Are you willing to take risks for the sake of justice?

As this year’s Winter Olympics have now come to a close, I keep thinking about an iconic image from the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

Tommie Smith came from behind to win the 200-meter and the gold medal, and as he stood on the medal platform, he and fellow medalist John Carlos raised a black-gloved fist in the air — a sign of Black Power — as the National Anthem played. They had taken off their shoes and worn black socks to highlight Black poverty. Smith wore a black scarf to represent Black pride. Carlos wore a necklace of beads to remember those who had been lynched.

As a consequence, they were immediately removed from the Olympic team and sent home. They would never be able to compete in the Olympics again. They and their families received hate mail and death threats, which they still receive to this day. Smith’s brothers were removed from their high school football team. And for a long while, the only job that Smith could do was washing cars.

His act was not one of hate. As Smith himself has said, “Tommie Smith wasn’t standing on that victory stand for hate. I have never been a hateful person. My whole background has been from the Christian experience. But I had at that particular time the responsibility of standing because I was asked to stand for what I believe in. And I still do that today.”

Tommie Smith in his stand for justice lived out what Jesus said: “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.” (Luke 6:22-23)

As African-American History Month concludes, I tell you the story of Tommie Smith because it is our story. Speaking out for justice, speaking out against oppression, takes risk. Tommie Smith and John Carlos paid a price for their silent protest. Yet, those two raised fists live on as a continued reminder of the work we have left to do for racial reconciliation.

Their continued witness challenges our witness. Are we willing to speak out against injustice even when it puts us at odds with the society around us? When the protests of the Black Lives Matter movement swelled in response to the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breona Taylor, and others, I was encouraged to see that we are beginning to see a diverse response of all backgrounds and ethnicities that declare that this must stop.

And so I would encourage all of us to truly follow in the way of Jesus and not in the ways of the world. I encourage us to name the systemic racism and white privilege that continues to seek to silence the voices of many of us. And if that means that some are offended, let us remember the blessings of Jesus and know that we are walking in faith and following in the footsteps of our Lord.

David Armstrong-Reiner is pastor at Epiphany Lutheran Church, 2375 Ga. Highway 20 in Conyers. Contact him at