Olympian Carl Lewis: A Champion for the Underprivileged Who Exemplifies How Sports Can Change the World


Carl Lewis became a track & field legend in the 1980s and 1990s. In more ways than one, he has the heart of a champion.

Track and Field encompasses a collection of activities defined by a melodic series of human kinetics performed by artists of the physical arts (i.e. athletes) on sprawling lawns laid for trials of strength and endurance, and courses traced for speed and rapid kinesthetic synchronization.  The athlete’s “masterpieces” (or performances) are the results of a man or woman’s ability to both develop physical abilities through arduous preparation and dominate any limitations.  In fact, the athlete is the master of changing a thought, goal, or vision into physical reality.  Ten-time Olympic Medalist Carl Lewis turned thoughts of rapid movements and long jumps into real accomplishments and the dream of Olympic glory into nine gold medals and one silver.

Throughout his life after track & field, Carl Lewis has devoted his energy to causes

The United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization leads efforts to end hunger around the globe.

benefiting the underprivileged around the world.  Lewis’ efforts on behalf of the underprivileged are presented in an article written by Adam Sennott for the 29 December-4 January 2011 issue of Chicago’s Streetwise magazine, a publication run by “a social-enterprise organization designed to help unemployed or underemployed men and women out of poverty,” according to their website (http://www.streetwise.org/).  In the conversation between writer and athlete, the latter shares some of his experiences as Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), advocacy for the UN’s initiatives in countries like Vietnam and India, and the benefits of a vegan diet.

In Sennott’s article, Lewis talks about how he saw the conditions people live in throughout the world as he travelled from one international competition or engagement to another.  Whether in India, Vietnam, or the United States, Lewis has seen how unemployment and a lack of opportunities can ruin entire lives.  When misfortune or penury completely defeats a man or woman, the belief in the ability to convert ideas into reality gets lost in the mix of all that person lost and – in many cases – cannot recover without a strong and hopeful hand.  Lewis uses his success in track and field to establish credibility with his audiences in order to challenge a common attitude he described in Sennott’s article as a “well, I have mine” mentality.  As a Goodwill Ambassador to the FAO, Lewis’ efforts revolve around the notion that “if one person’s hungry in the world, we’re all hungry” and optimism stemming from the philanthropy of such public figures as Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet, and Bill Clinton.  He cites the names of “wealthy people doing wonderful things” to present a positive and hopeful message that promotes solutions to world hunger and poverty.

Streetwise jobs offer hope to Chicago's homeless, unemployed, and underemployed residents.

Carl Lewis currently promotes the FAO’s global programs to teach and empower the poorest communities in the world.  Adam Sennott’s interview provides his readers with an excellent quote that sums up the reasoning behind the FAO’s initiatives.  The former Olympian told Sennott, “I think one of the things we need to do… is [help] people become more self-sufficient.  Instead of dropping food all the time, we need to think: how can we help them grow their own food?  How can we help them develop their own areas?”  A temporary solution like provisions of finite quantities of food or supplies to the poor is a valid first step, but Carl Lewis and the FAO’s plan to empower the poor and hungry is the essential next part in the plan to end poverty and hunger.  “Education is important,” Lewis stated in his interview with Sennott, “because you have to have the knowledge to make decisions.”

If one wished, one could give a dollar to a homeless person, or buy a loaf of bread for the hungry.  Some communities support large-scale programs, though, that provide the poor with opportunities to earn a living and recover from poverty by employing them to sell magazines and newspapers like Miami’s Homeless Voice and Chicago’s Streetwise. These programs help those who are suffering recover their dignity and confidence by giving them a chance to work.

Carl Lewis’ exploits in track & field taught him how nothing is impossible and that from loss one must draw confidence in order to succeed.  These lessons, along with the inspiration drawn from his success, are among the great tools he shares with the people he hopes will follow his lead in the fight against hunger and poverty.  If anyone can motivate the discouraged and help make a dream a reality by inspiring Herculean efforts to defy any limitations, it is ten-time Olympic Medalist Carl Lewis.

Sports really can change the world.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

Please support your local street magazine vendors – this is how the homeless earn a roof that repels the rain and a bed needed to rest before a new day.


A champion in America - a champion around the world.

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