By AUDREY FISCHER
With the enthusiasm of a preacher and sportscaster, Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills recently delivered an inspirational keynote address to mark the opening of the Library's celebration of American Indian Heritage Month. Forty years ago at the 1964 Olympic games in Tokyo, Mills became the first—and remains the only—American to win the 10,000-meter run.
"I felt as if I had wings on my feet," said Mills, whose stunning upset is considered one of the greatest moments in 20th century Olympic history.
"It was electrifying," said Mills. "But the lessons I learned from sports were about values."
Thus began Mills' "values-based concept of self-empowerment," which he continues to preach to the Native American community and to others who are marginalized by society.
As a child growing up on a reservation in Pine Ridge, S.D., Mills was at times consumed by anger, hate and jealousy.
"You have broken wings," his father observed. "Find your dream, for only values and virtues can heal you."
Specifically, Mill was instructed to live his life as a warrior, displaying the virtues of bravery, fortitude, wisdom and generosity.
Mills took the message to heart, but along the way he has had to challenge the perceptions, or misconceptions, about the Native American community.
"Perception is the greatest challenge we face in a changing world," said Mills. "Native Americans are thought of as either dying from alcoholism or getting wealthy from gaming casinos."
For more than four decades since his Olympic victory, Mills has been referred to as "that Indian guy."
"I'm 66 years old and I still don't have a name," he said.
And there were many other indignities he suffered, such as being banished from team photographs at the University of Kansas, where he was a national champion, and being barred from joining a fraternity there.
All this put him dangerously close to giving up on himself—and even on life—but his Native American values served to strengthen him. Not only has he lived his life as a warrior, but he has also been designated a warrior by the Lakota Nation, in which he is a highly regarded elder.
Having raised millions of dollars for his community, Mills has demonstrated the value of generosity and the power of giving.
"I believe in self-respect with accountability," said Mills. By "accountability," Mills means "empowering others."
"We should dream our dreams, not only to benefit ourselves but for the betterment of humanity," said Mills. Above all, believes Mills, diversity should be celebrated .
"Global unity through diversity," said Mills. "It's a theme of the Olympic games and the key to the future of humankind."
Audrey Fischer is a public affairs specialist in the Library's Public Affairs Office.