John Carlos Discusses Athletic Activism and the Importance of Troublemaking

By Nicole DeJacimo, Staff Writer

Athletic activism is portrayed in every sport around the world and has been for decades, where athletes take advantage of their public status to stand up for causes they believe in. Colin Kaepernick and Serena Williams are two modern examples of athletes fighting for their rights and for the rights of others. A few weeks ago, Gettysburg College hosted John Carlos, an American former track and field bronze medal Olympian, who spoke about his own work as an athletic activist.

“I’m just a young, bright-eyed kid who probably had some ambitions before I even met the world,” said Carlos. He grew up in Harlem and attributes his childhood experience to why he feels so strongly about fighting to end poverty, racism, and other forms of oppression. Carlos advises, “know who you are,” because when you research what you do and know your choices, you can better understand yourself in order to become whatever you hope to be. From a young age, Carlos was smart enough to see when something was unfair and he knew just how to fight it. He told the audience a story about the time he burned down trees in his neighborhood. Why? “The projects stopped spraying the trees and my mom can’t talk to the others moms because the caterpillars would give her a rash,” Carlos at fourteen said to the judge after being arrested for arson. If his mom had a rash she would not be able to go to work. What may have seemed like a teenager acting out in aggression actually turned into a case that uncovered a much larger problem. Local officials were holding the money given to them to spray the trees for personal use. From then on, Carlos has used his voice to advocate for those who cannot or do not speak up on their own behalf.

At the end of his speech, Carlos tells the audience to “make the ripple.” He insists that although one voice may not seem like it is enough, it only takes one to start a ripple, a chain reaction that could change the world for the better. He said, “reach out to one person” and if you can make a difference in one person’s life you have already started the ripple. Be the troublemaker. Carlos said, “Gandhi: troublemaker. Dr. King: troublemaker. Harriet Tubman, Peter Norman, John Brown, Jesus Christ: troublemakers,” just as Carlos has been called “troublemaker” his entire life.

“Well, I’m in damn good company when they call me a troublemaker!”

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Author: Gettysburgian Staff

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