Black History Month, aka When White People Pretend To Let The Black People Speak.
I enrolled at UW Oshkosh, back in 1983, because I am from Oshkosh. The half of my family that is American is from Oshkosh.
What matters to all but two members of my American family is that I have a Panamanian Black family.
What mattered to people I knew in Oshkosh was that I was Black.
It still matters.
The people of Oshkosh have tried to erase me.
When white people see a frustrated person of color, and call them "angry," that white person is just using racism to hold the person of color down.
When my critics talk smack, notice this: they are all white.
...now, a story:
In 1983, when I was a UWO Track Freshman, I asked for a chance to run. My real coach, Ron Akin, fought to give me a chance. He had to fight to get me on the travel bus. I got on the bus, I qualified for Nationals, and I became the first UWO All-American. As a Freshman, I established the 1500 meter record at 3:47.88.
When it was just two not-white guys at Nationals in 1983, one from Trinidad, one (me) a Panamanian American, the white guys were mad. Resentful. They complained that we had superior breeding... yes, they said that, without even acknowledging how racist they were. They had no idea how wrong they were, not just morally, but practically. The difference between me and them was how hard I worked. I did the distance workout, then I did the sprinter workout, then I did an hour or more in the weight room. My workout ended hours after the slow white guys went home. There was one other guy who worked as hard and as long: Steve Hable, the pole vaulter and actual Nice Guy.
My other coaches were, and are, racists. Jon Zupanc is the last one still alive. He and his wife, Deb Vercauteren, were just plain horrible racists. If Deb could have, she would have had me lynched.
When Coach Akin gave me a chance, Jon Zupanc fumed.
Coach Akin retired after my Junior year, and Jon Zupanc became my coach. The first thing he did was break me, injure me, and keep me from running. I trained alone, or with a couple of fellow injured runners, all Winter, and all Spring. I spent hours and hours on a bike, in the pool, and in the weight room. With one meet left before Conference, with no help from Jon Zupanc, I stepped on the track at a small dual meet, and I won.
A week later, I was the WSUC Conference Champ in the 800, the 1500, and I anchored the winning 4x400.
If you want to test a runner's durability, but them in three events at a local championship, and see if they hold up. If you are afraid of a runner's fragility, do not put them in three events at a local championship. Me? I was laughing when I crossed the finish of the 4x400, winning, laughing, having fun. Nothing hurt. Nothing was sore. I had come out of the pool and the weight room, after months of rehab, as strong as ever.
A week later, I qualified for Nationals in the 800, the 1500, and as the anchor of the 4x400.
The white guys were pissed. Not all of them- Steve Hable was a huge help. If not for Steve, I wonder... I might have given up.
I was qualified for three events at Nationals, but Jon's racism got in the way. He held me back from the 1500 and the 4x400. He simply refused to let me run in all the events I had earned. Laughably, they replaced me in the 4x400 with a white guy who ran the 400 a full five seconds slower than me.
I was so tired of fighting against their racism that, for about five meters of the 800, I quit.
It just gets so hard to have to keep fighting for what you earned, you know?
I ended up in an accidental photo finish for the championship. In real life, I lost it. In real life, Jon Zupanc won.
The animosity from Jon Zupanc and Deb Vercauteren never ended. They still hate me, and they do their best to try to hold me down. This is a fight that has been going on for 40 years.
Deb wanted me lynched for marrying a white girl. Her white girl. I'm serious: if she could have, she would have had me hung. In the 1980s, and even on Jan 1, 1990, Deb was rabidly against the mixing of the races.
I do not care if she has changed since then. Nothing she ever does will change the way I feel about her.
In the early 2000s, which was almost two decades after I ran 3:47.88, Jon Zupanc erased me from the UW Oshkosh record book. Jon simply gave a different runner a fabricated time for 1500 meters. A purely fictional time. And just like, that, he started erasing me.
When white people say I hold a grudge, what they mean is, only white people can hold a grudge.
Track is a sport of definites. Times are measured to the .01 second. Jon Zupanc is the only coach I have ever heard of who has made up a time and called it an official record.
In the last few weeks, I have been contacted a few times by one of the current UW Oshkosh Track coaches, Eamon McKenna. First he called me. Then he emailed. Then he called again. I believed him when he said he was working to make things better at UWO. He looked into the facts around the fake record. It is way, way too late, but he acknowledged that Jon Zupanc should not have erased the record.
When he told me that the new record holder is a hispanic male, I told him that I didn't care about the race or ethnicity of an athlete. The only thing that matters, in Track, is the finishing time.
When he told me that the new record holder is a gay man who transferred out of UWO because of bigotry, I laughed... because nothing has changed. My heart breaks for the runner who had to leave because of bigotry.
It turns out that, like me, he went to UW Madison to find more acceptance. I hope he found it. I found some, certainly more than at UW Oshkosh. Two men stood out. Neither was born in the US, and both helped me tremendously. The American version of racism and discrimination was, to them, bizarre.
I experienced real racism at UW Oshkosh. I heard the N word an awful lot. Sometimes daily. In-Your-Face racism is fairly easy to deal with. That's the kind you know about, that you can see and hear and feel. The harder part of racism is when you get blindsided, tricked, used, lied to.
At UW Oshkosh, Coach Akin gave me a chance. He and my dad were friends. They had an awful lot in common, and were from the same neck of the woods- New London/Hortonville (I was baptized in Hortonville, which is where Coach Akin was from). My dad and Coach Akin did not have today's language for countering racism. They did not have "diversity, inclusion, opportunity" in their speech. But they knew what was right. They had many, many conversations about how to counter the racism I had to deal with. I love Coach Akin's plan: "Let him run."
I hate Jon Zupanc's plan: "hold him down and let the white boys run."
A few years later, I ran 22:43 for 8k, US National Champ, and fastest 8k of the year, 1990. In those days, the 8k was a super popular, and road racing a lucrative endeavor. A magazine or a newspaper interviewed me, and they asked me, how did I go from running 25:35 in college cross country to 22:43 on the roads? I thought for a second. I remembered Jon's racism. I remembered how, when I moved to Madison, the great Peter Tegen took me on as a special project. I remembered how Noel Harvey showed me how to suffer. Boom, that fast, I said, "Better coaching."
Oh my, when Jon Zupanc read the news, he was pissed.
It makes no difference to me that February is Black History Month. White people keep trying to control the conversation. They are all, like, "we can talk about it in February." ... and then they forget.
Eamon McKenna asked me why I wasn't on the UW Oshkosh Athletic Hall of Fame. He named a few runners who were much, much slower than I was, but on the wall... I mean laughably slower... Then he asked me if, if I was awarded a plaque, or whatever the f*&^, if I would take it. Me? I gave him an honest answer: I told him that, at this point, if they offered it, I would probably stand up and tell them to shove it up their a#*.
The last conversation I had with Jon Zupanc, he left me with this: "you'll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." What he meant was, "know your place, boy."
The last time I saw Jon Zupanc, about fifteen years ago, I said to him, Know your place, boy.
Know your place, boy.
Note: edited because the white people who control this board need to censor the way people of color speak.