Through UMD book club, Wise high school students talk social justice and protest with Tommie Smith

Sports

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (WDVM) – When Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. high school junior Madison Jones heard Fox News talking head Laura Ingraham tell LeBron James to “shut up and dribble” in response to James’ criticism of President Donald Trump, she was hurt.

“They want to speak out and just because they’re athletes doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to say anything,” Jones told WDVM. “She was like just, ‘shut up and dribble,’ and I was kind of hurt because you can’t tell somebody to shut up and dribble. They know more than you think they know.”

Jones, who plays basketball, along with her classmates, had the opportunity to take part in a Zoom discussion with Olympic gold medalist Tommie Smith, who made history when he protested injustices against black people with John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, Mexico.

“I spent all this time reading the life of someone else. I was able to understand their every thought and feeling but still, part of it did not feel real,” Wise student Memunatu Conteh wrote via e-mail. “Being in the same space as Tommie Smith and having him talk to me like one of his own made the connection between the pages to my heart. These are the kind of spaces I want to be in.” 

The Zoom was facilitated as the culmination of a book club run by the University of Maryland’s Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism. Two classes from Wise high school, Alexis Dobbins’ African American studies class and Sunta Dawson-Harris’ law class read Silent Gesture, Smith’s memoir written by him and sports writer David Steele.

Philip Merrill College of Journalism professor Kevin Blackistone, along with Smith and David Steele led a zoom with the students and teachers on Wednesday morning.

“They have platforms and so seeing someone who was able to use it and make an impact, they were able to use it as motivation,” Dawson-Harris said.

Teachers, students and Steele said the conversation was so great, the Zoom could have lasted for hours.

“This is not something that they should run away from, or hide from or shy away from,” Steele said. “They have the capability to be bold the way that Tommie Smith and John Carlos were.”

The book and the conversation have left a lasting impact on the students. And while the students will continue their studies, playing sports and taking part in the arts – the one thing they won’t be doing, is shutting up.

“One of my students said that his takeaway was that he has a responsibility to do some things other than just to excel in his particular athletic event,” Dobbins told WDVM.

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