We look to the groundbreakers, and the difference makers, whose struggle for greatness is the unending fight at the root of every human triumph. Their spirit and legacies are kept alive by the passing of the torch from generation to generation. We will celebrate the barriers they broke, and the change they created. The time is still upon us all to carry their work forward and fight for justice and equality for all. We are all and must be, the change that we want to see.
Arthur Ashe is a great American sports champion. But the impact he had on sport, culture and history transcended tennis. His legacy partially lies in his willingness to challenge racial prejudice as a black athlete in the predominantly white sport of tennis and society as a whole. He was the first black player to be selected to the United States Davis Cup team and still remains the only black man ever to win the singles title at Wimbledon, The US Open and the Australian Open. His legacy, however, extends far beyond the tennis court. He was an active supporter of the civil rights movement and worked tirelessly in the fight against discrimination of immigrants and refugees. He was much more than an exceptional athlete and competitor, and that was a very conscious path to take for Arthur, "I don’t want to be remembered for my tennis accomplishments." Ashe changed the game by not only showing how one can overcome racial prejudice in sport but also gave a blueprint of how athletes can use their platform for the benefit of others. He dedicated much of his life to raising awareness about HIV and advocated teaching sex education and safe sex. He founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation For The Defeat of AIDS and extended his work into many other areas of health care. He was determined to make the world a better place. His tireless work was recognized with the posthumous award of the Presidential Medal of Freedom by US President Bill Clinton.
Jack Johnson didn't just change the game, he made it his own. He was the most feared and dominant heavyweight champion of all time. When he became the first black Heavyweight Champ in 1908 he instantly changed history and set America on a new course. His achievements during a time of unthinkable racism and intense racial division were unthinkable at the time. Jack Johnson lit the torch that helped ignite the legends of Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali and all who followed.
Unlike Jack Johnson, who was more of a notorious figure during his reign as HW Champ, Joe Louis was universally loved by the American public. He was the first African American national hero after he defended the United States' honor against Germany's Max Schmeling during a time of great tension between the two nations as the rumblings of WWII were looming. Not only did Joe Louis perform in the ring, he also took the role of national hero in his stride. For the first time in US history, there was a champion for all.
It was the summer of 1936 by the time Jesse Owens made his mark. 'The fastest man on Earth' was coming off the back of an unprecedented performance at a Big Ten track meet in which he broke 3 world records and tied a 4th. The stage was set for the Berlin Olympics and for Hitler to showcase his regime, but Jesse had other ideas. He targeted the games as his chance for glory and wasn't going to let anything else over shadow him. The rest is history. Owens would become the first American in Olympic Track and Field history to win four gold medals in a single Olympiad and in doing so single handedly shattered Hitler's idea of Aryan supremacy. Even in the most heated environment possible he still rose to the occasion to dominate the Olympic Games. Jesse Owens went on to become the first globally known Olympic superstar and possibly the greatest Olympian ever as well as being the first ever sponsored African American male athlete when he wore Adidas spikes at the games.
When we speak of Ground Breakers and Difference Makers Jackie Robinson stands as one whose siesmic impact on culture shifted the rotation of Earth on it's axis and changed the course of history. On April 15th 1947, the game of baseball, and so much more, changed forever. This was a giant leap for Jackie, Baseball, America and Humanity. The game known as 'America's Pastime' had finally opened it's doors, but this was just the begining of a long journey. #42 endured inhumane abuse from racist fans, media, opponents and even some teammates, but he steadfastly built a legacy as a great ballplayer who symbolized something that could not be contained by a ballpark. He embodied progress in baseball and society. Martin Luther King Jr. lauded Robinson as a man who “challenged the dark skies of intolerance and frustration.”