Profiles in Black History: Nia Dennis

Posted by on Feb 11, 2021 in People and Culture

This week, btw continues its series recognizing the contributions and achievements of African Americans whom you might not have heard about before. Our second post is about Nia Dennis, a gymnast from UCLA who is famous for a gymnastics routine that went viral online earlier this year.

Black Excellence

In January, gymnast Nia Dennis made internet headlines with a floor routine that was a celebration of Black achievements and accomplishments. Dennis was inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests that took place all summer following George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minnesota law enforcement officers. She set her routine to a playlist of songs by African American artists (including Beyonce, Missy Elliot, Tupac, and Dr. Dre). Her movements were also inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. At one point in the routine, she “takes a knee,” a reference to NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick who became famous in 2016 for kneeling during the national anthem to protest the oppression of African Americans. She also puts her fist up in the air in the Black Power salute, and strolls around the mat in homage to Vice President Kamala Harris.

What Was the Response?

Dennis’s score of 9.95 out of 10 helped her team win their competition against Arizona State University. When UCLA shared the senior’s routine on Twitter, it was viewed more than nine million times. Celebrities from Missy Elliott to former First Lady Michelle Obama praised the routine.

A History of Success

Dennis was born in Columbus, Ohio and was a member of the United States National Team from 2012 to 2016. As a member of the UCLA gymnastics team, she has experienced a great deal of success. The UCLA team won the PAC-12 conference title in 2018 and 2019 and also went on to win the NCAA championship those same years.

Dennis represents a new generation of recently successful African American gymnasts. This includes Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas. Biles (also from Columbus, Ohio) is one of the United States’ most decorated Olympic athletes in history. Gabby Douglas was a member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Gold medal winning team. Douglas also won the All Around gymnastics Gold medal at the 2012 Olympics.

The PAC-12 athletic conference has put in effort to ensure that such success and inspiration is available to as many people as possible. The conference developed a student-led initiative called the G-PAC (Gymnasts for Peace, Action, and Change), which aims to prioritize diversity and inclusion in the gymnastics world.

Dig Deeper This isn’t the first time that Nia Dennis has “gone viral” with a floor routine. Learn more about the attention her talent has received in the past, and write a paragraph about what you discover.