On Tuesday, the Governor said: "We’re going to do broad parameters, health guidelines and leave it up to the local school to make it work for their local community.” We hope to hear about those broad parameters soon so we can get on with planning for the 2020-2021 school year. Protest March in Response to the Murder of George Floyd
On Wednesday at 2:00 p.m., the Perrysburg community was the site of a Black Lives Matter protest. The event, in response to the murder of George Floyd, was organized entirely by students, the oldest just 19 years old. The event was well-attended, with a crowd estimated at 1,000. Protesters were passionate and made sure their voices were heard. The Perrysburg Police Chief, Pat Jones, marched with the protesters and law enforcement officers were present to protect the marchers by stopping traffic at each intersection along the march.
One participant mentioned that the things happening in the world today reminded her of 1968.
For a moment, I would like us to take a step back in time – over 50 years ago – to that year. It was a time in history where there was a great deal of unrest. In 1968, the United States was moving deeper into the Vietnam conflict. Robert Kennedy, who was running for President, was killed by an assassin’s bullet. Russian tanks rolled through Eastern Europe and the Cold War heated up once more. Racial tensions were at an all-time high following the killing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Bands such as The Jimi Hendrix Experience began to reflect more social awareness in their music. Films like Oscar-winning best picture, “In the Heat of the Night,” which told a story about the relationship between a black detective and a white small-town police chief in Mississippi, mirrored this uneasy era.
Athletics were not exempt from the effects of this tumultuous time. In 1968, Mexico City hosted the Olympic Games. Perhaps one of the most iconic events from the 1968 games centered around the men’s 200-meter finals. The United States had the two most dominating runners, John Carlos and Tommie Smith. This duo was the fastest tandem that the American team had ever entered in the event. There was no doubt that one of these two Americans would break the world record and together dominate the field. When the gun went off, Tommie Smith was quick out of the blocks and took a commanding lead. And as expected, John Carlos followed quickly through the turn. With less than 100 meters to go, Australian Peter Norman began charging hard. From seventh place with 70 meters to go, he made a move and began to chase down Smith and Carlos. With just meters to go to the finish-line, Peter Norman passed John Carlos and finished the race just 2 tenths behind the new world record holder Tommie Smith. A virtual unknown stole the silver medal.
What came next was what most people remember from the 1968 Olympic games – the protest. As the three runners received their medals and stood on the podium, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, each wearing a single black glove raised their arm over their heads. The iconic images of the medal ceremony shows a stoic Peter Norman, a Caucasian Australian, staring straight ahead, arms at his side wearing his Australian track suit that had a small button on it that read, “Olympic Project for Human Rights” and beside him were the defiant American sprinters. Following the ceremony, both American athletes were immediately expelled from the games by the United States Olympic Committee and sent home. While there was a harsh backlash against Smith and Carlos, their respective communities embraced them for taking a stand to address racial discrimination.
Peter Norman, who had just set the Australian record and won the silver medal, returned home. There was no parade or special greeting for his accomplishment. Instead, Peter Norman was met with contempt and scorn for not speaking out against the American athletes and for wearing the human rights button. You see, while the athletes gathered in the staging area prior to receiving the medals, Peter Norman learned that the two Americans were planning to demonstrate. John Carlos had left his pair of gloves in the Olympic Village and decided they would not wear any. It was Australian Peter Norman who suggested that they each wear one glove instead. Peter Norman, who was born in poverty, saw similar social justice struggles that were happening in Australia and decided to wear the “Olympic Project for Human Rights” button to show support.
The backlash that Peter Norman faced was intense. The Australian Olympic authorities reprimanded him and the Australian media ostracized him. Peter Norman went back to doing what he did best - running. Despite being the fastest Australian sprinter, ranked in the top 5 in the world, and qualifying for Australia’s Olympic team 13 times in the 200 meters and 5 times in the 100 meters, the Australian Olympic Committee did not send him to the 1972 Munich Games. In fact, not only did they not send him, they did not send a single male sprinter to the Olympic games – the first-ever modern Olympics where no Australian sprinters participated.
The small window for track athletes to perform at their pinnacle closed for Peter Norman. He became a Physical Education teacher and worked as a part-time butcher. While John Carlos and Tommie Smith saw their notoriety and respect climb through the years for their stand, Peter Norman did not. Even in 2000, when Sydney, Australia hosted the Summer Olympic Games, Peter Norman was not invited to attend the games and played no role as one of Australia’s track heroes. Had it not been for the United States delegation that invited him to participate in their Olympic celebrations, he would have only watched the games from a distance.
Peter Norman died on October 3, 2006 in relative obscurity. Tommie Smith and John Carlos traveled from the United States to Australia, to deliver the eulogy and serve as pallbearers for their friend.
The story does not end there. In 2012, the Australian Parliament brought Peter Norman’s 91-year-old mother to its chamber and issued an apology for how Peter was treated. A statue was finally erected in 2016 featuring Peter Norman and the other runners at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington D.C.
And finally, nearly 50 years after the race, the Australian Olympic Committee awarded Peter Norman the Order of Merit – its highest honor. By the way, Peter Norman still holds the Australian record in the 200-meter race today.
At Peter Norman’s funeral in 2006, John Carlos remembered the moments before the ceremony in 1968 when Peter Norman said: “I’ll stand with you.” Carlos expected to see fear in Norman’s eyes and added: “I didn’t. I saw love.”
You are probably thinking, what does the Mexico City 1968 Olympics and Australian Peter Norman have to do with today and Perrysburg Schools?
Here is the thing. As I looked at the crowd at the protest and listened to the young voices, I know students are looking to make a statement about their world and what is happening. This is the time of year where at graduation we stand before students and talk about their futures and urge them to make the most of their life and to strive to change the world. A few young people made the decision to do something. They organized a protest. A few hundred younger people made the decision to do something. They attended the protest.
For the rest of us, what can we do? We may not be able to organize a protest. Some may not be able to participate in a march. Most will never be able to deliver a speech. But, we must do something. Each of us has a voice and we must use it where we can.
Peter Norman was not asked to protest. He was not asked to organize a march and he never gave a speech. But, in the moment, when it counted most, he took a stand. In a quiet way, he let the world know what was happening was not just or right. That was it. And, it made all the difference. Sometimes there is a tendency to focus on those who garner all the attention, the ones who everyone recognizes. However, those who quietly make decisions in their everyday life, can also make a difference in the world.
Just imagine if the ’68 Olympics and 200m medal ceremony would have happened today. What if Peter Norman would not have taken a stand but instead posted to his Facebook or Twitter account a meme to support their efforts. That would have been easy. But, I doubt Tommie Smith and John Carlos would have flown around the world to speak at his funeral and carry his casket.
At the protest, the crowd was predominately white – much like our community and country. When faced with blatant injustice, it is imperative that we all take stand.
As a school district, we are becoming more diverse. With this change, we have been working hard to provide our faculty and staff members with lenses to better see all students. It is not easy as an institution to look in the mirror and see those areas where we have fallen short. And we have. But, today, when we fall, we fall forward with the courage to get up and keep moving forward. Why? We understand that our mission, to ensure all students achieve their greatest potential, requires us to meet all students where they are and to provide a safe and supportive learning environment. When students feel secure, loved for who they are and can walk the halls or ride the bus without fear or ridicule, we know they thrive. To achieve this, it takes education and tolerance. Lessons we must continue to repeat. We must, therefore, take a stand for all students. The tragedy of the killing of George Floyd impacts our black students, families and the community. As we prepare for a return to school in the fall, we will stand with them and I hope you join us.Student Services and Supports
Please visit this link to view the many student services and supports available to families, from food assistance to mental health. It is updated weekly. https://docs.google.com/document/d/12v4oRzn3idXwaIB6E7fRy18nxPKhOK6jvCu8yW4mQk0/edit?usp=sharing
Thomas L. Hosler