- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2018

When the Washington Wizards play the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday, the final day of Black History Month, Capital One Arena will play a video presentation set to the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

The video will be shown during the game’s first timeout and will include footage of Wizards players helping in the community, a team official said.

The song, which the NAACP called “the Negro National Anthem” in 1919, is a source of great affection for Clinton, Maryland, resident Eugene Williams Sr.

Williams, a retired English teacher, told The Washington Times in December that it was his mission to convince NBA teams to play “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in addition to the “Star-Spangled Banner” during February to honor black history and culture. He reached out to National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts and spent weeks contacting teams.

He was “elated” and “extra grateful” to learn the Wizards will play the song, he told The Washington Times.s

That elation and gratitude are evident in his voice when he speaks about other teams that played or plan to play “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder have played the song in their arenas this month, he said. The Cleveland Cavaliers played it last February and told him they’d do so again this season.

“I had no idea this would receive the kind of response it received,” Williams said.

Since he spoke to The Washington Times in December, he has been interviewed on an ESPN podcast and invited to Saturday’s Georgetown Hoyas game as a special guest. Georgetown played the song at the game against Providence, a moment Williams said was beautiful and respectful.

The Wizards‘ staff first had an idea to use the song in January. When the team played on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Washington Performing Arts Children of the Gospel Choir performed two songs at halftime, said Lauren Trusty, senior director of game presentation for Monumental Sports and Entertainment.

“That sort of was the genesis of (us asking), what are other ways that we can music in that way to enhance our overall efforts for both MLK and Black History Month?” Trusty said.

Trusty, who is African-American herself, is also a big fan of the anthem.

“It’s an honor for me to celebrate Black History Month in this way, on this type of stage,” she said. “It’s something that, for the Wizards and the NBA, it’s a very important platform for all of us.”

African-American activist James Weldon Johnson wrote “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as a poem in the early 1900s for a celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Johnson’s brother set it to music a few years later. The first of its three verses begins: “Lift every voice and sing till earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty / Let our rejoicing rise high as the listening skies, let it resound loud as the rolling sea.”

Williams hopes that when people young and old alike hear the words, it will renew their hope in democracy, justice and peace.

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