I recall the summer of 1968
it harkens to me as it has every four years
It is the time of Olympic glory, but more importantly, it recalls
my awakening as a young man.
In 1968, you see, I discovered the power of Sport.
Although all little American boys
play at touch football or kickball (stickball) in city streets
even dead-end ones like mine,
it is all fun and games. Not so in 1968. I remember clearly
the time trials, and on barely color television
the Sprint – The Race, and the Salute
It was a small thing. Two fists in the air
only Tommie Smith and John Carlos, not meant as an
Act of Defiance
but as an expression of Identity.
I remember our breath being taken
if we had truly seen what we thought we saw.
And through the altitude-aided long jumps
and the records that would stand for decades
that one small declaration
held my breath. It said, “We are men,”
which should not have needed to be said
but it did.
It did not awaken the militant in me, for that had long
been awake. But it did teach me
that there were sacred barriers that need
to be breached
for the sake of the soul’s salvation
Sometimes, the walls must fall
as liberty is too precious a gift to be ignored.
There are times when the price of freedom
is well spent.
We were men, and the world must know
we do not hate
but no longer bend. It was
that Tommie and John
made their gesture, but we knew
no one but us would ever understand.
If we must stand up for whom we are
it is not a rejection of you
but affirmation of us.
And God made us. On purpose.
I recall the summer of 1984
in Boulder, Colorado, the first Olympics
I had ever watched alone. They were home
close enough to touch. And I had no one
who could understand why I cared.
I had friends, who looked like a rainbow
and women who liked my Michael Jackson moves
and brown skin in contrast
with their freckled blond. And I remembered
Tommie and John
and smiled. They made me a man.
no longer just black, and the girls …
the girls liked that I was both.
And now, in the summer of 2012
the Olympics call again, but it is merely whispers.
I still love the Sport, but now for entertainment.
No longer do we need to ride it to equality.
That ship has sailed.
Still, there is something … unifying
about the fortnight that the world pretends to be one.
And I sit, you on my mind
where you seem to live
watching for the places where once
and root for them, as once I, and my family,
secretly rooted for all the places where black folk lived.
Now, a man, I no longer have to root for being black.
I have earned the right to cheer where my heart lies
is with my darling one.
And I wonder, as the Kiwi
delegation waves past, if she knows,
and if in 1968, were she there,
she would have noticed the little fists
thrust high enough for the world to gasp. I wonder if she
would have turned to me, and smiled, or tilted her head
curious about the single tear
that gripped my cheek.
I wonder why I met her
so very long after
I wonder if Tommie and John
had kept their fists in check
if I would still be
And not a man.