EDITORIAL: Northeastern cheerleader displays courage

York Dispatch
  • Northeastern cheerleader Ajani Powell has been kneeling for the national anthem since the fall.
  • A picture of her kneeling was recently posted online, leading to a social media firestorm.
  • The online debate got very nasty at points, including racial slurs and threats.

Imagine you're an African-American teenager attending school in a predominantly white district and in an overwhelmingly conservative region.

Imagine you're a cheerleader in that district who performs week in and week out in front of hundreds or even thousands of folks at area athletic events.

A Northeastern School District cheerleader, Ajani Powell, kneels during the National Anthem at a recent basketball game.

And imagine you're living in a racially charged atmosphere after possibly the most divisive presidential election in history.

Would you want to make waves? Would you want to draw attention to yourself? Would you stand up for what you believe, regardless of the possibly dire consequences?

For most ordinary folks, the answers would be no, no and no.

It would be so much easier to just go along and try to blend in.

Northeastern High School's Ajani Powell, however, is not your ordinary teenager.

That much is certain.

No matter your feelings about the propriety of kneeling during our national anthem, there is no doubt that Powell has more than a little courage.

Powell made headlines recently when her decision to kneel during the national anthem became fodder for social media debate.

The sophomore had knelt during every football game in the fall, but no one seemed to notice, or care, much. That changed when a photo of her kneeling before a recent basketball game was posted online.

Then things got very ugly, very quickly, as they normally do when any controversial issue gains social media traction.

Some commenters called her disrespectful to our nation in general, and our military in particular. Some said she should be kicked off the squad. And those were some of the nicer remarks. Others made racial slurs and called for her to be deported, although she appears to be a U.S. citizen. Some even made threats.

Unfortunately, in this day and age, that is not surprising.

Local cheerleader criticized for kneeling during anthem

Fortunately, however, Powell also had many online supporters who defended her constitutional right to protest.

The Northeastern School District, to its credit, posted an online statement recognizing “each student's right to express him/herself, provided such expression complies with policy and federal regulations.”

For her part, Powell obviously believes, very strongly, that there is still racial injustice and division in America. In that regard, there is little doubt she is correct. The recent presidential election made that all too clear.

She is kneeling during the national anthem before athletic events to bring attention to that injustice.

Is that the proper act in the proper venue? That can be debated reasonably by reasonable people.

What can't be debated is that Powell is willing to stand up for what she believes, no matter the frightening consequences that may follow.

It also can't be debated that Ajani Powell is one courageous young woman.