Rhode Island College welcomed Tommie Smith, gold medal winner and social activist, who is famously remembered for raising his fist while on the podium in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Many members of RIC’s community turned out on Thursday to see Smith give his presentation on social activism and how the best course of action forward for the younger generations is through communication.
Smith, along with John Carlos, an American teammate who finished with the bronze medal, approached the podium in Mexico City wearing black socks and no shoes to represent African American poverty in the United States. Smith, Carlos and Peter Norman, a member of Australia’s olympic team who took the silver medal, all wore Olympic Project for Human Rights badges on the podium. Smith and Carlos were subject to much criticism in the United States, and were kicked off America’s track team after the International Olympic Committee president threatened to ban the entire team.
Smith talked to the audience about his desire to continue the battle against racial injustice and how the sacrifices of those before have given younger generations an opportunity to continue this fight.
“Enjoy these social freedom that many died for or were murdered for,” Smith said.
He pleaded to the audience that many people have too much time to hate, instead they should use this time to understand someone else’s point of view and begin a dialogue about why they feel that way. Smith also spoke on having the confidence in one’s self to not be afraid to be different and pushed people to be true to themselves by, “shaking off the misery and fear of being one’s true self.”
After his presentation, Smith sat down with RIC President Dr. Jack Warner to answer some questions about social activism and Smith’s journey. One question asked to Smith was whether the meaning of his message has changed from his protest in 1968 to now. He answered, “That connection is very important, during those days my view moving forward was to use what you have to make people understand the meaning, to successfully as a nation to grow together.”
Answering a question about the work that still has to be done by sport governing bodies, Smith responded, “The process is still there. The changing of the guard from Title IX till now. In 1972, I was involved in that at Oberlin College in Ohio. I was the Athletic Director, I worked on Title IX. The IOC, which is the International Olympic Committee, and USOC, which is the United States Olympic Committee, have work to do and they are still working on it and changing the guard.”
Amongst those in the audience were many of RIC’s student athletes. A few of them even had the opportunity to ask Smith questions during this once in a lifetime opportunity. One student athlete asked Smith what advice he has for athletes trying to get to the next level.
He said, “Oh, go to class. Numero Uno. Work as positively as you can mentally and physically for that team, but put as much time into the classroom as you do on the basketball court.”
Smith, when asked about what motivated him to go as far as the Olympics, responded jokingly, “My times indicated that I would qualify. All of you sitting out there have been first in something, it’s a pretty good feeling. Tenth is a good place, but for somebody else.”
Another student asked Smith how it felt to accomplish something as big as he did. “To me, it was something that I had to do according to what I believed in,” Smith said.
Before leaving, Smith said these wise words about being the best leader you can be to those in the audience: “Think of yourself as having everything, but still nothing. Silver and gold have I not, but such as I have give I thee. This gives you insight into the picture that you want to be.”