2002-07-13 / Columnists

From the G-Man by Gary G. Toms

From the G-Man by Gary G. Toms

Drawing Strength From My Elders

I'm going acknowledge some very special people this week. I do so with the hope that America never forgets the enormous sacrifices they made or their tremendous contributions. Their courage, vision and strength have set me on a path to be the best that I can be, and with each day that passes, I strive to follow in their footsteps. They are my ancestors, my mentors, and my idols. May they live on in the hearts and spirit of us all for centuries to come.

On July 4 of this year, the country lost one a great leader and a great man: Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. Davis was regarded as a military pioneer by many historians, as he led the Tuskegee Airman to numerous victories during World War II, and later became the first African-American general in the United States Air Force.

Serving in a segregated military, Davis overcame enormous racial barriers to obtain an impressive combat record, and the respect of some of the highest-ranking members of the military. As a result, doors were opened for other African-American soldiers, and Davis was credited with being the catalyst for integration in the U.S. Air Force in 1949.

Published reports state, "During his first four years at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the other cadets, all of them white, refused to speak to him except for official reasons. He had no roommate in the dormitory, and he ate his meals without a word. Inspired to go to West Point by his father, Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., one of two black combat officers in the Army, the young Davis refused to give in to the silent treatment."

"I wasn't leaving," Davis once told armed forces historian Alan Gropman. This is something I wanted to do, and I wasn't going to let anybody drive me out."

One can only imagine the horrors Davis experienced, but the bottom line is he triumphed over what seemed to be an insurmountable situation, and all branches of the military are much better for it. May your soul forever rest in peace General Davis.

A few years ago, a poll was conducted in order to determine who the greatest athlete of this century was. The public chose Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan. I did not agree with this choice at all! While Jordan deserves "props", the athlete that defined this century, without question, was Jesse Owens. What Owens accomplished in the 1936 Olympic games, in track and field competitions, was nothing short of remarkable.

At the 1936 Olympics, Owens shattered world records by winning four gold medals. (The 100 meters in 10.3, the long jump in 8.06, the 200 meters in 20.7, and leading off the 4 x 100 meters that broke the World Record with its 39.8.) Some would say that this feat is comparable to those of reigning track figures Carl Lewis or Michael Johnson, but I beg to differ, and I'll tell you why.

What separates Owens as a legend, icon, and athlete of the century is the fact that he won the medals against Adolph Hitler's so-called Aryan race of athletes, not on American soil, but in Berlin, Germany! They were supposed to be the best, strongest, and fastest athletes on the face of the earth because of their pure German blood, but Owens ran twice as fast and jumped three times as high as any of Hitler's "Master Race" participants. I'll take it to another level by saying that Owens' fantastic performance served as an eerie premonition for Hitler, and the Aryan Nation, that they could and would be defeated in World War II.

Sadly, Owens became a household name primarily because Hitler refused to shake his hand at the games. The worst was yet to come as Owens later noted, "I wasn't even invited to the White House to shake hands with the President." Owens had soundly defeated "America's enemy", only to come back home to be treated like just another nigger.

Owens was undoubtedly the first person to ever get into Hitler's psyche and destroy the image of his "Master Race". He also was responsible for giving Hitler his very first American ass kicking, and this country should never forget that. Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson or Michael Jordan don't even come close to the greatness of Jesse Owens, and if they are "real", they would tell you the same thing. Jesse Owens is, without question, the athlete of the century. Thank you Jesse. We love you. Rest in peace my dear elder.

What more can you say about the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? You can't! The only words that I choose to write that are symbolic of the man are humanitarian, martyr, and courageous. It's because of his leadership that I no longer have to enter restaurants from the rear; I don't have to drink from separate water fountains; and I don't have to worry about walking down the street and being lynched on sight. King, and his followers, lived through this every day. African-Americans, especially the young people who have forgotten about the struggle, should fight to uphold his legacy of Black pride and respect.

I strive each day to make "The Dream" a reality, and challenge those who have manipulated King's vision for corporate wealth and prestige. His message still rings true today, as America still struggles with the issue of race. Dr. King, fear not. For one day, we as a people shall get to the Promised Land. We (white, black, red or brown) love you, and we miss you Reverend.

I could go on and on, but it would end up being a 120-page paper if I did. I will close with two more acknowledgements, which are equally important.

I want to publicly thank Anne Harrell of Arverne. She attends Beth-El Temple Church, and she sent me a letter that reached the depths of my heart. She truly understands what I'm trying to do here at the paper, and I appreciate her amazing words. I truly believe that the Black woman is the backbone of the Black family and the Black man. Ms. Harrell, thank you for proving, through your letter, that this is indeed the case.

I also want to thank the elderly woman who struggled to make her way toward me at the Hammels Housing Development recently. She saw me in the street looking somewhat depressed, and she pleaded for me to wait for her because she wanted to say something to me. As she slowly maneuvered her walker toward me, she had the most angelic smile on her face. Once she reached me, she grabbed my hand, gave me a kiss on my cheek, and said, "Thank you." She then walked away. A few seconds later, I heard a young woman's voice from behind.

"She really loves you. That's my mother, and she has a scrapbook of every article you have ever written at The Wave. She really loves you."

I am not too proud to admit that the elderly woman's actions, and her daughter's words, forced a tear from my eye.

I think back on the moment, and I've come to realize that during my darkest periods, my elders (like the ones mentioned throughout this column), or their spirits, are always there to pull me through.

See you next week!

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