Saturday, August 9, 2008

Ujima - Cooperative Work and Responsibility

I was watching some of the opening ceremony for the Olympics last night and came upon a wonderful story. It's an important job to carry the country flag. The person who carries that flag is usually considered a hero or special in some way. Although Yao Ming, the center for the Houston Rockets, carried the flag for China the real hero was the person walking next to him carrying an Olympic flag in one hand and a Chinese flag in the other.

Walking next to Yao was a nine year old boy named Li Yao. Recently there was an earthquake in China that almost hit 8.0. It was a catastrophe. Almost 20,000 people were killed. Li, along with 30 of his classmates was trapped under rubble. He freed himself and instead of leaving he stayed and saved two of his classmates. When he was asked why he went back, Li said he was a class leader and hall monitor and it was his responsibility. He said he was doing his job and did not consider himself a hero.

What a beautiful thing. Li is nine years old and he's already taking his responsibilities seriously. He knows that he is his brothers keeper. There are grown people who will never gain that knowledge. They will take their selfishness to their grave. I'm a black woman and sometimes when I think of the crabs in a barrel mentality a lot of my people have it makes me extremely sad. I just don't understand it.

People will say there are a lot of reasons behind this kind of thinking, and I understand that, but when do we take responsibility for our actions? When do we reach down and try to help those who can't help themselves like Li did? We're all too busy worrying about what we have going on to go back and save someone. Is that not or responsibility?

We all have it in us. Some do it on a larger scale than others, but it all matters. There are little things we can do to reach back that we may not even realize. I think of my son, who is very quiet and reserved. He's not an activist. When he was in high school, he led by example. Throughout his senior year I spoke to brothers younger than him and they would tell me how they looked up to him because of the example he set. He was also a mentor. Being a good example is a wonderful way to reach back and show those younger than you how it's done.

My daughter is a pre-school teacher. What a thankless job teachers have. People get paid millions of dollars to play sports and make rich team owners more money and teachers, who shape the minds of our youth, don't get paid half as much as they should. It's terrible. My daughter is the first teacher most of her students will ever have. I've seen her in action and she is wonderful. I respect anyone who takes the responsibility of passing knowledge on to our children.

When thinking of Li and the Olympics, my mind went to something else that happened at the Olympics in 1968, the year of my birth. The civil rights movement was hot at that time. Our people were at war. A young sociologist named Harry Edwards formed an organization called the Olympic Project for Civil Rights and tried to get all black athletes to boycott the Olympics. The OPCR gained support from several world-class athletes and civil rights leaders but the all-out boycott never materialized.

It's always good to make your voice heard. You may not get the ressponse you want, but there's always someone listening. If you can affect one person, you have done well. Harry Edwards was heard by two Olympic track athletes named Tommie Smith and John Carlos. After winning the gold and bronze medal in the 200 meter race, Smith and Carlos knew they had to do something to make a statement.

When their medal ceremony began Smith and Carlos walked to the podium, shoes in hand, with their hands behind their backs. As the American flag rose and the Star-Spangled Banner played, the two closed their eyes, bowed their heads, and began their protest. They each raised a black-gloved fist in the air.

Smith raised his right fist to represent black power in America while Carlos' left, fist represented unity in Black America. Together they formed an arch of unity and power. The black scarf around Smith's neck stood for black pride and their black socks (and no shoes) represented black poverty in racist America. Carlos wore beads around his neck and when asked why he said, "The beads were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed that no one said a prayer for, that were hung tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage. All that was in my mind.”

What a statement,so simple yet so complex, like James Brown telling Black people, "Say it loud, i'm black and i'm proud." People really do not realize what a huge statement it was to do that in the middle of the sixties when being Black was supposed to be something that made you feel less than.

Something seldom mentioned was that the 200m silver medalist Peter Norman of Australia (who is white), participated in the protest that evening by wearing a OPHR badge. Protest does not have to be loud or violent. It can also be subtle.

Both Smith and Carlos were suspended and banned from the Olympic village. They returned home to death threats and hard times. Neither one of them could find a job and ended up struggling for many years. The same thing happened to Norman when he returned to Australia.

Smith and Carlos did what they had to do because they felt it was their responsibility to make a statement for their people. They sacrificed so much. They were the ones with the courage to put themselves out there as examples and even though they ended up suffering for their decision i'm sure they would do it again.

Peter Norman passed away and Smith and Carlos were pall bearers at the funeral. Their experience bonded them together as brothers. John Carlos said, “At least me and Tommie had each other when we came home. When Peter went home, he had to deal with a nation by himself. He never wavered, never denied that he was up there with us for a purpose and he never said ‘I’m sorry’ for his involvement. That’s indicative of who the man was.”

We can all put a black-gloved fist in the air in our own way. It doesn't have to be something huge. When you are a good example, your fist is in the air. When you stand up to even the smallest injustice at work or wherever you may be, your fist is in the air. When you take responsibility for yourself and your brother/sister, your fist is in the air. When your positivity affects those around you, your fist is in the air. When you let people know that you are proud of who you are as a Black person, your fist is in the air. The smallest things can make a huge impact.

Keep your fist in the air!


Ratique aka Silent Assassin said...

That Olympic Ceremony was great! Bejing really did it big and brought out everything they could this year, it was crazy. The dream team is back though I believe team USA Basketball will win the gold this year. There team is looking real good right now! But that is one of the best moments in History, the way those three black Men held there fist up in the air! Olympics will be great this year without a doubt!

Strongblkwmn said...

I know you love NBA basketball but I remember when the USA used to give college athletes the opportunity to go to the Olympics. For me it's just not the same watching a bunch of millionaires play. There was only one Dream Team and it was the one with Jordan, Magic, Ewing, Bird, and so on.

I really wish more people your age knew about and appreciated Tommie Smith and John Carlos. What they did was remarkable and it almost destroyed their lives, but warriors always survive.