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Olympian urges Huskers to maintain hope, keep dreaming
Olympic gold medalist and civil rights icon Tommie Smith knows a thing or two about taking a stand and living with the consequences.
In a Jan. 25 MLK Week keynote at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Smith channeled his experience in a message that urged Huskers to step up (when they are ready) and do all they can to help realize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream for an equal society.
“You don’t have to run the 200 meter race in world-record time in front of the world to make a social awareness point and then be ridiculed or socially indicted for it,” Smith said. “I’ve already done that for you.”
During the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, Smith won the 200-meter sprint in a world record time of 19.33 seconds — the first to officially finish the race in under 20 seconds. As the national anthem played, he and bronze medalist John Carlos (a fellow American) raised their fists to protest racism and injustice in the United States.
The two Olympians were initially ostracized for the action, sent home and not allowed to participate in closing ceremonies. Back home, they struggled to find work and neither would run again for Team USA.
In subsequent years, public opinion shifted and their stand as human rights advocates became a symbol of hope. Smith and Carlos accepted the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage during the 2008 ESPY Awards. A decade later, Smith received the Dresden Peace Prize.
In his address, Smith challenged those in attendance and listening online to keep dreaming.
“Don’t wallow in despair if that dream doesn’t come when you want it,” Smith said. “Continue dreaming — there’s power in that. Dreamers are believers and believers are achievers.
“Sacrifices may plague our futures, but never permit them to kill your spirit and hope.”
He told students to be sure to attend classes and — whenever possible — to hold their heads high as they occupy a front row seat.
“When the opportunity arises, stand up and take a leap of faith, knowing that you are stronger than you ever have been,” Smith said. “Invest in the future today because tomorrow is too late.
“Confront the fierce urgency of now. This is not a time for apathy or complacency. It is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
In closing, Smith challenged Huskers to be proactive in all that they do.
“Your life begins to end the day you become silent about the things that matter,” Smith said. “I leave you with four points to achieve unity and never lose hope — prepare prayerfully with faith; proceed positively with strength; pursue persistently, willing; and plan purposefully with proactive thought.”
The MLK Week Commemoration Celebration included presentation of the university’s annual Fulfilling the Dream awards to Lori Dance and Dulce Garcia, and performances by Live Lyve, a band that features Huskers from Rwanda, and the Northwest High School Falcon Choir.
A video featuring Smith’s talk, the award presentations and performances will be available on the university’s MLK Week site.