A Gloved Fist for Freedom

By Shaka Jamal Redmond
July 2012

When I talk to people I have just met, family, friends or even acquaintances, and they want to know about my recent work, I am proud to let them know I am the recipient of the groundbreaking Game Changers Project Fellowship. Through this fellowship, I feel a great sense of responsibility to artfully reveal stories about spirited and dynamic Black men from my community who may otherwise go unnoticed. I felt an even greater sense of responsibility when I heard my first piece was going to be on the 1968 200-meter Olympic Gold medalist, Dr. Tommie Smith and his Youth Movement in West Oakland, spearheaded by the 100 Black Men of the Bay Area.

I never imagined that some day I would meet Dr. Tommie Smith, an icon of the Human and Civil Rights Movement during the 1960’s. As I spoke to people, I realized most did not know his name or anything else about him, but all remembered his bold stance in the picture that captured that momentous time in history. Inarguably, the most iconic image in sports history, he is the man atop the winner’s podium, draped in a gold medal, black socks, and a gloved black fist, raised proud and high, during the 1968 Mexico Summer Olympics. My charge was to shed light on not only his past, but how his present is an extension of his, and all of our greatness.

I began to diligently research the life of Dr. Tommie Smith. I watched documentaries, read articles on the internet, and spoke to elders who memorialized the historic day in their hearts. When I heard him speak, he reminded me of my own Dad and other men who grew up in the turbulent 60’s. Statements such as, “I had no choice. This [taking a stance against injustice] is what we had to do just to survive,” echoed through my mind as I remembered my Dad telling me how tough it was during that time. Even in the midst of clandestine socio-economic hardship, they still could not settle for anything less than what certified their own humanity. In that stance, they knew their community’s humanity could also be confirmed and embraced, creating a fertile climate of inspired existence.

During the two days of filming Dr. Smith, I came to realize his commitment to the people has not wavered, in fact, it has grown. In the Oakland chapter of the Tommie Smith Youth Movement, youth are offered free and healthy breakfast and lunch reminiscent of programs of the Black Panther Party. They are trained in track and field and are offered help on their homework and given workshops on life skills and healthy living. Parents, college volunteers, and track coaches all lend a helping hand throughout the day, focusing their attention on the youth. They support them with positive affirmations, high fives, and even hugs. The complete dedication to molding youth around the world into healthy, knowledgeable, and wise individuals, no matter the obstacles, is both the catalyst and incubator for the Tommie Smith Youth Movement.

To learn more about the Tommie Smith Youth Movement and The 100 Black Men of the Bay Area, please visit: http://www.100blackmen.org/youthmovement.aspx

To visit Dr. Tommie Smith's website, please visit: http://www.tommiesmith.com/


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