By Gary A. Johnson
Founder/Publisher: (Black Men In America.com)
Founder/Host: (Calculations Talk Show)
Posted: October 30, 2021 (Updated February 7, 2022)
Earlier this week, I had the honor of interviewing Olympic Gold Medalist Mel Pender a few days shy of his 84th birthday. Mel Pender is the epitome of what my website and my talk show represents—people who come from ordinary and in some cases, impoverished beginnings, who end up doing extraordinary things with their life inspiring others along the way and in some cases taking some people and dragging them across the finish line to success.
Let me review a few of Mel’s public accomplishments:
• Decorated U.S. Army Soldier (Bronze Star for two tours in Vietnam)
• Two Time Olympian and Gold Medalist (4 X100 Meter Relay 1968 Summer Games)
• Three records in Track & Field, that have yet to be broken
• Author of the book, “Expression of Hope: The Mel Pender Story”
Mel Pender is a textbook example of the “American Dream.” When you listen to Mel’s life story you should pause and reflect for a moment like I did and say to yourself, “This might be one of the most inspiring stories that very few people will ever know of.
I met Mel through radio sports talk show icon Harold Bell, another man in his 80’s who is deserving of wider recognition. I have been blessed to have access to these types of heroes who are willing to help others.
Throughout my conversation with Mel, I was fascinated listening to him talk about his life. He enlisted in the U.S. Army when he was 17-years old. Oh, I forgot to mention that he was married at age 16. What?
Mel wanted to emulate Audie Murphy. For those of you who are not familiar with Audie Murphy, (I had to research this), Murphy was one of the most decorated combat soldiers of World War II. He received every military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army at that time. Murphy was also an actor, songwriter, and rancher.
To fast forward the story, once in the Army, Mel was assigned to represent our country in the Olympics in Track and Field. Another fascinating part of our conversation was Mel talking about one of his roommates. He roomed with John Carlos in Mexico City. (Yes, “THE” John Carlos with raised clenched fist and black glove on the victory stand). Mel says he knew nothing of Carlos’s and Tommie Smith’s plans to protest.
During our conversation, Mel had the opportunity to clear up a misperception or misunderstanding of the protest by Carlos and Smith. Like many other people, I have always described that protest as a “Black Power” salute. Mel corrected me. He described it as a “silent gesture.”
According to Mel, Tommie Smith said their plan wasn’t decided until minutes before the ceremony. Mel talks about how he really wanted to make some statement about racial injustice and unfairness but feared he would be thrown in jail because he was an active member of the U.S. military. Mel knew that he could not take that risk because he had a wife a child to support. Mel also recalled being questioned by his Commander about his possible role in a protest or demonstration. Mel explained to the Commander that he was not part of the protest. He further explained, that if he wasn’t in the military, he would have been standing on the victory stand doing the “silent gesture” with his hand in the air just like Tommie Smith and John Carlos.
Here’s my takeaway from the Mel Pender interview. We have something in common— “no one will out work us.” At 5’ 5” inches tall, Mel Pender is and was a “beast.” No one was going to mess with Mel Pender. When you assess where he came from and where he is now, Mel Pender is living proof that if you want something bad enough, you can get it. No excuses. That’s the lesson here. Melvin Pender is the “American Dream.”
Watch this 3-minute photo slideshow of Mel and then watch my exclusive interview and listen to Mel’s insights and intimate details about key aspects of his life and career.
Exclusive Interview with Mel Pender: An American Hero Living The American Dream