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Shock the World Chronicles: San Jose State University

It's safe to say people have some lasting image in their mind of some event, some circumstance, some moment in time. It can be related to their life, and whether they were there or not becomes secondary. That image speaks to them, for them, and they can tell you about it, what it means to them, why it does what it does to them, and so forth. In my case, that image is the medal ceremony from the 200-meter final at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, courtesy of Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

The images were always there, always in front of me for as long as I could remember, even though their meaning was still unknown. A faraway image of three runners on the podium, two with their heads bowed, fists raised, with the third runner (Peter Norman, second-place finisher) staring ahead. At first glance, the thought was simply, "this is the coolest thing I've ever seen," but what initally was cool became so much more, and also became my definition of athletes taking a stand.

A friend of mine wore a shirt in undergrad with the three runners on the front, and once again, the thought of "the coolest thing I've ever seen" returned to the surface, which followed with the thought that I had to get one immediately. However, something inside said this was a little different. For something like this to be represented, there had to be plenty of homework done. I couldn't just wear something like this, and not realize why it was such a big deal. An old-school cat could just walk up, and if I was to wear something that represented something this major, especially at that time in history, simply saying "it looks cool" wouldn't do. There was a sense of responsibility that came with representing this image in any form. With that said, book after book was read, conversations were sparked, countless interviews, and documentaries followed. The more and more that was read about the 1968 Olympics, and especially Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the more I realized these two men did something unreal, unprecented, and something that would have a lasting impact on my life. They stood for something, spoke louder than any athlete I had ever seen, before and since, and made a stand...without saying a word.

Images have their way of doing that. Someone can look at a picture, and it puts them at that moment in time, and, if the image is powerful enough, they can find a way to relate it to their life. That's what they did to me, and once the news came out that San Jose State University, their school at the time of their amazing act, was honoring them with a statue of their act, there was no other choice but to somehow find a way to get out to California and pay homage to the two individuals who became my heroes.

On October 16, 2005, the statue was unveiled to the public on campus. On May 15, 2010, after being on plane after plane, missing a flight, and much more madness, there I was: wandering around the campus of San Jose State, in search of the image that continues to speak to so many people, the image that still speaks to me, the image of my heroes. After it came to view, there was pretty much nothing to even say. It's amazing how you prepare yourself for something, but once it finally happens, all that preparation goes out of the window. It pretty much reminds me of them; they had a moment to speak for people all over the country they represented, embraced the responsibility, and did something that continues to speak for people, 42 years later, from all walks of life. For me, it's easily the most fulfilling Shock the World journey of my life, and one that had to be taken, in order to fully appreciate what impact these two have had on my life.

Be easy.
-K. Masenda


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