US sprinter Allyson Felix wasn’t always comfortable speaking out.
That changed when she gave birth to her daughter in 2018.
“My daughter has helped me find my voice,” six-time Olympic champion Felix told CNN’s Amanda Davies, as the American sprinter talked about the effect Camryn has had on her life.
“Having her and thinking about her life and what I want the world to look like for her really pushed me to have the courage to stand up and fight for the voiceless and to come out against things that I don’t think are right.”
It’s just over a fortnight since George Floyd’s death and Felix says the incident “completely shattered my heart.”
“This is a cycle that has been happening over and over and over again and so to be here once again, to see this on video, it’s just so difficult.”
As a mother, Floyd’s death hit Felix even harder, she says.
“Seeing George Floyd cry out for his own mother, that especially broke my heart.
“To be a mother, and know one day I’ll have to have these conversations with my child and what that looks like and what that will feel like, no mother wants to got through that. And no mother wants to have that fear as well and so it’s a hard reality to face.”
From a young age her race has forced Felix to confront difficult issues and have difficult conversations, she says.
“I can’t even recall a time where I did not understand this. Growing up in the heart of Los Angeles, for a lot of my schooling I was the only black student in the class.”
She attributes the support of her family as key to how she navigates the world as a black woman. Her father Paul, is an ordained minister and professor of the New Testament, her mother Marlean is a teacher, and her brother Wes is a former sprinter, who now acts as Felix’s agent.
“They were just such great examples,” she explains. “And just having sobering conversations about police officers and how to conduct yourself when you do get pulled over.
“I have an older brother and spending a lot of time, growing up, riding in the car with him, these are the things you do to stay alive. Those are very real conversations that you have in the black community.”
Felix wants change though, so that there is no need to have the same conversations with her daughter.
She says she felt “compelled” to join the recent protests that took place in LA, as well as across the US and rest of the world, and is positive this current movement can bring reform.
“I think what we’re seeing right now though is the possibility for change and that’s something I can say that I haven’t felt before.
“When I went out to the march this past weekend, seeing the diversity in the crowd and feeling like there are allies and that we are not in this fight alone, that’s a different feeling and so that makes me more hopeful that something can actually come from this.”
‘We are so divided right now’
Asked how she thinks US President Donald Trump is handling the situation, Felix says, “I haven’t been happy.”
“I feel like we are so divided right now and it doesn’t feel comforting from leadership. I feel a lot of times the black community does not feel heard.
“People are crying out and we want to be heard, we want to be seen, and we want change to happen.”
Asked what advice she would she give to the President, Felix said: “Listen. See the pain that is being caused. Understand that he is in power to change things.
“There is so much that needs to be happening. But to understand that there is racial injustice in this country, all over the place in America and it’s not right and we have to do something about it.
“Right now in the case of Breonna Taylor, the officers still have not been arrested and so that’s something that needs to happen right away.”
Taylor was killed in March when police broke down the door to her apartment in an attempted drug sting, and shot her eight times.
The officers who forced their way into her apartment have been placed on administrative leave but have not been charged with any crimes.
Earlier this week the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it would be consulting the organization’s Athletes’ Commission before deciding whether to relax its stance against protests at future Games.
Current IOC guidelines ban any form of protest at the Olympics, including taking a knee, raising a fist or refusing to follow protocol at medal ceremonies.
“I would love for athletes’ voices to really be understood and to be heard and to be able to express themselves in how they see fit,” Felix said.
“We have a lot on our minds, and a lot that we want to say.”
Tokyo will be Felix’s fifth Olympic Games, having won a silver medal in the Women’s 200m at Athens 2004 when she was just 18, but she’s just as driven as ever to be in Japan next summer as a 35-year old.
“It’s something that I’ve been working towards for so long and having my daughter on this journey and facing all this adversity and overcoming a lot, it would really be special to culminate in that moment.”
As to how she’d express herself on the podium if she were to win a medal, that’s something Felix is still thinking about.
“I would love to be able to express myself in some way. I’m in this fight so I would want to be able to do something. To use my voice.”