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story.lead_photo.caption Olympic Medalist and World Wrestling Champion J'den Cox spoke Wednesday at Westminster College's 16th Hancock Symposium in the Champ Auditorium. His lecture, "Taking a Stand: Moving Beyond BLM to Equity for All," focused on his story while also challenging guests to confront the truth, accept and appreciate difference and find the courage to create a more equitable world for all. Photo by Screenshot

An Olympic medalist with Mid-Missouri roots challenged his Westminster College audience Wednesday to take a stand and to create a more equitable world for all.

Olympic medalist and World Wrestling Champion J'den Cox spoke at Westminster College's 16th Hancock Symposium in the Champ Auditorium.

His lecture, "Taking a Stand: Moving Beyond BLM to Equity for All," focused on his story while also challenging guests to confront the truth, accept and appreciate difference, and find the courage to create a more equitable world for all.

Cox is from Columbia and has spent much of his life focusing on his wrestling career.

"Honestly, I have a little bit of a different story than a lot of others who look like me and also in the same predicament as me as far as being in the sport of wrestling and being an athlete in general," Cox said. "But as an athlete, athletics actually shielded me away from a lot of racial issues."

He grew up in the country with his family, where he would wrestle with his siblings.

"My grandmother is white," Cox said. "I have a whole Caucasian side of my family, so I was kind of brought up in a mixed family. I got to bond with people of different races very early on in my life. From my side of things, I never really saw an issue, but on top of that, my success really shielded me from those issues because people treated me differently."

As he continued with his wrestling career, he saw success through high school, Mizzou and on to his career in the Olympics.

Cox recalled a time in 2016 when Mizzou was embroiled in racial strife that gained national attention. He remembers this well because he wore Mizzou's name on his back as an athlete.

"There were a lot of things happening, a lot of people were angry with each other, a lot of protests and things going on," Cox said. "I remember, even from that, for the most part, I was shielded. I think I only had to talk about issues there one time, and then for the most part, I was told to push it to the side.

"But I did talk about it within my team, and there were things within my team that I didn't realize were issues that they were having to deal with. Like how often they would walk down the street and someone would say a slur, or even the treatment of certain situations of people of color. I was even shielded from that, and it wasn't until that moment that my eyes were really open to it."

In 2018, Cox won a world title and spent that money on a house in Colorado, where he now lives. It wasn't until living in Colorado that Cox realized what it truly meant to be Black.

"When I moved out to Colorado was the first time I realized I was Black," Cox said.

During his time in Colorado, Cox has encountered the police three times. Each occasion, he was at his house, on his front lawn, mowing his grass.

The first two times, police officers pulled up to Cox's house and asked him what he was doing there. Cox responded by saying he was mowing his lawn. The police proceeded to tell him they received a call about a suspicious man at the address. Cox assured them everything was fine and they left.

The third time, two police officers pulled up to his house and questioned Cox about what he was doing, if it was really his lawn, his house and then asked for proof.

Cox told them no.

The officers said they gotten a call about a suspicious African American male in the neighborhood.

"I haven't seen one," Cox responded.

At this point, he wasn't sure what the officers were wanting him to do since he was on his own property.

The police asked for identification and proof that he owned the house.

Again, Cox said no.

As things were starting to get heated, one of the officers talked to the other and before they left, one said, "Make sure to stay in your lane."

"I didn't know what that meant," Cox said. "And that was my first bout with it, and you all have to understand the neighborhood that I live in is all predominately white. And so that's where it really shocked me. I was like, 'Wow like this is something I've only experienced now, because the success I've had has shielded me away from a lot of these things.'"

As he became more aware, hearing more news and joining the Black Wrestling Association, Cox said he started to fear not only for his life, but for those who are experiencing the same mistreatment as him.

"For those of you who are a different race, who are Caucasians, I don't say this to push you away," Cox said. "I understand it can be uncomfortable, we're talking about some serious stuff, and there's no way you can comprehend what some of us have gone through — some of your classmates, some of your teammates.

"But that's why it's more important for you to hear their stories and listen, not to respond but to truly understand, to try hear them out."

He emphasized that all the protests, all the noise, is not meant to push people of different races away, that they're not meant to pull them down, but they're in hopes they will help pull us up.

"The main thing I want to say here today, that I want you all to get," Cox said, "is there is no power in not using your voice at all. And, in fact, in this situation for those who are allies, your voice sadly will carry a lot more weight than mine or any other African American for that matter. Your voice will actually be listened to because you're looked at differently, you're seen differently.

"Think about it, some people walk through their lives fearing for their lives just because their pigment is a little darker. It's a blessing that some of you are free of that, but I'm asking you to use that freedom to combat with us so we can have the same liveliness."

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