As part of honoring Black History Month, staff members in the Dodie (our academic center and dining hall for student-athletes on campus) asked several student-athletes who is the most influential African-American in history to them and why. Check out some of the student-athletes' responses below and feel free to add your own answer to the question in the comments.
Samantha Sanchez (WTK/F) Sojourner Truth - "When thinking about the most influential people in African American history, at first I thought that there are just so many - names like Martin Luther King Jr. , Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, Barack Obama, and Thurgood Marshall all ran through my head. Suddenly, a light bulb went off and I came to thinking about Sojourner Truth. She is regarded as one of the greatest abolitionists, speakers, and thinkers of all time, not only for African American rights but also for women's rights. She had a great gift of public speaking and is best known for her speech 'Ain't I a Woman?' given at the Ohio Women's Right Convention. I always get the goose bumps after reading her speech. And the most astonishing thing is that the speech wasn't even a prepared one, since she was uneducated and illiterate. The things she said came solely from the heart and were put in a very blunt and straight to the point style. Just recently Sojourner Truth became the 1st African American women to be honored with a bust in the US Capitol. Michelle Obama was in attendance of the unveiling and stated, mostly gracefully that, 'I hope that Sojouner Truth would be proud to see me, a descendant of slaves, serving as the First Lady of the United States of America.' Sojourner Truth also was the first black woman to win a lawsuit in the U.S. She has paved the way for all women to strive for equal rights and to not let men put us down."
Shelby Gonzales (SB) Jackie Robinson- "Although he was not a political influence, he was a social & athletic breakthrough. He was the first African-American to play baseball professionally. He not only represented the African-American population as a baseball player but he broke down the walls that limited African-Americans in athletics."
Jaki Alawi (WTN) Martin Luther King, Jr.- "Martin Luther King, Jr. is the most influential African-American because he fought and defended human rights with a passion that not many people would have. Because of him, we live in a better society, in a better America."
JP Rafferty (MSC) Herman Boone- "I have to say Herman Boone. He was the head football coach at T.C. Williams High School in Virginia. He brought a high school together and formed a state championship team. Someone I really look up to."
Josh Suttmeier (MTK/F) Jackie Robinson- "As an athlete, I would have to say the African-American who most influenced me was Jackie Robinson. I remember reading a biography on him when I was younger and was amazed by the patience, self-control, and kindness he continually exhibited in the face of such adversity, hatred, and evil. Jackie paved the way for the equality within our society through his actions."
Nigel Redic (MTK/F) Muhammad Ali- "He challenged the world and never backed down."
Kaysee Sullivan (MTK/F) Coretta Scott King- "Since I am an education major I believe Coretta Scott King is a very influential African-American [in] history. Mrs. King was an activist for civil, women's, gay, human, and equal rights. On top of that, she was an author. The American Library Association named an award [after her] for outstanding African-American writers and illustrators of children's books, heavily related to my major."
Tyler Brockington (WTK/F) Madame CJ Walker- "To men, she was a woman who made cosmetics, but to African-American women, Madame CJ Walker was a beautification visionary. Without the development of the relaxer, certain hairstyles would not be possible today. Some argue that Walker is wrong for her creation because she is part of the reason black women don't wear their hair's natural texture. However, I believe she provided people with an option to fashion their outward appearance in a way that best suits the individual. Everyone wants to be fabulous. Thanks to Madame CJ Walker, that goal is now possible."
Alex Holland (WSC) Martin Luther King, Jr.- "I consider Martin Luther King, Jr. to be the most influential African-American in history because he stood up for what he believed was right and his actions still affect us today. He was always a strong advocate for other African-Americans and their civil rights. Through all the adversity he endured, he still stood up for what he knew was right."
Clayton Gravesande (MTK/F) Jackie Robinson- "Jackie Robinson was a black athlete who played, at that time, an all-white sport in baseball. I think it took a lot of confidence and self-determination to succeed in an environment like that. He faced death threats and still rose to the occasion and became one of the best baseball players ever. As an athlete myself, I can respect a man who faced adversity like this."
Danielle Travis (WTK/F) Michael Jackson- "I believe he is the most influential because not only did he change the face of music, but he set an example for so many young people. He didn't care what people thought about him, and followed his beliefs. This is such a lesson to younger people so they can break through their boundaries as well."
Kelly Coyle (WTK/F) Malcolm X- "Malcolm X because he proved that not only race but also religion does not and should not matter. If you are not happy with how society is then try and change it."
Ashley Cady (WTK/F) Jessie Owens- "He performed to his full potential despite political pressure in the Olympics in track & field."
Cheslie Kryst (WTK/F) Barack Obama- "In my opinion, Barack Obama is the most influential African-American in history. As the first black president not only has he broken barriers that before seemed impossible to move past, he has fulfilled a dream that makes apparent to others that a goal like becoming leader of the free world is within reach regardless of your race. Beyond that, Obama serves as an excellent role model and is a perfect picture of what it is to be a successful politician, leader, and African-American."
Olivia Hassler (WTK/F) Jessie Owens- "I feel that he revolutionized the world of sports on the national and Olympic level. Being a track & field athlete, I feel that he really had an impact on the sport that has the biggest impact on me."
Paris Smalls (MTK/F) Harriet Tubman- "Harriet Tubman because she showed oppressed slaves that there was hope that they could one day achieve freedom."
Josh Jones (MTK/F) Ida B. Wells- "She helped fight for blacks' civil rights and helped wrongfully accused African-Americans get out of jail. She was a journalist who documented lynching in the U.S."
Gabrielle Gray (WTK/F) Rosa Parks- "Rosa Parks because she stood up for every other African-American. Not only to make it where African-Americans can sit anywhere on the bus but she let people know that we are all equal. Nothing is different but our skin color."