Jesse Owens Biopic Inspires
South LA Youth

FullSizeRender (4)In celebration of Black History Month, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas sponsored an advance screening of the biopic Race, about legendary U.S. Olympian Jesse Owens, for about 100 youth from a park in South Los Angeles named after Owens.

The film showed the African-American track and field star shattering Adolf Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy by winning a then-unprecedented four gold medals in a single Olympics, the 1936 Berlin Games.

“As we celebrate Black History Month, it’s important that we take a moment to step back and celebrate individuals like Jesse Owens,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “I hope this movie inspires our youth to believe that they, too, can achieve their dreams, as Jesse Owens did.”

HS6_7592%5B1%5DHosted by LA24 and the LA84 Foundation, the screening also benefited students from Manual Arts, Dorsey, Jefferson and Huntington Park High Schools. LA84 Foundation President and CEO Renata Simril said, “Jesse Owens broke a number of barriers in his life and at the 1936 Olympic Games. His life story is inspiring and a perfect vehicle to remind young people of the power of sport to change perceptions and empower individuals.”

The crowd broke out into applause several times during portrayals of Owens’ triumphs. After the screening, they got the chance to meet two Olympians, high jumper Jaime Nieto and sprinter Sherri Howard, who won a gold medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Games. The youngsters also got to see the Olympic torch from those Games and from the 1936 Berlin Games.

In a panel discussion with the Olympians, Nieto told the youngsters that his determination to succeed helped him get to both the 2004 Athens Games and 2012 London Games. “I wasn’t the best athlete, very mediocre, nowhere near the top – but I wanted to do the best and become the best I could be.”

Howard, who actually met Jesse Owens, won a silver medal in the 1988 Seoul Games. She was unable to compete in the 1980 Moscow Games because of a US boycott to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In Race, the US also considered a boycott of the 1936 Berlin Games until Hitler agreed to let Jews and blacks compete.

“I experienced a little of what Jesse Owens went through,” Howard said during the panel discussion. She added one of her motivations for competing was “to prove a point to mHS6_7692B1D (2)y father that girls were just as good as boys.”

Race got rave reviews from its youthful audience. One teen said, “I really didn’t know who Jesse Owens was – it was just the name of our park.  He really went through a lot to compete. I’m glad we got to see this.”

“I liked the movie,” said another teen.  “Jesse Owens had to deal with so many problems but he kept his focus on running and became the greatest athlete back then.”

With Assembly member Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas co-hosted another screening of Race at AMC Universal City Walk for about 350 community members.