a sponsorship from Footlocker and entry into the national competing circuit. And I was training with eye on Atlanta in 1996. I was in graduate school doing my masters in American history and public history, studying to be a museum curator. And then I damaged my discs really badly and when you're 26 going on 27 and you have that type of injury, there’s really no coming back. So I didn't go to the Olympic trial because of my injury, and in January of 1996 I decided to go back to New York City.
After moving back home, I got an offer to work with [documentary filmmaker] Ken Burns. They were looking for someone who was really good at visual research and finding documents and that was all I had done in graduate school to become a curator. So I became a curator for film. And I learned through watching the producers and how they did things and by watching Ken when I was in the editing room. I worked on Burns’ Jazz which was a 20 hour series and my job was to find evidence of black life from 1890 to the present. And I became associate producer on the project. I worked for Ken Burns for five years and that became my film school, where I caught the storytelling bug through film and decided to make my first documentary on Shirley Chisholm [which premiered at Sundance in 2004 and won a Peabody Award in 2006].
EBONY: Mary Decker missed one of her chances to compete in the Olympics in 1980 because the U.S. boycotted. Do you think it's a good strategy for countries to boycott the Olympics given the window of opportunity for competition is so narrow?
SL: When Obama was recently on television and said we're not going to boycott, I was so happy, I got really emotional and thought "you get it!" I was so proud of him. Athletics is the place where politics should not come into play in that way. Prove you're better on the track or in the swimming pool. It shouldn't be about who shows up and who doesn't. Because it's spectacular when the world can come together and compete. There's respect in it. And it humanizes us. When we're all in the Olympic village and you meet other athletes we recognize our humanity, and it's not just about political agendas.
Makkada B. Selah is a journalist based in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.