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Voice4Change at The House of Nations presented ‘Return To Mexico City – An Audience with Dr To

On Saturday 11th August, Voice4Change England presented a Return to Mexico City, featuring a first time screening in London of Return to Mexico City and Tommie Smith in a live Q&A session. Return to Mexico City is an award winning documentary narrated by Kieffer Sutherland about the lives of Olympic athletes Dr Tommie Smith and John Wesley Carlos, who shot to fame during the 1968 Olympics when they protested what has been dubbed a ‘Black Power’ protest salute upon collection of their medals for the 200 meter dash finals.

There were over 140 people in attendance, including members of the public, anti-racist charities, The Mayor of Camden, Heather Johnson and members of the press including Anne Taylor (The Guardian), Lindsay Johns (Daily Mail/Evening Standard), Dy Ngog (Huffington Post) and John Gulliver (The Camden New Journal).

Dr Tommie Smith spoke eloquently to the audience in London about the peaceful protest that himself and John Carlos performed. This was intended to show that Black people were no longer content to be subordinate in a society that was still divided along racial lines. Tommie described this not just as a black power salute, but rather an anti-injustice salute, and one of people affirming their dignity. Dr Tommie Smith called this a ‘silent cry for freedom’ and clarified the wider symbolic measures of the protest in Mexico: By not wearing shoes, they represented the poverty that many people lived in; the black glove showed unity; whilst their bowed heads were a means to represent prayer. The power this still holds today was evident through the reaction of those gathered in the presence of this iconic man.

The reaction to this statement in the US still brings Tommie a lingering sense of rejection, as neither man is in the US Olympics Hall of Fame. The significance of this fact should not be lost as Tommie himself at that point held no less than 11 World Records over a variety of sprint distances and was yet to reach his peak at only 24 years of age. Further to this, the initial reaction to these heroic Olympians upon their return home, and indeed for many years afterwards, was one of quite shocking abuse. Dr Tommie Smith told the audience that ‘I did not want to do what I had to do in Mexico, but I had to do it, and it was an embarrassment to show the US did not have human rights for all – we showed the world the need to fight for rights that everyone assumed we already had’.At a time when race equality has slipped off the Government’s agenda, we can take courage from Dr Tommie Smith’s experiences. We can. And we should.

Right to left – V4CE Director Vandna Gohil opens proceedings before an eager, expectant audience.

V4CE held an auction in support of Tommie’s foundation the Tommie Smith Youth Movement. The activity featured just two items; A signed rare copy of 1967 Sports Illustrated magazine featuring Tommie on the front cover and an exclusive signed photo of all 3 men on the podium from the 1968medal presentation. The magazine sold for £500, while the picture went for a surprising, £2,500.

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