The news was what we all wanted to hear. Gabby Douglas, the 16-year-old gymnast had won the Olympic gold medals for both the personal all-around and team all-around. As I watched several videos about her, I was totally impressed with her story.
In one video, her mom, Natalie Hawkins, talked about raising an Olympian. What struck me the most was when her mom told of Gabby being 3 years old and doing perfectly straight cartwheels. One of Gabby’s sisters urged her mom to put Gabby into gymnastics. Hawkins eventually did, but it took her four years. Later in the video, her mom spoke about how she and Gabby had watched the 2008 Olympics. Gabby was 12 at the time and admired the way Coach Liang Chow interacted with his gymnast Shawn Johnson. Gabby told her mom that she wanted to train with him. But Coach Chow lived over 1,200 miles away. It took another two years, but her mother finally relented and allowed her daughter to move from Virginia Beach, Va. to West Des Moines, Iowa. The end result: two gold medals.
I have often written about black parents exposing their children to all this world has to offer and supporting them in their goals – especially when those goals are beyond being an NBA or NFL player. It’s obvious that Gabby’s talents didn’t suffer because her mother first delayed putting her into gymnastics and then later hesitated when Gabby needed to move a thousand miles away for better coaching.
Watching the video also made me think back to a young boy who was at a wedding I attended. The boy was under 5 and had such a wonderful talent for dancing that I videotaped him doing his moves. When I casually mentioned that the young boy should be in dance classes, his parents were dismissive of the idea. They had a son with limitless raw talent and saw no need to pursue it further. Thankfully for both Gabby and the gymnastic world, her mother, with a lot of prodding from her other children and Gabby, allowed her to follow her dream. Now Gabby’s mom has an Olympic champion.
As we look at all the violence going on among young black people, one of the reasons is that they don’t have anything to do. They aren’t pursing their goals and interests and their parents aren’t encouraging them to follow their dreams. Hopefully as more and more people learn about Gabby Douglas and admire her success, we can get more of our young people involved in gymnastics and other sports.
One sport I would like to see black people push for is the inclusion of roller skating as an Olympic event. If anyone has ever watched the moves that black folks perform on roller skates, those moves outshine ice skating 100 times over. Plus roller skating isn’t an expensive sport. All you need is a wood floor and a pair of skates.
Pushing for the inclusion of roller skating as an Olympic event can give – black kids especially – the opportunity to become involved in a sport in which they can readily excel. But until the day the Olympics is willing to recognize roller skating, we all need to follow in the footsteps of Gabby’s mom and allow our young people the opportunity to follow their dreams.