Crystal Emmanuel poses with the Canadian flagPhoto: Canadian Press/Mark Blinch
Photo: Canadian Press/Mark Blinch

Crystal Emmanuel: I am Black, beautiful, proud, and empowering

I was born in Toronto but mostly raised in Barbados. Growing up, I knew about and had heard about Black History Month, but it wasn’t as out there as it is in Canada.

So it wasn’t until I moved back here as a teenager and heard more about it that I realized how important it is for Black people to shine, whether in sports or anything else they choose. And not only important for the month, but all the time.

Just being able to compete in sports as a Black female athlete is very important. But it has been a learning experience for me, listening to other people tell about their history and how they struggled and got out of those struggles, understanding more about why and how Black people were able to compete in sports.

How Sports Helped Me

As a young athlete in Barbados, it was exciting. When you have a sports day, people bring out drums and horns and there’s music playing and everyone is cheering and having fun. Being raised in such a beautiful country and seeing my mom and dad’s culture, it was a very special time in my life.

Crystal Emmanuel screams after a race

Crystal Emmanuel, of Canada, reacts after winning bronze in the 100m final during the NACAC Championships in Toronto, Saturday, August 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

When I moved to Canada in 2008, it was a big adjustment. I didn’t want to leave Barbados. Starting a new life in Toronto was different. Going to school was harder because our curriculum was different in Barbados. I was also the new kid and there were a lot of people who picked on me because they said I didn’t speak proper English or they couldn’t understand me because of my accent.

It was kind of rough, but it was okay because I had sports to guide me.

Sports kept me from following the wrong crowd and doing things I wasn’t supposed to be doing. When school ended each day, I had to go straight to practice instead of going to the mall and being mischievous with friends. That guided me in the right direction in terms of being focused on school and sport. It made me understand that I have importance in sport and I want to see myself grow.

Competing for Canada

I’ve been to two Olympics (so far) and being in the Athletes’ Village you feel like you’re in a world of equality. Everyone is happy and enjoying the atmosphere and cheering for each other. It would be great to bring that outside of the sports world and the Olympic world and show that we all can be one and help each other build and be great in the world.

Everyone comes together at the Olympics and the Village is like its own little community for a month or so. You don’t see the “oh I don’t like that person because of their race” or anything like that. You see a lot of helping hands, people accepting others and being friends, not because of the colour of their skin but because of the sport they do and how awesome it is. In everyday life, people are often either scared or nervous to step out of their comfort zone and get to know new people and what helps them get through each day.

Crystal Emmanuel running in the 200m heats

Canada’s Crystal Emmanuel competes in the women’s 200m heats at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday August 15, 2016. COC Photo/Mark Blinch

Being able to compete against the best in the world all around the world while having the maple leaf on my uniform, I am basically stepping out of the shadows and showing the world that there are athletes like myself and that Canada is proud to have us as Black athletes. They cheer for us and they never judge us because of the colour of our skin. They cheer no matter what. They comfort us no matter what. And they tell us that no matter if you win, lose or draw, we are still proud of you.

To hear that they’re proud, regardless of our results, is very empowering. It fuels me. There might be some little girl or little boy out there watching and saying “I want to be an athlete one day” while we go out there and show them that they will always have someone cheering for them.

I like being a role model for young athletes. When I meet them, they get excited and nervous at the same time. Seeing that, I know I have to keep doing what I’m doing to show them my strength and that I never give up so they can say “Well, I heard Crystal Emmanuel’s inspiring story and one day I’m going to be just like her” or “I’m going to create my own story and make Canada proud”.

Inspiration via Instagram

My social media is all about empowering women. Sometimes the messages come from the top of my head. Sometimes I get them from a song or a website of quotes. For me, the most important thing is being an inspiration to women and girls, young ladies across the world, showing them that we can be strong and beautiful and athletic. Being the fastest woman in Canada and not really getting the recognition for that pushes me to give women and girls the push to follow in my footsteps. I am beautiful and still do track and field.

I can be the voice that says “I’m here. I need you to see me as who I am while I compete to be the best in the world”.