Activist John Carlos as SHOUT’s keynote speaker
In celebration of Colby’s 11th annual S.H.O.U.T! (Speaking, hearing, and opening up together) week, former Olympian and Civil Rights activist John Carlos spoke in front of an audience of over 100 students and faculty on Thursday, March 1.
Carlos, an Olympic bronze medal-winning sprinter, became an active warrior in the Civil Rights Movement during the mid to late 1900s. His efforts to raise awareness for the injustices that the black community in America faced garnered international attention after he, along with fellow American sprinter Tommie Smith, gave the iconic “raised fist” salute after winning a medal in the 200 meter sprint during the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Carlos has since become an outspoken activist, giving frequent speeches around the country and even co-authoring The John Carlos Story: The Sports Movement that Changed the World.
Carlos, who gave his speech in Page Commons, began by telling the audience about his childhood. “I grew up in Harlem and I had a loving mother and father,” Carlos said. “In school, they started calling me a troublemaker,” Carlos continued, while noting the multiple times he got in trouble with his teachers and the police.
As he continued his speech, Carlos recounted how he began noticing racial injustices as a child. He specifically noted an incident where his desire to be an Olympic swimmer was slashed after he was denied entry into a swim club due to segregation. “My father told me we had to talk,” recounted Carlos. “He told me, ‘Son — the color of your skin — they aren’t going to let you swim’,” Carlos said.
Carlos, who had dreamed of becoming the first black swimmer to represent the USA, recalled how all his “excitement and happiness” turned to “venom and anger. “It had me struck to a point where I was traumatized,” said Carlos.
From then on, Carlos turned to running — a decision that proved to be fruitful for him. Carlos rose through the ranks in the world of sprinting — from a young boy in Harlem, to an aspiring student-athlete in college, and eventually to an Olympicmedal-winning star.
Carlos had many strong messages for those in the audience. “We have to look around and see where prejudices are coming from,” Carlos stated. When asked what role he thought young people should play in the fight against racism, he responded by saying, “(We) have to let them know and let everybody know that we can’t deal with this.”
As his speech came to an end, he imparted his listeners with a final message: “We can do it if we come together. “We are very powerful if we come together as one. If we come together, we can stop a lot of things running through this world.”
At the conclusion of his speech, students left feeling inspired by Carlos’ powerful words. “Hearing his backstory, hearing how he overcame adversity, it’s inspiring,” said Brytain Tate ’21. Fellow first-year Hannah Richelieu agreed. “It was surreal, because he played such an important role in the fight for equality. To see him standing on Colby’s stage was amazing,” Richelieu said.
Katherine Cabrera-Hunt ’18, Chair of PCB, told the Echo “John Carlos is a reflection of his nickname, ‘the world’s fastest humanitarian,’ and also a front-line activist — where his sacrifices have led to greater conversation all across the nation about the treatment of African Americans in America. Many prominent issues that were happening in ’68 are still prominent today. To name a few: poverty, mass incarceration, and police brutality. Our generation needs to step up and speak out. And continue to stand up and SHOUT.”
S.H.O.U.T week also includes a talk by Mustafa Ali on March 6th called Moving our Most Vulnerable Communities from Surviving to Thriving, a PCB coffee hour following the State of the College on March 7th, and an Endnote celebratory dinner with Elizabeth Brady ’17, where she will receive the 2018 S.H.O.U.T Alumni Award.