In 1996 I was lucky enough to attend the Atlanta Summer Olympics. My grandmother got a temporary job working for the Olympics and helped us score tickets to what have become my favorite events at these games: Track and field and gymnastics.
I was only 10 years old and at the time didn’t quite understand the gravity of what I was witnessing.
Michael Johnson broke world records in his gold shoes. I mostly remember his shoes. And the fact that he and I shared a last name.
Dominique Dawes became the first black person to win a gold medal in gymnastics. I just mostly admired her skill but I remember my dad going on and on about a sista doin the dang thing.–Making it a point to make sure I noticed she was a black girl being amazing.–Hoping to remind me that I too could be amazing.
But I already knew that.
I watched from our posh suite white eating bottomless grapes (definitely a perk of being the grandchild of an Olympic employee).
20 years later–this year, I turned on the Olympics with my family and saw my kids’ eyes light up. They dove off the couches into our shag rug and pretended to be racing the Olympic swimmers. They tumbled around imitating the gymnasts. They raced, long jumped, fenced, and volleyballed their way through the 2016 summer Olympics with me. We talked about the different country flags and searched the globe to find where the other competitors lived, and we discussed a little about the tradition of the Olympics that has gone on for hundreds of years.
A lot of times I’ll talk about things with my kids then wonder if it’s even really sinking in. It sometimes seems like my kids only catch on to the things we DON’T want them repeating. But more and more my daughter is surprising me with something she remembers us talking about.
“Hey! That’s the girl who’s the best in the world!” she exclaimed from the grocery checkout line.
I turned to see what she was pointing at and it was a magazine cover of the USA Olympic women’s gymnastics team holding up their gold medals. She was pointing straight at Simone Biles.
“That’s right baby girl! Her name is Simone.” I told her.
“And she’s the best in the world!” She said again.
We watched the same events but enjoyed them for different reasons.
I didn’t make it a point to explicitly state that so many of the gold medalists this year were people who looked like her or myself.
I didn’t make it a point to explain the significance of Ibtihaj Muhammad being the first team USA athlete to compete wearing a hijab.
I didn’t make it a point to explain why the whole USA Olympic team brought tears to my eyes. All of the beauty of our diverse group all shades and sizes.
I did make it a point to let them watch, and soak it all in. To ask them questions about what they thought, and answer their questions about the rules and events. I made it a point to see things as they see them which quite frankly, is amazing… Yet completely usual.
From our diverse Olympic team, and our two-term black president, to a female presidential nominee… These are transcending milestones for us, but all that our children know.
I didn’t make it a point to state the beautiful reality that’s becoming… Well, normal.
In 20 years a lot has changed, and I can’t wait to see what our children do with the world 20 years from now.