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Tommie Smith headlines eighth annual Martin Luther King Jr lecture

By Carley Crain

The Springfield College community welcomed 1968 track and field gold medalist Tommie Smith as the keynote speaker for its eighth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture on Wednesday night via Zoom. 

The focus of Smith’s presentation was, “Power of a dream: Unity wins.” Students, employees, alumni, campus organizations and community members were also recognized for their commitment to social justice as part of the annual Diversity, Equity and Inclusion awards. 

The evening started with introductions by Dr. Calvin Hill, President Mary Beth Cooper and student trustee Kris Rhim. Smith then went into his keynote address, which was about thirty minutes long. The audience then had the opportunity to ask questions in a virtual question and answer session moderated by Marty Dobrow, Professor of Communications at Springfield. 

From a young age, Tommie Smith was passionate about advocating for social justice, inclusion and equality. He actively participated in protests and marches, despite receiving death threats. Smith broke the world record for the 200 meter dash and was the first man to officially break the 20 second barrier at the 1968 Olympic games.  

He was known as one of the best sprinters in the world. After receiving his gold medal, Smith and John Carlos (bronze medalist in the 200m dash) turned to face the American flag with a raised fist, silently protesting the ongoing racism back home in America. 

“It was a cry for freedom, the victory stand. The victory stand highlighted different citizens and that platform was my sacrifice,” said Smith. “We were tirelessly fighting for people who had no platform.”

Smith and Carlos were then banned from the Olympics indefinitely, permanently ending their careers as professional track athletes. Both knew the risk of their protest- and despite knowing they could lose everything they have worked for — the protest stood for something bigger than themselves. Their purpose shifted, and Smith went on to advocate and teach about equality for the rest of his career. 

Smith spoke about the importance of our individual voices and not staying silent in regards to racism. He emphasized how our voices could save lives and create positive changes. 

“Just because you are afraid or not strong enough should not obligate or compel you to run and hide,” said Smith.

“We must continue. The battle is not over. We now have say her name, I can’t breathe,” explained Smith. “It is a battle that you and I can continue to wage war against. Many freedom fighters have died on social battlegrounds, fighting for that seat that you students are sitting in today. They visualized a better existence for us new wave of people and we too soon forget the struggle.”

The night ended with the presentation of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion awards which recognizes members of the Springfield community who contribute greatly to inclusion and diversity on campus or in the city of Springfield. 

The community member award was given to Camille Butterfield Elliott and was presented by Dr. Anthony Hill. Up next was the employee award, and was awarded to Dr. Stephanie Logan.

The student awards were presented to two individuals this year instead of one. Graduate student Charisse DelVecchio was recognized for her efforts in helping organize SEAT at the Table and for her work with the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA). Senior Dereck Webb was the other student recipient  and has been very active with the Men of Excellence Club (MOE) as well as helping organize the March for Action on Alden Street. 

Numerous student groups were also specially recognized for their ongoing efforts regarding diversity and inclusion: the Black Student Union (BSU) , Counselors for Social Justice (CSJ), Men of Excellence (MOE), Women of Power (WOP), Student Society for Bridging Diversitty (SSBD), Cultural Connections Leadership Program (CCLP),  Latinx Student Organization (LSO) and Scientists Embracing Equality and Diversity (SEED).

Members of the Legacy Alumni group were also recognized and Dr. Donald Brown ‘69 accepted the award. 

Despite being the first ever virtual MLK Lecture at the College, members of the Springfield community still were able to come together to celebrate diversity and honor those who have made an impact on campus and in the city of Springfield.

Photo: Springfield College

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