By Gracie McHugh
Many Americans know or at least recognize the name Jesse Owens. He was an American track and field powerhouse who won 4 Gold Medals at the 1936 Olympics under the cloud of racism, hatred and anti semitism. He is best known for being the first American in history to win four gold medals in a single Olympics.
He is perhaps less well known for his ability to persevere with courage and integrity throughout his life, even in the face of hatred he faced at home and overseas equally all due to the color of his skin.
In 1936, the Olympics were held in Nazi-ruled Germany. Owens traveled to Nazi Germany from the United States where Jim Crow laws here denied him equality under the law simply due to the color of his skin. He understood oppression and experienced it daily. Remarkably, none of this made him bitter, cynical or unkind to others.
In the 1936 Olympics, German Luz Long and American Jesse Owens were both competing for the gold medal in the long jump. Jesse Owens certainly did not expect kindness from his competitors and in fact had braced himself for animosity due to his skin color that he was sadly all too familiar with.
In what stands out to me as a truly remarkable moment in history, Luz Long, a competitor of Owens’ who wanted the gold medal as badly as Owens did, noticed Owens making some errors in his practice jumps. In a true act of kindness and sportsmanship, Long approached Owens and offered suggestions and tips for Owen’s own improvement despite the fact he was competing against Owens for the same medal.
Jesse Owens went on to ultimately beat Luz Long thanks to the tips his competitor gave him. After Jesse Owens won the gold medal and beat Luz Long at long jump, Owens said, “What I remember most was the friendship I struck up with Luz Long. He was my strongest rival, yet it was he who advised me to adjust my run-up in the qualifying round and thereby helped me to win.”
Luz Long simply had a kind heart. He was a kind soul to Jesse Owens during those Olympics when many of his own teammates and competitors around the world were not. Owens and Long went on to have a friendship that lasted many years after the Olympics had passed and it all stemmed from Long’s act of kindness during a terribly unkind and cruel period in history when the “norm” was to show a lack of kindness toward others.
The lesson for us all and the kindness challenge to those reading this is this: in this world, be the person who helps others succeed when the opportunity presents itself. Examples of this might be letting someone go before you in line if you are not in a rush, helping your classmate study for the exam or sharing a study guide you created to help your peers or lending a hand if you see a colleague overwhelmed with work when you’ve completed your job for the day. Be the person who is gracious, and proud of others’ achievements versus holding on to jealousy or resentment. Strive hard in your everyday life to not let competition with others, in school, at sports, in friendships etc stop you from being kind. Luz Long showed this very act of kindness to Jesse Owens during the Olympics and we can all do the same in our daily lives!
Gracie McHugh is a senior at Concord High School.