Out in the Open: SUU Point Guard Stands for Positive Change

Cherita Daugherty’s hometown of Vancouver, Washington, is home to over 180,000 people. About 2.5% of the population identifies as Black, meaning Daugherty’s old stomping grounds consists of approximately 4,500 Black individuals.

Cedar City, Utah, where Daugherty plays basketball for Southern Utah University, is home to around 36,500 people, with 0.81% identifying as Black. When school is in session, approximately 230 more Black individuals move into Cedar City, which means that Daugherty is one of just 526 Black people living in Festival City, USA.

Nonetheless, Daugherty, along with her fiancee, former Centralia Community College women’s basketball guard Tianna Honahona, have found a new home in Cedar City. 

Together, the couple works to inspire those around them to become kinder, more understanding and inclusive to all members of society. Though basketball brought them to Cedar City, the two stay because they feel they can promote positive change within the community.

Summer of 2020

In late May of 2020, video surfaced of a white police officer in Minnesota kneeling on the neck of George Floyd for eight minutes and 46 seconds, ultimately resulting in Floyd’s death.

The video, witnessed by everyone with a smartphone, prompted protests throughout the world, with minority groups crying out for social justice in continuation of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“It’s infuriating,” Daugherty said of police brutality. “It’s easy to get mad and it’s easy to blame, but if you’re never in that situation, you’ll never know what it’s like.”

As Daugherty watched on in horror, she was knee-deep in the process of determining where to continue her collegiate basketball career. 

She had just completed her two years at Lower Columbia Community College, where she averaged 9.7 PPG, 5.7RPG and 4.4 APG, when universities across the western United States came calling.

The decision came down to three schools: SUU, Idaho State University, and New Mexico State University.

For Daugherty, she wanted to go somewhere she felt she belonged.

The T-Birds’ roster was in need of guard prowess, and the coaching staff was incredibly enthusiastic about getting a talent like Daugherty.

“I had to decide what was going to be a good fit for me,” Daugherty said. “Ultimately, I’m happy I chose SUU.”

In early July, Daugherty packed her bags, filled her car with her two dogs and her fiancee, and left Vancouver for Cedar City, a conservative, primarily white town in rural Utah.

Far from Home

Daugherty knew she was moving to an environment very different from what she was used to at Lower Columbia, but she and Hanohano had no preconceived ideas about what Cedar City was like.

“It was kind of just like ‘Welp, [We’re] moving to Utah,’” Hanohano said. “We will see and just go with the flow.”

Just over one month removed from the death of George Floyd, Daugherty arrived in Cedar City only to be greeted by a pickup truck bearing a “Trump 2020: No More Bullshit” flag and “Blue Lives Matter” flags flying in front of neighbors’ houses.

“Initially, we were just scared of judgement, especially being a gay couple in a town that is mostly [conservative],” said Hanohano. “You kind of feel alone sometimes.”

Daugherty admitted that she initially felt insecure in Cedar City and said that the miles-long caravans full of supporters of Donald Trump dubbed  “Trump Trains” she saw after she moved were “intimidating.”

The sight only made Daugherty more determined to become an example of the positive change that she thinks her country and her new community stands in need of. She remained steadfast in living by her favorite saying, “Treat others the way you’d want to be treated.”

The Obvious Difference 

Throughout the rest of the summer, Daugherty watched as the United States tried to resolve the issues caused by systemic racism. She observed and mimicked the moves made by other Black athletes to change their Twitter header to a picture that highlighted the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.

Professional athletes seemed to lead the push for social justice, and some even joined in the protests happening across the country. 

Later in the summer of 2020, the NBA resumed their season in a COVID-proof bubble down in Orlando, Florida. Pasted onto every court and voiced in every league-sponsored commercial were the words “Black Lives Matter.”

The NBA’s support also gave athletes a platform that was bigger than just social media to use their voice. Better yet, it wasn’t just the Black athletes, it was athletes of all races, from various countries throughout the world gathering behind the movement.

“It’s nice to see people taking a stand for this so it’s not just African Americans having to take a stand,” Daugherty said. “It’s nice to see everyone joined together and I think it gives the other side no choice but to move with it.”

The NBA’s promotion of Black Lives Matter caused many so-called NBA fans to take to Twitter and publicly declare their abandonment of the sport. While the league and the athletes said over and over that the movement was about peace and love, many still chose to meet it with resentment.

“There’s an obvious difference,” Daugherty said. “[Being Black] is like always being on the edge, and until people start to realize that, then it’s never going to change.”

In addition to becoming a leader on her team, Daugherty also became a leader in the community. In her short time so far here in Cedar City, she’s continued to be an example to those around her and treat others with respect and kindness.

“Her character is out of this world,” Honahona said. “You’ll never meet a greater person. She’s humble, easy going, and the most respectful person.”

While Daugherty believes there is still a long way to go in the push for equality, she has already seen positive change in Cedar City. 

“Cherita gets so much love from fans and everyone,” Hanohano said. “I’m so shocked at the amount of people who have personally sent me nice messages and warm welcomes after finding out about [us].”

Moving forward, Daugherty believes that if everyone becomes willing to  listen, that will be a positive turning point.

Using their Platform for Good

“Being an athlete… it gives you a big platform to speak,” Daugherty said. “I think overall, there just needs to be a better understanding.”

Daugherty isn’t alone at SUU in her stance against racial injustice.

Athletes such as star gymnast Karley McClain, along with men’s basketball players John Knight III, Tevian Jones and Courtese Cooper, are just a few of the other athletes that have expressed their feelings regarding equality for all.

“We have a lot of diversity on this team and no one looks at anyone differently,” McClain said of her gymnastics squad. “We are all part of the same team.”

In late November, Knight, Jones and Cooper knelt during the national anthem before they took on St. Katherine University in their season home opener. 

“I’m not trying to disrespect the veterans or anything,” said Knight, a native of Jackson, Mississippi. “It’s about racial injustice, social injustice and equality for everybody. That’s what I stand for, and that’s what I wanted to get across.”

Jones, a junior from Chandler, Arizona said, “Often the message gets confused. It’s standing up for what I believe in, social and racial justice.”

Finally Cooper, a Illinois-born big man, said,  “I kneel because I feel like Black people have been mistreated my whole life. Really, we’re just looking for change. We’re just looking for the world to be a positive place for everybody.”

Coaches across campus have been totally supportive of their student-athletes and their fight for reform. 

“Our coaches are the best,” Daugherty said. “They would never let any racial discrimination from either side happen, so it’s good to know they have our back.”

After the game against St. Katherine, SUU men’s head basketball coach Todd Simon was flooded with questions about his team’s decision to kneel during  the national anthem.

“These are young [players] with a lot of love in their hearts,” said Simon. “If that’s something they feel strongly about, then I’m all the way behind them.”

Throughout the school year, SUU’s athletes have been examples of inclusion and have demonstrated to the Cedar City community that differences are something to embrace. 

“Politically and religiously we all differ,” Daugherty said. “But at the end of the day I don’t think that separates us at all.”

Rooting out racism and hate entirely may seem like an impossible task, but, similar to her attitude on the court, Daugherty remains unphased and ready for the challenge. 

“I think this is long overdue,” Daugherty said. “I think in order for there to be equality, people have to understand and be willing to look at things from another person’s perspective.”

With Hanohano at her side, Daugherty continues to be a champion of positive change for everyone in the community. Though the couple may consider themselves soft-spoken, they’re passionate about equality and strive every day to make Cedar City a more inclusive community.

Story by: Kelton Jacobsen
Photo courtesy of SUU Athletic Department Strategic Communications