"My personal mission continues to be to empower our young scholars to not only be self-advocates but to be advocates for others. These young people are the voices of tomorrow and it is our duty as an institution of higher learning to help them learn how to do that in a way that is intentional, authentic, and meaningful to them but also educates and unifies us all."Lorenda Holston, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Although the Hawkeyes are in the middle of their competitive season, it was especially important to the team, coaches and extended staff to take time to discuss the importance of Black History Month.
Why did you choose to take time out of your teams busy schedule to discuss DEI related matters surrounding Black History month?
Larissa Libby (Iowa Women’s Gymnastics Head Coach): “Over the past three years, a global pandemic presented our team with much adversity. We now have the most culturally diverse team we have ever had. The tragic events of the past gave us the wakeup call we needed to adjust our thought process and how we want to be seen. It has given us the clarity to continue to learn and grow and not be the “check-the-box” team when it comes to DEI related issues. Yes, Black History month provides the opportunity to focus on black culture and its role in our lives, but it also is a celebration of diversity. Through everything we have learned, our hope is to demonstrate that while we may not be the same race, gender or have the same political views, we are all human and we respect that all of humanity deserves to be treated equally with love, kindness, respect and understanding”
The Hawkeyes brought their fans into their advocacy by having the hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing” sung during their pre-meet ceremonies for their two home gymnastics meets in February, which honors Black History. This historical song is a hymn written by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson in 1900, sung first by a choir of 500 school children at the segregated Stanton School, in celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday. The song played as an anthem throughout the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s and to date, legislatures are working to get the song passed as the official “National Hymn” of the United States of America.
The GymHawks became the first team at the University of Iowa to have “Lift Every Voice and Sing” performed at an athletic competition on campus. It’s placement, immediately before the National Anthem in the pre-meet production, found Iowa gymnasts standing in unity with one another as the hymn was sang acapella in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
What did it mean to you to be the first team on campus to have Lift Every Voice and Sing performed at your home competition?
Larissa Libby (Iowa Women’s Gymnastics Head Coach): “To be honest, it never crossed my mind when discussing the logistics of having someone sing ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ that we would be the first. In fact, after I found that out, I was disappointed that it had never been done or even talked about. While being the first on campus wasn’t the reason we looked into having this sung at our meets, I will say that I am very proud of the awareness that it brought to our team. The discussions we were able to have, the heartfelt emotions our team displayed when listening to how these moments affected their teammates, and how this impacted our DEI rep on a more personal level, were moments that were simply unforgettable. Our team certainly grew from this and gained a deeper insight into their teammates. I hope that we will serve as an inspiration to other teams and other divisions on campus to take time to be open minded and listen on a deeper level. Moving forward I only hope that we will not be the last.”
Since the Iowa Gymnastics Team first played this historic hymn, other sports on campus have followed suit and incorporated the song into their pre-game ceremonies as well.
"Through everything we have learned, our hope is to demonstrate that while we may not be the same race, gender or have the same political views, we are all human and we respect that all of humanity deserves to be treated equally with love, kindness, respect and understanding.”Larissa Libby, Iowa Women's Gymnastics Head Coach
Iowa Gymnastics would like to thank CJ Parker (Feb. 11) and Kabedi Mutamba (Feb. 18) for performing Lift Every Voice and Sing as well as the Star Spangled Banner at the respective February competitions. The GymHawks want to celebrate and express their gratitude for all those involved who helped make this unifying moment come to life and to all of the Hawkeye fans for their unwavering support.