victory. stand!: raising my fist for justice

I’m always on the lookout for graphic novels and books that will appeal to my students (9th and 11th graders). Often that means finding and reading nonfiction, sports books, science books – things that aren’t necessarily in my own reading wheelhouse but would spark the interest of a kid who has given up on reading for pleasure. The upcoming young adult graphic novel Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice by Tommie Smith, Derrick Barnes, and Dawud Anyabwile is just such a book. I’m so glad I took a moment to read it after Norton sent me a copy – I can tell that it will not only resonate with my students, but it is a fantastic text, and it meant a lot to me.

victory. stand! by tommie smith, derrick barnes, dawud anyabwile book cover
On October 16, 1968, during the medal ceremony at the Mexico City Olympics, Tommie Smith, the gold medal winner in the 200-meter sprint, and John Carlos, the bronze medal winner, stood on the podium in black socks and raised their black-gloved fists to protest racial injustice inflicted upon African Americans. Both men were forced to leave the Olympics, received death threats, and faced ostracism and continuing economic hardships. 

In his first-ever memoir for young readers, Tommie Smith looks back on his childhood growing up in rural Texas through to his stellar athletic career, culminating in his historic victory and Olympic podium protest. Cowritten with Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Author Honor recipient Derrick Barnes and illustrated with bold and muscular artwork from Emmy Award–winning illustrator Dawud Anyabwile, Victory. Stand! paints a stirring portrait of an iconic moment in Olympic history that still resonates today.

Tommie Smith is famous for a stand he took after accepting the gold medal for running and winning the 200 meters (and breaking the World Record) at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. That photo, of Smith’s and bronze medalist John Carlos’ fists raised in the sky on the Olympic podium, is an iconic protest image. But who is (and was) the man behind that gold medal? In Victory. Stand! Tommie Smith tells his life story for young adults: how he grew up as a sharecropper’s son in rural Texas, moved out to California with his family, focused on his education, gained cultural consciousness, how his sporting life proceeded, and eventually, how he ended up in that fateful race and made a stand for justice.


I’ve read Smith’s story before, and I remember being horrified at how his moment in the spotlight prompted almost 50 years of racist backlash – death threats, economic hardship (he was fired immediately and then had a hard time finding a job for years), and awful vitriol directed not just towards him, but towards every member of his family. Only in the last couple of decades has there been some softening into acceptance, appreciation, and acknowledgement of Smith’s legacy. The end of this book does not shy away from those hard truths – in concise terms, Smith details what a life of uncompromising morals and purpose may result in. He also makes a connection to others in the current spotlight or not-so-distant past who have stood up for what they believe is right, and faced the consequences.


As a graphic novel memoir, Victory. Stand! is tight, focused narrative told in linear format interspersed with flashbacks. The “present” is the race for Olympic gold, and the flashbacks are to Smith’s early childhood in Texas. There is a constant feeling of moving forward with purpose, and Smith’s connection to places and family share the focus for much of the story. It’s a gripping tale, and one with excellent: pacing, mix of dialogue and narration, and artwork. The full package, if you will.


Speaking of artwork, Dawud Anyabwile’s black and white linework and art is exceptional. Each panel is considered, framed for effect, and contains gradations of black and white that make the scene pop. In the action moments, there’s a palpable sense of movement and focus, and the use of shadow and lighting that merge with the text to tell a story. A variety of the panel sizes keep the reader’s eye moving. While there is quite a bit of text on the page, it the book never feels text-heavy – it is just right: balanced, moving, and electric.


In all, Victory. Stand! is a standout graphic memoir. I can’t wait to put it in kids’ hands. I think Tommie’s message will resonate with not only those who remember the Olympic moment, but also folks learning about it now, and those with eyes and hearts open to the world today.


Recommended for: readers ages 10 and up, fans of American history, graphic novels, and sports, and anyone interested in learning how to use their unique talents to be a better person in the world. 


Victory. Stand! will be released by Norton Young Readers (W. W. Norton & Company) on September 27, 2022.

Fine print: I received an advanced copy from the publisher for review and course adoption consideration. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

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