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Sports Bruny Surin draws his values from Martin Luther King's message

00:35  28 february  2021
00:35  28 february  2021 Source:   montrealgazette.com

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Bruny Surin posing for the camera: Outside his activities as an entrepreneur and public speaker, Bruny Surin has created a foundation promoting the physical and psychological benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle for young students. © Provided by The Gazette Outside his activities as an entrepreneur and public speaker, Bruny Surin has created a foundation promoting the physical and psychological benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle for young students.

Whether as an elite athlete or in his current role as an entrepreneur, Bruny Surin might seem to have been born under a lucky star. But the son of Haitian immigrants hasn’t always had it easy.

Early in life, his parents, Léonne and Joseph, imparted him with solid values that defined his personality and introduced him to the hopeful message of Martin Luther King Jr., the emblematic figure of U.S. civil rights who became a great source of inspiration.

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Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister and civil-rights activist who had a seismic impact on race relations in the United States, beginning in the mid-1950s. Among his many efforts, King headed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). From late 1965 through 1967, King expanded his civil rights efforts into other larger American cities, including Chicago and Los Angeles. But he met with increasing criticism and public challenges from young Black power leaders. King ' s patient, non-violent approach and appeal to white middle-class citizens alienated many Black militants who

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Too young to have witnessed the actions of the African-American activist — Surin was not yet one-year-old when King was assassinated, on April 4, 1968 — it was through the eyes and accounts of his parents he discovered the man’s influence.

“I was very young in Haiti and they would talk about Reverend King, and how he fought for the rights of Black people in the United States,” recalled the four-time Olympian, in an interview with Presse Canadienne as part of a series of portraits of Quebec personalities to mark Black History Month.

“He also had his preacher side, as a pastor who imparted messages,” Surin continued. “While he fought for his rights, always without violence, he also preached forgiveness and sharing. It’s a message that touches me, because these are also Christian values that my parents passed on to me, and which, in turn, I pass on to my daughters. He remains a role model for me.”

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Arriving in Quebec at age 7, in 1975, Surin maintained his interest in history and, especially, in King’s message.

“I read up on the topic, on what was happening at the time in the United States,” he said. “I wondered why these things were happening, when we are all supposed to be equal.

“All to say that Martin Luther King had great strength of character. It was not in vain — he had a big impact — but it also cost him his life.”

More than 50 years after King’s death, the Olympic gold medal-winner in the 4×100-metre relay at the Atlanta Games in 1996 is saddened to see people still have to protest to guarantee social justice.

“It’s extremely shocking. When I look at the situation today, yes, there’s a great heritage, but there’s also work to be done. I don’t want to throw in the towel, but I’m very disappointed by all this,” he said, thinking of events including the death of George Floyd last year, which launched a worldwide movement against racism and police brutality.

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Martin Luther King Jr., right are taken by a policeman as they led a line of demonstrators into the business section of Birmingham, Ala., on April 12, 1963. This is the photograph that ran with TIME' s original coverage of their arrests. In the spring of 1963, in Birmingham, Ala., it seemed like progress was finally being made on civil rights. The notoriously violent segregationist police commissioner “Bull” Connor had lost his run-off bid for mayor, and despite Martin Luther King Jr.’ s declaration that the city was the most segregated in the nation, protests were starting to be met with quiet resignation rather

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“We protest, and that’s good,” Surin said. “But I find it heavy to repeat this whole exercise. After all these years since the time of my role model, Martin Luther King, who died for this cause, I would have hoped to see a world that is more just. That’s not the case. When I think about it, sometimes, I have little moments of discouragement.”

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He empathizes with Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who was shut out by the NFL after being the first to kneel in protest against police brutality and racism.

“At a certain point, will other people like him have to risk their career?” he wondered. “Will more people have to die before this ends one day? I don’t know where this is going to stop.”

Despite this assessment, Surin remains hopeful. And he makes sure to share his positive worldview with others, in the spirit of Reverend King.

“My friends often tell me: ‘You see the world through rose-coloured glasses.’ Yes, I would like everyone to get along,” said Surin, who describes himself as a man of faith.

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“I often pray, or meditate. I believe in the values of forgiveness, respect, of helping your fellow human.”

They’re more than nice words for Surin, who tries to make it a way of life. Outside his activities as an entrepreneur and public speaker, he has created a foundation promoting the physical and psychological benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle for young students.

“I gave myself this responsibility, and it’s really not a burden,” said Surin, who was born in Cap-Haïtien, in northern Haiti. “When I was young, I didn’t have an easy life, although I never lacked for anything. My parents weren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouth.

“When I had big dreams, I didn’t have a penny to make them come true. I knocked on doors, and it was hard. Over time, people helped me, companies helped me, the population got on board and I had a great career.”

He believes it is now his turn to give back to others. He takes inspiration from something his mother told him when he first arrived in Quebec.

“She said: ‘Here, you have all the opportunities, so go for it. But don’t forget that there are no shortcuts in life.’

“That’s the message that I share when I go into schools. The opportunities are right in front of you. It’s true, sometimes it’s going to be harder. I give them examples of the challenges I faced before getting to where I am. And tell them that perseverance is the path to success in life.”

It’s a way for Surin to pass on the precious values instilled in him by his parents.

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