Celebrating Black History Month

Keonna Burnett, Staff Writer

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In honor of Black History Month, I have decided to dedicate each week to a different African American athlete of the modern era.

Week 1: Gabby Douglas

Gabrielle Douglas is an American Olympic Gymnast who in 2012 became the first woman of color to obtain the Individual All-Around Championship.

Early life: Born December 31, 1995, Gabrielle (Gabby) grew up in Virginia Beach with her parents and three older siblings, one of which was a child gymnast and competitive cheerleader named Arielle. Gabby became interested in the sport by watching her sister, then teaching herself to execute a one handed cartwheel. Convinced by Arielle, her mother enrolled her in formal training in 2002. 2 years later, Gabby was crowned Virginia’s 2004 Gymnastics State Champion.

Reaching the peaks her local gym triumph after another, Gabby decides it was time to pursue her Olympic dreams. At the young age of 14, she convinces her mother to let her live in Iowa to train Liang Chow, a world-renowned Olympic trainer and former artistic gymnast. Here, she lives with Travis and Missy Parton and their four girls, one who also trained with Chow.


Career:  While training with Chow, Douglas competed in many national events and was finally selected to compete with the U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastics Team in the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Here is where she helped her team win the gold, and became the first woman of color to ever obtain an All-Around Gold Medal in her category.

After, Gabby remained in the public eye while she began training with Kittia Carpenter. She returned to national competitions in 2015, some including the 2015 City of Jesolo Trophy, the P&G Championships, the US Classics and the 2015 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships, all of which she placed highly in.

She also competed in the 2016 Olympic trials, finishing seventh, yet still earning herself a spot on the “final five”, the US Women’s 2016 Gymnastics team consisting of Gabby, Simone Biles, Laurie Hernandez, Aly Raisman, and Madison Kocian. The team placed gold, being the third time in history following 2012 and 1996 achievements.


Legacy: Since , then, Gabby premiered her reality tv show on Oxygen in 2016, released her Barbie Shero Doll, and keeps endorsement deals with Kellogg’s and various P&G brands. Today, Douglas continues to train and live out her Gymnast dreams.

Week 2: Lebron James

Lebron James is an American NBA star. His high school and professional careers have brought him a multitude of victories, making him one of the best, most raved about basketball stars of all time.

Early Life:  Ohio born December 30, 1984, King James became an athletic target due to his size and athleticism. Recruited by St. Vincent- St Mary High School as a freshman, many recognized his natural talent and developed high hopes for his future. Averaging 20 points per game, James helped his team complete an undefeated season, achieving the Division III State Championship (mrnussbaum.com).

By sophomore year, James averaged 25 points per game and led his team to their second consecutive championship win, drawing national attention to himself. He was then selected for the USA Today All-USA First Team, becoming the first sophomore ever selected for this award. At this point, James decided to focus solely on basketball when he left the football team, where he was a state recognized wide receiver.

Junior Year, he was named Gatorade Player of the year and PARADE Magazines High School Boys Basketball Player of the Year. Finishing high school, James averaged 31 points, was named Gatorade Boys Basketball Player of the year for the second time, and Ohio’s Mr. Basketball for the third consecutive year.

Career:  James was the first pick for the 2003 NBA Draft, selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers who happened to be a struggling franchise at the time. He also signed with various endorsement deals, one including Nike for $90 million. He made history during his first year in the NBA, becoming the first of the Cavalier franchise ever to obtain the Rookie of the Year Award, and by being the youngest ever to win.

He was then selected to participate in the 2004 Athens Olympics, where the US Boys basketball team earned a bronze medal. He returned to international play in 2008, with teammates including Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd and Dwyane Wade.

In 2012, he competed with Carmelo Anthony, Durant and Bryant, taking home a second consecutive team gold medal.

Finishing second in the league, James became a free agent in 2010 and decided to join Miami Heat for the upcoming season. The Heat brought him his first NBA title in 2012, beating Oklahoma Thunder and naming him Most Valuable Player. The Heat took a second win in 2013, defeating the San Antonio Spurs 95-88.


Currently: In 2014, James returned to Cleveland saying, “ I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from…” in an article of Sports Illustrated.  

Today, James supports a multitude of charities, including his own called the Lebron James Family Foundation.

Day 3: Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt is a 9 time Olympic gold medalist and is quote, “the fastest man alive.”

Early life:  Jamaican born and raised, Usain grew up playing cricket and became really good at it. It wasn’t until he began grade school when he found his true athletic ability to sprint. Once coaches noticed his natural speed, Bolt committed to focusing on sprinting under the instruction of former Olympic runner, Pablo Mcneil.

 By the age of 15, Bolt was 6’5 and dominating local competition. He was introduced to the national scene in the 2002 World Junior Championships in Kingston, Jamaica, taking the gold medal in the 200 meter dash. Here, he became the youngest World Junior gold medalist ever!

Leaving the athletic community with jaw dropping amazement, he was awarded the International Association of Athletics Foundation Rising Star Award, signed a professional contract at the young age of 17, and became publically referred to as the “Lightning Bolt.”

Career:  Injuries sporadically conflicted Bolt’s professional career, though never stopped him from putting his best foot forward. Selected for the Jamaican Olympic Squad for the 2004 Athens Olympics, he was eliminated after the first round due to issues with his hamstring. Though healthy again in 2006, Bolt reached the world Top 5 rankings running races all under 20.3 seconds, including his personal record of 19.96 in the Athens World Cup.

In the 2007 Osaka, Japan World Championships, he took second place in the 200 meter dash to Tyson Gay who beat Bolt’s personal best by a whopping 0.2 seconds. But he silenced all critics by competing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics taking gold medals in the 100 meter, 200 meter, and the 4×100 relay.

Bolt set even more records at the 2009 Berlin World Championships, finishing the 100 meter in 9.58 seconds and 200 meter in 19.19. He even made history in the 2012 London Summer Olympics becoming the first man to ever defeat both the 100 meter and 200 meter Olympic sprint titles. He completed a ‘Double Triple’, bringing home another 3 gold medals.

Once again, Bolt dominated all three races in the Beijing World Championships, recording his 4th consecutive win of the 200m. He most recently completed a ‘Triple Triple’ in the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics yet again with three gold medals.

Currently: Bolt resides in Kingston, Jamaica and attributes a lot to charity. He maintains the luxury life with prize money and sponsorships such as Puma and Virgin Media, as well as continuing to live his ‘Lightning Bolt’ dreams.

Week 4: Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland was the first African American Ballerina to be accepted as a Principal Dancer in the American Ballet Theater.

Early Life: Growing up in San Pedro California, Misty could only describe herself as an anxious child. She Idolized Romanian Gymnast Nadia Comaneci and would prance around her house dancing to Mariah Carey songs, eventually becoming the captain of her middle school’s Drill Team. Here, she learned to love and appreciate dance even more, and began taking ballet classes at her local Boys and Girls Club, and eventually under the training of Cynthia Bradley at the San Pedro Ballet School.

Cynthia saw Copeland as prodigy early on, and graciously took her in. Here, she trained even more while entering the public’s eye with performances at A-lister charity events and Debbie Allen’s production of The Chocolate Nutcracker. By 15, Copeland was awarded first place in the Ballet category of the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Awards, and accepted into the summer program of The San Fransisco Ballet with full scholarship.

Then custody battles between her mother and Cynthia arose, causing Copeland to return home. Though, this was no where near the end of Copeland’s career. Things continued to flourish as she began training with the Lauridsen Ballet Center and kept in close touch with the media.

Here, she earned her second scholarship to the ABT summer intensive, and named ABT’s National Coca-Cola Scholar. She was then invited to join their studio company, and in 2007 became a Soloist. You may have seen her in performances such as The Firebird (2012) or Swanilda in Coppelia (2014).

At this point, Copeland was a well known icon to the media, and pop culture. Staring in Prince’s music video for “Crimson and Clover” and performing with him in his follow up tour, Copeland inevitably became a strong advocate for making professional ballet economically and racially diverse.

Misty served as a mentor to many young athletes, while signing endorsement deals such as Under Armour and American Express. She also wrote New York Times Bestselling memoir, Life in Motion, with Charisse Jones.

Copeland’s never-ending hard work on and off the dance floor became undeniably evident, and recognized by the ABT. Revolutionizing 2015, Copeland was promoted to principal dancer, becoming the first African American Woman to fulfil the position in the 75 year history of the American Ballet Theater.

Currently: Career wise, Copeland continues to play principal roles with the ABT. Recently married, Misty maintains an endorsement with Under Armour, does a lot of charity work, and continues to inspire little girls every where.

Week 5: Tiger woods

Tiger Woods became one of the best golfers known to man after launching a professional career in 1997. Woods set numerous untouchable records and was the first African American to win the U.S. Masters.

Early life:  Raised in Orange County, California, Woods was recognized as a golf prodigy at an unusually early age, striking notably by the age of 2. He in 1978 appeared on a popular television talk show, where he beat comedian Bob hope in a putting contest, and was featured in an article of Golf Digest at age 5.

Woods continued to perfect his skill, dominating youth tournaments and showing off on tv shows such as Good Morning America and That’s Incredible. Soon, Woods was a senior in high school obtaining a golf scholarship to Stanford University.

Career: Woods won the U.S. Amature Title during his first year of college, qualifying to play in the Masters tournament. After winning 3 Amature Titles, everyone knew Tiger! So he dropped out, pursuing a professional career in 1996 with record breaking endorsement offers. 96 was also the year that Woods was named PGA tour rookie of the year and Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the year.

In 1997, Woods made history becoming both the first man of color and youngest ever to win the Masters, with a record score of 18 under par. He also had the fastest rise to the #1 ranking in the history of golf.

In 2000, Woods took his own take on the Grand Slam called the ‘Tiger slam,’ dominating 4 major golf championships: the British Open, U.S. Open, PGA Championships, and the Masters. At this point, his career continued to flourish as he became the greatest golfer of all time.

Personal Life: In 2006, Tiger lost his father to prostate cancer. Though, he pulled through, dominating yet another PGA championship and several other events. Him and his wife had their first child the following year, on June 18. In July, he earned top spots in both the BMW championships and the PNG, being named PNG’s Player of The Year.

Soon after, Tiger decided he wouldn’t be able to finish the season due to an unfortunate knee injury, which turned out to be not such a bad thing. He announced his wife’s second pregnancy, and talked about how happy he was to be spending time with his family and watching his daughter grow. Though he returned in a match against Tim Clark, losing his winning strike for the rest of the year.

In November of 2009, Woods’ Marital bliss hit a bump in the road when reports of infidelity hit the surface. Tiger denied everything until proof was presented to the media. He then issued a public apology to his wife and fans for his betrayal and transgressions. The couple soon after split up, and Woods took time off to attend to these issues.

A Second Chance: He returned to the courses in April, finishing fourth in the Masters Tournament. After time passed, he was able to move on and regain his image in 2013. That season, he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Farmers Insurance Open. He was also named the PGA Tour Player of the Year for the 11th time.

He’s been unstoppable ever since.


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