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Take the Mic: 12-year-old cheerleader finds joy in ‘pepping people up’ in quarantine

Parker Miles Blohm
Olawumi Olaniyan is a 12-year-old seventh grader at Heatherwood Middle School in Mill Creek. Her cheerleading team, the Bruins Elite, won first place in their national competition in February, but then their parade season was canceled.

February was a high point for Olawumi Olaniyan. The 12-year-old seventh grader from Heatherwood Middle School in Mill Creek had traveled with her recreational cheerleading team, the Bruins Elite, to Anaheim, California, for nationals. The girls accomplished what they’d always dreamed of — winning first place.

Then came the coronavirus pandemic, bringing an abrupt close to her cheerleading’s parade season, just as it truncated seasons for so many other young athletes. But Olawumi has found a way to redirect her cheerleading energy.

“Right now, I have to be my family’s home cheerleader,” she said. “Everyone’s not super happy, but especially my little siblings. They’re sad because they don’t get to hug people. They don’t get to give high fives. But as a cheerleader — our job is to pep everyone up, even if we’re not super peppy. But pepping people up — that’s what makes us happy.”

Click on the audio above to hear her whole story.

Olawumi told her story as part of KNKX’s Take the Mic youth voices project — a way for teens and kids to share in their own words what life is like for them during the pandemic. We’ve heard one young man describe the joy of bashing a piñata with his family, the ways a 12-year-old aspiring NHL player is staying fit during the stay-home order, and how a teenager in Burien helped make her younger sister’s birthday special, even without a traditional party with friends.

We’d like to hear from more teens and kids about their lives during the coronavirus pandemic — hard times, joyful times and everything in between. For more information on how to submit a story, click here.

Education Coronavirus Coverage
In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.