Thanks to the foresight and initiative of Board President Earl N. Smith III, more than 250 Cuffee students, faculty and staff were able to hear Olympic bronze medalist and activist Dr. John Carlos at our high school on the morning of February 13th.
Student Success Manager, Mr. Ronald Thomas prepared the standing room only audience for this legendary activist’s visit with a powerful presentation of his own. He began by requesting that students listen carefully to the words they would be hearing. He pointed out how our optimism and our dreams can easily be eclipsed by misinterpretation of pervasive messages like this one:
One can easily misread this word jumble as “Opportunity is No Where” and find lots of evidence in the world news to believe that this statement is absolutely true. But careful discernment, using critical thinking skills, can also lead to the exact opposite interpretation: Opportunity is Now Here!
Mr. Thomas also engaged the audience in reading aloud a carefully revised version of a quote that has been attributed to rap music celebrity Jay-Z. The intention was to illustrate the power of each person’s courage, and how one individual’s thoughts, words and actions can impact the rest of us for eternity. The words they spoke in unison were as follows:
Rosa Parks Sat
Malcolm X Could Change
Martin Luther King Could Walk
Dr. John Carlos Could Stand
Barack Obama Could Run!
The conclusion of this reading was the perfect segue to introduce Dr. Carlos – whose contributions to America’s history the students had studied in advance.
Having walked along side Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King during his youth, Dr. Carlos is renowned for his non-violent protests as well as his athletic achievements. After winning the 200-meter race in Mexico City in 1968, Olympic bronze medalist John Carlos and gold medalist Tommie Smith wore black socks and no shoes to represent impoverished people. The two bowed their heads and raised their black-gloved fists in solidarity during the national anthem.
Dr. Carlos told the students that it wasn’t developing the talent to win an Olympic medal that was his life’s purpose. It was his life-long quest for knowledge, his love for humanity, and his conviction to stand up for those who can’t or won’t stand up for themselves that led him to a life of activism.
“Knowledge is the greatest thing in your life you can get,” he asserted.
Dr. Carlos continues to share his courageous stories with youth audiences to inspire the next generation to take advantage of every opportunity they are given to learn and to grow so that they too can change their lives and communities with their thoughts, words and actions. “If you don’t take advantage of the moment, it may not come back again,” he warned.
After sharing his life story, he answered students’ questions about current events, politics, and the pervasive inequities and racism in America. In closing, he encouraged the students to take seriously their education and their collective responsibility for making our world a more equitable and just place for everyone. He insisted, “Everyone should be entitled to a better life.”