Solano Community College will be commemorating Black History Month with a series of events throughout February. To kick things off, the college will be hosting a speech by noted Olympian and human rights activist Tommie Smith at the SCC Theatre.
Smith was a track and field star who competed in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City at the age of 24 and broke the 200-meter record with a time of 19.83 seconds, winning a gold medal in the process. Upon receiving his medal at the victory podium, Smith and bronze medal recipient John Carlos each raised clenched fists with black leather gloves as “The Star-Spangled Banner” was playing. The gesture was praised by some and criticized by others but nonetheless became an iconic symbol of the Black Power movement. The story was captured in the 1999 HBO documentary “Fists of Freedom” and the 2008 ESPN documentary “Return to Mexico City” and also inspired a statue that sits on the campus of San Jose State University, Carlos and Smith’s alma mater.
Following the moment, Smith had a short stint as a wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, became an assistant professor of physical education at Oberlin College and helped coach the U..S. World Indoor Championship team in Barcelona in 1995. He spends a lot of time public speaking now and authored a book about his life experiences titled “Silent Gesture” in 2007.
Smith was booked for the SCC speaking engagement by President Celia Esposito-Noy with funding provided by the SCC Educational Foundation. Student affairs specialist Rischa Williams Slade said he would likely be discussing “what happened in 1968 in Mexico City and more than likely the impact that it had on his career and the career of John Carlos also.”
Carlos will also be selling his book and T-shirts and signing items in the theatre lobby after the conclusion of the event.
“I’m really hoping that people will come and get a bit of living history (and) get the opportunity to get to hear it from a person that was there,” Slade said.
The event will be held from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 8 in the SCC Theatre, located in Building 1200 of SCC at 4000 Suisun Valley Road in Fairfield. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. Free parking is available in Lot 2. The event is free and open to the public.
SCC has three other Black History Month events lined up in February with the theme being “African Americans in Times of War.” On Feb. 14 from 11 a.m. to noon, a panel discussion will be hosted featuring two retired African American military officials: Jesse Branch, who received the highest ranking n the United States Marines Corps as a sergeant major; and James Harris, a former chief master sergeant in the United States Air Force. Among other topics, the two will be discussing why they enlisted and racial discrimination issues they faced in the military.
Later that day from 12:15 to 1:30 p.m., SCC will be screening a documentary titled “For Love of Liberty: The Story of America’s Black Patriots.” The 2010 film explores the role that African Americans played in the military from the Revolutionary War to the present day. The movie won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Theatrical Documentary. The screening will also take place in Building 1400.
Finally, on Thursday, Feb., 21 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., a genealogy workshop titled “Find Your Roots” in Building 1400. Participants are asked to bring their own laptops.
“What we’re doing here is welcoming people to join as we celebrate the experiences of the retired armed forces veterans who served and all the challenges that they faced only to return home to deal with racial discrimination,” Slade said of the month’s events.
All activities will be presented by the Student Life Office and Associated Students of Solano College.