It had to be the summer of 2005 or 2006. I walked into the City Gear at Metro Center Mall and saw an interesting shirt. The shirt was black and had an image of the iconic moment from the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Me being a fan of sports I knew of the image but had never really looked into the significance of “that moment”. I knew it was during the 1960s and had something to do with Civil Rights for people of color but that was about it. But my knowledge and appreciation of the moment would change soon after a casual discussion and the help of some great friends.
So the discussion was very random at first but then again it wasn’t. From 1999-2007 I worked at the Chick-fil-A in the Metro. And on one of the days I went in to pick up my check, I happened to be wearing that shirt. This is where my history lesson – on that moment in 1968 – began. I had an older coworker named Carlton that was from California. He had a pretty good memory and knowledge of all types of history. He couldn’t remember how many nuggets to drop during a rush but he remembered my shirt! Lol anyways the next time I went into work he was – waiting on me – to ask about the shirt. Carlton’s go to phrase was “yo homeboy” when he wanted to talk about something and with that, my history lesson started. Carlton began by reminding me that he was from California and lived there during the late 60s (think he mentioned being there during the Watts Riots too). He made it clear that both Tommie Smith and John Carlos were some great athletes. Both were drafted by NFL teams. He also emphasized that there was no doubt about who was going to win Gold in the 200 m race at the 1968 Olympics. He raved about how Smith had been running lights out in events leading up to the Olympics. He also talked about John Carlos being very good and that he would finish in the top 3. After that he fast forwarded to the medal ceremony and the moment that Smith and Carlos left us with a demonstration that will last forever. He mentioned how it was not just a big moment but a bold one too. Especially considering the backlash that both sprinters faced afterwards. At the time of our discussion, neither of us was aware of what was taking place at San Jose State University and little did I know that in October 2009 I’d find out.
At some point I posted the picture above on Facebook. Then some time after I planned a trip to California to see some friends. As time approached, my friends told me that a statue of Tommie Smith and John Carlos had been built and was located on the campus of San Jose State University. Both men went to college there and after many years had passed, their moment in history was recognized on October 16, 2005. My friends being the great people that they are decided to help me see the statue in person. It was a busy weekend but on the Monday morning that I was set to fly out, they made it happen. First off we were lucky that I flew into and out of the San Jose Airport. Unfortunately we had to get up very early due to my flight time and the distance we had to travel to get to San Jose. After conquering those two hurdles we were there with plenty of time to spare. I remember it was an overcast morning and kind of windy. Despite the time of morning, students were already moving about the campus. The statue is located in a good spot on the campus so I didn’t have to walk too far and didn’t stick out much. We also avoided getting a ticket for parking in “no parking zone”. It was a great experience and it made me think about how funny life can be. Just a few years earlier I was in my hometown buying a shirt that led to a history lesson. Then on that October morning in 2009 there I was “standing” next to history. I can’t thank my friends Anthony and Jayka enough for making that moment happen.
I still have my shirt and I throw it on every now and then. Standing up on that statue was a cool moment and it gave me a greater appreciation of the stand the Olympians made. It was bigger than winning the race and the medals around their necks. October 16th will mark the 47th anniversary of that night in Mexico City and the 10th anniversary of the statue to honor Tommie Smith and John Carlos. 1968 marked the end of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Today in 2015, we’re still fighting some of the same battles. Yes, things have improved but we still have a long way to go. I only hope that we all are ready to be brave and stand tall for what we believe in when our medal ceremony comes.