As millions tuned in to watch the highly anticipated halftime performance by Rihanna, viewers watched another performer steal the show with her energetic and passionate American Sign Language renditions of the setlist.
Justina Miles performed on behalf of the National Association of the Deaf and made history by becoming the first Black female deaf performer for the halftime show and the first deaf person to sign “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
For the halftime show, Miles had received the set list only five days before and immediately began memorizing both the lyrics and the beats. She stated that it was important to show the artist’s work by being as visual as possible.
“I memorize the lyrics and the beat so I can sign the lyrics and move to the beat so they can see the beat rather than hear the beat,” Miles said in an interview with CBS Mornings.
During the halftime show press conference, Miles said that signing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,”
otherwise known as the Black national anthem, was especially important for her as it is a song many people may not know about and a representation of resilience.
“The Black national anthem is really inspiring and empowering and so this song is so positive. It’s so beautiful and you don’t really hear or see it very often or even hear about it,” Miles said during the press conference. “It’s not only for me to share this experience with the whole world but to really bring that empowerment to millions and millions of Black deaf people all over the country who’ve never really seen that before.”
Miles is hard of hearing and comes from a family mixed with hearing people. She attended Model Secondary School for the Deaf, or MSSD, a boarding school in Washington D.C. for deaf and hard of hearing students, and was valedictorian of her class. Miles also had success as a Deaflympian: In the 2021-2022 Deaflympics, she won a silver medal for the USA 4×100 women’s track relay team.
“(Miles) was an excellent all-around athlete, and she represented MSSD very well in volleyball, cheerleading, and track & field. We are very proud of her success,” shared Paul Wood, the athletic director of MSSD, in an email.
MSSD manager of school operations Ursula Schultz and director of academic programs Stephen Farias both mentioned in an email that Miles’ drive for excellence appeared throughout her academic life: She served as president of the student body government and was appointed as valedictorian for the MSSD graduating class of 2021.
This isn’t the first time Miles has been in the spotlight. Before the Super Bowl, Miles performed at various concerts across the country. She also made a TikTok video that went viral in 2020 for her rendition of Lil’ Kim’s “Crush on You.”
As a pre-nursing student and cheerleader at Bowie State University, Miles has hopes of inspiring deaf and hard of hearing people by making nursing more accessible.
“With nursing, my goal is to really pave the way for deaf people to become nurses and to help deaf people. When they go to the hospital, they need that access,” Miles said during the CBS Mornings interview.
As for her Super Bowl performance, Miles hopes she has inspired others, especially the Black deaf community.
“They should feel inspired and that’s the same way I feel,” Miles said. “I feel like that is truly lifting every voice, even my voice.”