Who would have thought a day like this would ever happen? God is truly great!!!
OCTOBER 16th is a special day in which I always reflect upon and truly appreciate. It will always be (in my mind and heart) my emancipation day. Without fail every 16th of October, I drift back to the day I stood tall alongside my Gemini brothers Tommie Smith and Peter Norman on the podium at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. This day forever changed our lives and as I have been told many times and by the many people along my journey over the years, it changed and influenced their lives as well.
“CHANGE” Let’s face it: we all dwell on the past from time to time and that’s okay. We are all human beings with emotions and a vision. As we live life and experience it to its fullest, it is only natural that we sometimes take a stand for what we truly believe in. On this specific day, Tommie and I made a stand by raising our fists in the air to protest all of the injustices that were happening at that time around the world. Neither of us, including my dear friend Peter Norman who stood alongside us and those who stood against us, could have imagined the impact and legacy we would have created and left behind or that our stand would influence generations of people.
Words cannot express how refreshing it is to see today’s athletes emulate the passion and stance of that gesture from 48 years ago. That moment has manifested itself into something bigger than I could have imagined. As I reflect on that day, from today’s perspective, we were the gardeners who planted the seeds and watered it. What you see in these individuals today is the manifestation, growth and the fruit of our labor. Athletes who have done their homework and researched the history and understand the reasoning behind our protest. Fast forward to today they now comprehend what happened at that particular time and recognize and support what we did.
One of those people who I commend is Colin Kaepernick. Colin is igniting a new movement and is shining a light on inequality and injustice for our people. He brings the discussions surrounding racism in America against blacks, back to the forefront. He inspires other athletes, races and groups to speak up and voice their concerns in support of the message. By choosing to take a knee and or sitting during the national anthem he honors the journey with a similar protest.
Colin Kaepernick consulted one of my good friends Dr. Harry Edwards before and after his decision to sit through the national anthem. Dr. Edwards has served as a consultant to the 49ers for more than 30 years. Within the San Francisco Chronicle he said that he wholeheartedly supported Kaepernick’s decision to become a national lightning rod.
“Colin Kaepernick absolutely has a constitutional right to express his opinion on the politics of diversity in America,” Edwards wrote. “He is courageous, well-informed and steadfast in his position. He is evolving through an awakening and (perhaps) really understanding for the first time (given his background) the true depth and scope of the history of anti-black racial hatred and injustice in America.”
In my opinion, we need more people who are willing to stand up and speak out, because although we have made strides there is still more work left to be done.
Forty-eight years later we continue to be the human rights advocates/visionaries that stood on the podium in 1968.
The continued support and love from individuals of all races around the world who have sent me pictures of themselves standing alongside our statue at San Jose State or at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture within the Smithsonian Museum, along with the brave athletes who continue to make a statement through protest or by speaking to the media about racial inequality, poverty, police brutality, and human rights, warms my heart and confirms to me, that our protest was worth it.
I would have never imagined having a statue of our protest being featured at a museum or on the grounds of the university I attended. I feel with all of the issues our nation currently is facing, having this historic museum showcasing and telling the stories of pioneers, and freedom fighters within the African American community is truly a blessing. Our iconic statue within the museum truly brings tears to my eyes.
My time in Washington, D.C. was surreal and it sent chills down my spine. Scott Blackmun, CEO, of the U.S. Olympics Committee, gave a wonderful speech honoring the 1936 Olympic team. A speech that hit home for me. In 1936 eighteen African Americans were denied the opportunity to meet the President of the United States due to their skin color. Among the eighteen was the magnificent Jesse Owens who had captured four gold medals and the Games. Eighty years later we pay tribute to those individuals who paved the way for individuals like Tommie and I.
That day was a very special and humbling experience to be part of the 2016 Olympic team with Tommie and his wife Delores but even more special as I experienced this moment with my family and the ROCK in my life, my wife Charlene!
All things in life begin and are strengthened within family. When I was a youngster, my father instilled in all of my siblings the value of the family name. Carlos! He told us, “Whatever we do in life, don’t do anything to shame or to embarrass or tarnish the family name.” I have tried to live by that standard my entire life and to think that our name will be forever engraved and linked to a specific time in history is truly refreshing and a proud moment for me that I share with my father and can only hope that I have done well by the Carlos name.
We have truly come a long way. Alongside the families of those eighteen individuals who were denied the opportunity to meet the President, myself and Tommie got to meet the first African American President of the United States Barack Obama. Obama honored us by acknowledging what we did at the 1968 Games.
In closing, I will leave you all with a quote from the great Jesse Owens whose cleats are hung alongside our own at the museum. A quote in which I will add my own two cents. Jesse said, “The purpose of the Olympics is to do your best.” I agree with this statement 100% but I interpret it a different way.
Doing your best doesn’t or didn’t necessarily mean winning a gold medal. During these times, if you are an African American it means showing the world that you are an equal human being who is capable of competing. It is an opportunity to make a statement to the world and those that see us differently. Those statements influenced and continue to influence the next generations. Do your best to make a difference in all that you do. You never know who may be watching from a distance, and be inspired by your actions.
Nineteen-sixty-eight was a year of both triumph and tragedy where oppression and discrimination were at an all-time high in America.
For me, 1968 was also the year I began a lifelong stand against racial discrimination. A stand I continue to take 48 years later.
Love and blessings to you all on this historic day.
Dr. John Carlos