Activist John Carlos on his 1968 Olympic protest

John Carlos won the bronze medal in 200 meters at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Tommie Smith won the gold medal and raised his fist alongside Carlos to protest inequality against African Americans in the United States. Photo by Kento Komatsu

At seven years old, John Carlos had a vision: he was in front of a crowd of people that he could not see. As he put his hand up, his fist froze. Fifteen years later, his vision would become a reality at the Olympics marked the beginning of a path that would lead him to the statement he made at the Olympics 15 years later.

Carlos, who spoke to a lively auditorium in Memorial Hall Oct.18, was recognized internationally by raising a gloved fist for the bronze medal he received at the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics to protest African-American inequality and poverty in the United States. He wore black socks and no shoes.

“America has been boasting about its greatness. People come for the opportunities. Egotistical, self-serving individuals put borders up,” Carlos told the audience. “Here we are in 2019 and America hasn’t woken up to the poverty within itself. I was born dead as a black man. I’m fighting for life. If I’m doing bad, society is doing bad.”

Carlos was invited to speak on campus by the University Honors Program, who also brought Dolores Huerta and Angela Davis to campus over the past year and a half. “We wanted to invite these figures in the history of the United States who are advocates for social justice,” said Carmichael Peters, associate professor of philosophy and religious studies and director of the Honors Program.

President Daniele Struppa said that it is important to hear people like Carlos talk when “we live in a society that has become fearful and opportunistic.” He said that he hopes Chapman can be better than that.

“When you are paralleling what was happening in 1968 with what is happening now, there is always a need for people of privilege to speak out and help those who are disadvantaged,” said Kina Wong, a senior business administration major. “There is always going to be a need for positive social change and it starts with incentivizing college kids.”

Carlos talked about how he was always a moving baby. From the time he was in his mother’s womb, he was moving around and when he was born he came feet first. As a child he was told by a teacher that he had the gift of running.

“I don’t do things for me. I ran track because it was something to do. I’m trying to get into God’s hall of fame,” Carlos said. “Medals don’t mean anything to me. What matters is making a better world for my kids. What should matter to you is making a better world for your kids.”

Carlos said that the responsibility of anyone in the public eye “is to be a role model for society. The responsibility of any worldly figure is to not forget where they came from.”

He encouraged students to find and follow their passion. To do their fair share of activism, Carlos urged students to do the following:

“Find out within themselves what their passions are and educate themselves about these particular passions. Get in touch with who they are as a human being, and be concerned with those less fortunate. Follow your passion, whatever it may be.”