UCLA gymnastics’ Black Excellence meet displays messages of diversity, solidarity
Freshman Chae Campbell raises her fist in solidarity in UCLA gymnastics’ first ever Black Excellence meet on Saturday. Each of the other five floor routines ended in the same pose. (Ashley Kenney/Assistant Photo editor)
By Coral Smith
March 2, 2021 5:24 p.m.
Though the Bruins’ most recent meet was characterized by season-high individual and event scores, perhaps the most impactful takeaway of the competition was the message the team spread.
No. 10 UCLA gymnastics (5-1, 4-1 Pac-12) hosted its first ever Black Excellence meet when the Bruins faced Oregon State on Saturday. The meet, developed to celebrate the team’s past and present Black gymnasts as well as to raise awareness for the struggle for racial justice, was months in the making.
“We’ve been (preparing for) this for quite some time, several months,” said junior Margzetta Frazier. “For it finally to come to full effect and to finally perform it for the thousands, and I hope millions of people that do happen to catch a glimpse of what we’re doing, it feels very empowering, and very fulfilling and very correct.”
Among the many elements the Bruins included in the meet were black and gold leotards with the image of a raised fist on the shoulder, “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts worn during introductions and the awards ceremony, and the performance of the song sometimes referred to as the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” at the start of the competition.
UCLA currently has four Black gymnasts on its roster – Frazier, senior Nia Dennis, junior Sekai Wright and freshman Chae Campbell – all of whom had a hand in planning the meet and competed the day of. Frazier said for a sport that is predominantly white, having this many Black gymnasts on one team was empowering.
“I can’t think of a time when I’ve had that many Black women on a team beside me – I can’t think of a time,” Frazier said. “I just want to say it’s long overdue, but the fight we’ve been putting on is well worth it.”
After the nationwide protests against police brutality last summer, Frazier said the Bruins had multiple conversations as a team regarding the struggles Black people face, giving the Black members of the team an opportunity to share their experiences and educate their non-Black peers.
“Knowing that these women took the time since the summer to sit and to learn and to observe and hear our stories means the world to me,” Frazier said. “I hope they know how powerful and amazing that was, and I’m very deeply touched by what my team has done today, and what they’ve been doing for the past few months, really putting in the work to make the world better and make themselves better.”
Dennis said having her non-Black teammates show support throughout the meet was extremely meaningful to her, especially in the final rotation of the afternoon, when all six of the Bruins’ floor competitors ended their routines by raising a fist in the air.
Dennis had included the symbol in her routine throughout the season as part of her viral performance celebrating Black culture, but after assistant coach and choreographer BJ Das made an offhand suggestion to include the gesture, the other five floor competitors decided to follow Dennis’ lead and raise their fists as their final poses.
“Honestly, when we all changed our ending pose to do the fist, it was also uplifting and powerful to me, and that honestly made my whole day,” Dennis said.
In the lead-up to the meet, the Bruins put out content in support of Black Excellence and the movement for racial justice on their social media accounts. Despite the outpouring of support received by the majority, coach Chris Waller said there was a vocal minority that responded to the team’s message with hate.
“Our Black student-athletes have been the brunt of a lot of terrible racist things that have come across social media, directed at them and at our program,” Waller said. “It’s just exhausting. It’s difficult to endure that and not let that sting just go away immediately – it doesn’t go away right away.”
Frazier said the social media backlash the Bruins received could be jarring, especially for those who were unused to hateful comments. But in the face of this, the junior stressed that she and her teammates did not want to focus on those who wanted to spread hate, instead using their platform to engage with those who were open to the message the UCLA gymnasts wanted to put forth.
“We use our words to spread messages to the millions of people that want to learn, and want to absorb, and want to listen,” Frazier said. “Continuing to not only carry on the legacy (of UCLA), but implement educational factors into what we’re doing is something extraordinary, and I’m blessed to be a part of it.”