Civil Rights Institute Opens, Visit From Olympic Icon
By Korbin McCarthy
One half of an iconic American duo, Dr. Tommie Smith, famed for the 1968 Olympic games, was the keynote speaker in Riverside for the unveiling of the new Civil Rights Institute. Smith, along with Dr. John Carlos, famously protested on the podium with their fists raised in the air during the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico City. Smith won gold and Carlos took bronze in the 200 meters. Australian Peter Norman, who captured the silver medal stood in solidarity with Smith and Carlos during their protest. Smith and Carlos both suffered a lot of ridicule and strife for the stance they took as they protested the racial injustices Black people endured in the United States.
Smith and Carlos’ impact has been felt in the world where sports and politics collide. Former Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick have used their NBA and NFL platforms for change, standing on the shoulders of Smith and Carlos.
Is using your platform for change enough? Should professional athletes feel a responsibility to speak out? Sitting down with Dr. Smith and when asked that question, he replied, “I expect them to, there is a responsibility to use their greatness. God don’t make junk, when he makes something it’s there for a reason. Treat people how you want to be treated and be thankful for the gift he gave you.”
Smith’s latest book, ‘Victory. Stand! Raising my fist for justice’ is an inspirational story of standing up for what is right in the face of adversity. Smith credits his father as his biggest inspiration saying, “he worked hard as a farmer in the 1940s and 1950s in Texas and later relocating to California by doing everything he needed to do to support 12 children and making sure we were able to have a good education since he did not have one.”
Becoming a professional athlete is extremely tough, but becoming an Olympian is even tougher. The numerous amounts of hours that go into training, the daily sacrifices made and the rigorous effects it has on the body. Imagine going through all of that and putting it all on the line for a bigger cause. Would it be so simple to take a stand? Would you be willing to lose it all? Would you doubt yourself? “I thought about that for maybe a day, my goodness what am I doing this for? Said Smith. “But I remembered what my daddy said when he was picking cotton in the back woods of Texas. He would say there is no secret to what God can do, I just kept working and working. I had troubling thoughts of the duration of those very rigorous practices, but I was not about to stop. When you stop it ends your life, stopping is not an issue for me. Stopping is not in my vocabulary” explained Dr. Smith.
There is no doubt that taking a bold and unpopular stand on a worldwide stage comes with public backlash. That backlash brought plenty of dark days with it for Dr. Smith. “My background, working hard, taking each step, waking up each morning not thinking how I woke up but that I did wake up. Forgetting is not something you do, it’s something you cherish because tomorrow is not promised. So, what you do now is most importantly advised for everyone to take each moment as a blessing and not as a deterrent to do stupid things,” he stated.
Dr. Smith knows the importance of his legacy. “I would hope my legacy is one that helps children understand that they were made for a reason. And that I did a simple thing, that I did what I was sent to do and that we are supposed to do what we are sent to do and that is treat everyone equally, be thankful and prosper,” noted Dr. Smith.
The legacy Dr. Smith will leave behind is one that has forever changed the world.
The Civil Rights Institute will offer cultural and social history exhibitions; an oral history recording media center and digital archive to preserve the history of diverse Inland communities; and space for educational programs and performances. The Institute is located at 3933 Mission Avenue in Riverside.