We’ve been celebrating Olympic gymnasts Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas since their gold medal wins back in the 2016 Summer Olympics. Their successes gave hope and inspiration to young girls around the world, especially the little girls with an extra dose of melanin who watched as brown-skinned women who look like them conquered their goals.
Leading the way for Simone and Gabby were amazingly talented black Olympic gymnast trailblazers like Dominique Dawes, who was the first black person, female or male, to win an Olympic gold medal. Dawes’ Olympic predecessors, Luci Collins – who was the first black female to make an Olympic team back in 1980, and Betty Okino – the first black woman to win an Olympic medal (bronze) in gymnastics, broke boundaries and provided a source of hope for aspiring gymnasts those who felt like Olympic success for black girls was too far-fetched in the sport of gymnastics.
The year was 1996 and the city was Atlanta. For a girl who was once considered by critics to be too bow-legged and “knobby” kneed to achieve major success as a gymnast, everyone was watching as the beautiful, petite, black woman leapt and tossed her way into Olympic history. For many young black girls, the ’96 Olympics was likely the first time there was even the slightest bit of interest in watching the gymnastic portion of the Olympic games. The excitement of having someone who looked like us on the US Olympic gymnastics team kept us glued to the TV to ensure we didn’t miss a second of Dominique’s melanin magic.
After securing the gold medal with the “Magnificent Seven,” which was the first American gymnastic team to take the Olympic gold medalist title, Awesome Dawesome (as she was so affectionately nicknamed) did more competing and winning, and later went on to graduate college. Dominique was tapped to appear in music videos for legendary music icon Prince and rapper Missy Elliot and also took a stab at Broadway. She made history yet again by becoming the first spokeswoman for the Girl Scout’s “Uniquely Me” campaign in the early 2000s and she also became the youngest President of the Women’s Sports Federation during her tenure in the mid 2000s. She was inducted into the 2009 class of the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame, being the first black woman inductee. Dominique has done activist work for autism, motivational speaking for the youth, and has contributed her fitness expertise to various causes.
She recently spoke out regarding the sexual abuse scandal involving USA Gymnastics national team doctor, Larry Nassar. Over 150 victims spoke of sexual abuse from Dr. Nassar while being treated for sports injuries. Though Dominique was not one of the abused, she made a statement via Facebook on January 20, 2018 expressing empathy and stated that the culture of the gymnastics industry “made it ripe” for predators to prey on young girls because their future success is partly “in the hands of the adults in power.”
Dominique and her husband, who wed in 2013, are raising four little girls – two of which were recently welcomed into the family in January 2018. Check them out on her Instagram page.
History made, goals achieved, beautiful family. Dominique has shown us that we can do it all.