Yinka Braimah, a junior long jumper on the Stanford track and field team, considered another as she pondered how to best represent a new group of Black student-athletes at Stanford: a fist.
The vision actually wasn’t that difficult. After all, the most famous representation of Black empowerment and equality has not lost its impact in the 52 years since sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their gloved fists and bowed their heads on the medal stand during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games to protest against racial injustice in the U.S.
That Smith and Carlos were kicked off the team, sent home, and harassed, vilified, and blackballed, placed inequality and racial double standards into even greater relief. Their demonstration, so long ago, never seems outdated and seems more fitting now than ever.
It stands for racial justice and the Black community...To see that, as a Black student-athlete, is to know that this is a safe space for you.Yinka Braimah
Braimah, who received art instruction for 14 years but never tried digital art until this project, completed the logo in one day. Inspired by Smith and Carlos, as well as the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s, she set a tone of empowerment, strength, and history, placed into the extreme starkness of black and white.
Three Black raised fists - a large one in the center and smaller ones on each side - with a Stanford logo centered in the image.
"It stands for racial justice and the Black community," Braimah said. "To see that, as a Black student-athlete, is to know that this is a safe space for you."
That’s why Braimah feels it is important to keep the logo within CardinalBLCK. She is happy some teams appreciated its significance and valued the logo enough to include it in their own social media posts. But Braimah is firm in that it was designed to represent CardinalBLCK and what the group stands for. And that’s where it should stay.
She hopes that the logo will continue to serve CardinalBLCK for years to come as a symbol for future Cardinal Black student-athletes.
"I chose the three fists because in CardinalBLCK, one of our pillars is ’C’ for Community," she said. "We wanted to show that representation and unity, and deliver it with a strong message."
The genesis of CardinalBLCK (Brilliance, Leadership, Community, and Knowledge) and, in turn, the logo, goes back to a letter Braimah wrote to Bernard Muir, the Jaquish and Kenninger Director of Athletics, on behalf of a dozen Black student-athletes not long after George Floyd was killed at the hands and knee of a Minneapolis police officer, sparking anger and protests nationwide. Braimah sought a strong response from Stanford’s athletics department, and her letter was the first action of a group that would become CardinalBLCK.
"It all goes back to why CardinalBLCK was formed," Braimah said. "After George Floyd was murdered, I could feel a collective sadness and feeling, like I wasn’t being supported by my peers or by athletics. A lot of Black student-athletes might be the only Black persons on their team and they can feel alone. That can be difficult.
"I wanted to create something that would bring us all together and create that space, like, Hey, you can talk to me. We’re all going through something similar even though we all have our own separate life experiences. This is something we share. Unity and community."
Braimah, who came to Stanford from Palos Verdes Peninsula High School in Rolling Hills Estates in Los Angeles County, described herself as a "quiet kid" growing up. As she grew older, Braimah also found her voice.
"One thing my parents always told me was that when you feel things are not right, you have to speak up and fix it," she said. "You can’t wait around for something to change or someone to change it for you."
Braimah has continued that outlook as a political science major, choosing it not necessarily because of the career she plans to go into (management consulting), but because it’s an area that everyone should be educated in, especially in the context of these volatile times. Knowledge is power.
Braimah has felt a change in herself as she’s endured the events of the past year.
"I don’t want to say that I’ve gotten more pessimistic, but it is very frustrating and sad to see a lot of things happen in this country," she said. "I feel like the main issue we have is an empathy gap. People are not able to empathize with others. That to me is the root of our problems."
Braimah sees hope as well. It’s rare to see so much strong, young, and diverse leadership. There is so much energy to create change.
"I’m so hopeful for our generation and what we have to offer," Braimah said.
"The charcoal sketch is a portrait of Tyler the Creator (left) and the iPad drawing is Kevin Abstract (right). They’re both two music artists I listen to. Then the oil painting (center) is a glaze Rembrandt duplication and the napkin is a still-life done in oil as well." - Yinka Braimah
As for her art, Braimah embraces different styles depending on what she’s feeling, but loves drawing people the most. Some of her recent drawings have depicted performers such as Brockhampton, Kevin Abstract, and Tyler, The Creator.
"I really like drawing people because they’re the most challenging," she said.
Indeed, the challenges go far beyond the canvas. Foremost among those challenges is how we deal with racism. Do we meet it or avoid it? Leader or follower?
Through her own vision and the symbol she created, Braimah reminds us that while division can cripple us, togetherness can get us through. That must be our strength, no matter the color of our skin.