By Dennis J. Freeman
Forty-two years ago, Dr. Tommie Smith ran the race of his life, setting a world record and winning the gold medal in the 200 meters at the 1968 Olympics. Today, Smith is still running. This time around, Smith, through his foundation, the Tommie Smith Youth Initiative, is running to save young people lives.
This is why Smith decided to give up his gold medal and winning shoes recently to an auction house. No, Smith is not desperate for money. No, this is not any cry for help. Smith is not doing this as a publicity stunt. All Smith wants to do is to help young people who needs help.
“Everyone needs financial help,” Smith told news4usonline.com. “Everyone needs money. But the love of money is the root of all evil. That is what Tommie Smith is staying away from. I use this to foster ideas and to help others who don’t have what I have or have not been blessed the way I have been blessed.”
Forty-two years ago, Smith made an enormous sacrifice when he initiated the Black Power Salute with American teammate John Carlos on the victory stand in Mexico City. He’s making another sacrifice today. Smith is trying to raise money for the countless young people his youth initiative helps.
The money raised from the Moment in Time Memorabilia silent auction of Smith’s gold medal and track shoes is expected to help provide uniforms, generate mentoring and tutoring, and fostering a well-balanced, positive environment for young people.
The bidding price for the gold medal starts off at $250,000. While some people may contend that number is high, Gary J. Zimet, curator of M.I.T. Memorabilia, Inc., doesn’t think so.
“I think it’s reasonable,” said Zimet. “It’s not high at all.”
For Smith, the latest chapter of his life is basically continuing doing what he has done for the past four decades. Helping young people is a major part of Smith continuing his lifelong mission of giving. After over four decades of reflection, Smith believes he is doing the right thing in putting his medal up for sale.
“I’ve been thinking about this for some time-to continue moving in the direction I am moving,” Smith said. “The program I must continue to help is youth-based; it’s not a Tommie Smith-need for money. It is a youth-based need for money. The concept for financial sponsorships is needed now because I don’t have the personal income I had in the last couple of years to help foster that viable need.
“The only opportunity I have is to use what I have worked for all these years just to help out what I represent. The gold medal is one of them. It won’t be going for waste. It will be helping the programs out that I started some years ago. The economy is not booming like it was 20 years ago. If you look at the streets, there are a lot of kids out there who need fostering. I’m sacrificing it (gold medal). I know a lot of people disagree with it. But people are going to disagree.”
Forty-two years ago there were many people who disagreed with what Smith and Carlos did. Smith and Carlos did the unthinkable when they had the audacity to make a stand against the grave injustice, impoverished conditions and societal mistreatment of their fellow man.
The San Jose teammates had the nerve to give voice to the voiceless when they stood at that podium and fired up their raised gloved fists in unity in protest of the continuing dehumanizing treatment of African Americans by the country they represented.
Forty-two years ago, Smith and Carlos made the ultimate stand, calling to attention the unwanted oppression Black Americans still faced back in their own homeland. They also paid the ultimate price for their heroic actions, being kicked out of the Olympic Village and then sent home to face a country that wasn’t in the mood to forgive them.
Smith and Carlos were made into villains by the mainstream media, crushed with vile and negative press. Their sanity and livelihoods were nearly destroyed by all the commotion surrounding by their epic moment in Olympic history.
Still, Smith said he has no regrets about what he and Carlos did. After enduring financial hardships initially, including finding employment at a car wash, Smith has since picked himself up by his bootstraps and has become an educator, author and public speaker. To operate in regret of that moment 42 years ago would be a disgrace to the people who came before him, he said.
“That would be a total insult-not only an insult to me because my life was on the line-but to my mother and father who worked for all of their lives for their children to be something in the name of God.”