AMES, Iowa -- More than 40 Iowa State student-athletes recognized the achievements of African-Americans in their respective sports before a crowd of more than 200 in the Ames High School cafeteria Monday as part of the 15th annual Ames community celebration of the birthday and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The evening was an opportunity for the student-athletes to explain the barriers broken and sacrifices made by several African-American athletes, whose legacy includes opportunities for athletes of all colors to compete today at schools like Iowa State.

 

“As I grew up, learning about Dr. King and what he meant was a gradual process,” Iowa State wide receiver Euseph Messiah said. “As you got older you began to understand what he meant to people of all races all over the world.”

 

The crowd included a large contingent of elementary school students who also participated in the event, which was sponsored by the Iowa State athletics department, Alpha Phi Alpha, Ames Community Schools, Ames Human Relations Commission, Boys and Girls Club of Ames, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., the ISU Government of the Student Body, ISU MLK Planning Committee and ISU Office of the Provost.  United Way of Story County, Youth and Shelter Services and YWCA Ames-ISU played a major role in the celebration.

 

During the celebration, several members from an Iowa State athletics team stood front and center with a poster depicting an important African-American athlete.  A representative from each team then explained to the crowd the significance of that African-American athlete and their impact in their sport. Planning for the event started during meetings of the Iowa State Student-Athlete Advisory Council.

 

“When we started planning for this night, we first were looking at doing something solely about Jack Trice,” SAAC president Jenny Mockler said. “But as we talked about it we wanted to do something to demonstrate how African-Americans and people of all races had done great things in all of our sports.”

 

The Iowa State football players told the story of Trice, Iowa State’s first African-American athlete, who died from injuries suffered in a 1923 football game.  ISU’s football stadium is named in his honor.

 

Among those recognized by other ISU athletes were former Cyclone head wrestling coach Bobby Douglas, the first African-American to represent the U.S. in wrestling at the Olympic Games.  The women’s track team honored sprinter Wilma Rudolph, who won three gold medals at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games. The men’s track team recognized Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who after finishing first and third, respectively in the 200 meters at the Mexico City Olympic Games, stood on the medal stand in bare feet.  They each held one fist high, donned with a black glove to celebrate their race and to draw attention to the depths of poverty experienced by many of their race across the country.  Both endured significant consequences for their actions.

 

For Messiah, there is a clear link between what he had learned about Martin Luther King and sharing the accomplishments of those who had broken race barriers in sport.

 

“I think they match up really well,’ Messiah said. “It is a chance to help others better understand what Martin Luther King stood for and how others broke through the barriers he had worked to break.  If you can help a young person better understand the great successes of those who stood up for what they believed in, you have done something good. Jack Trice stood for those things and it went beyond football. He wanted to help others do what he had done.”

 

The night’s emcee, YWCA board member and director of diversity for the ISU Government of the Student Body (GSB) Rohini Ramnath agreed with Messiah.

 

“(The student-athletes) helped others tonight, especially the younger people, conceptualize what we were celebrating tonight,” Ramnath said.