Kelley Dolphus Stroud could have been an Olympic medalist if it weren’t for the color of his skin.
It was 1928 and Stroud, the only black student at Colorado College until his sister joined him a year later, qualified for a US Olympic Trials spot in the 5,000 meter race. It was a victory to celebrate, until he was informed that there would be no funding for him to travel to Boston for the Olympic trials due to racism.
“People told him that’s how life is,” said his great-nephew Frank Shines. “And to recognize that and focus on his activities at CC.”
But Dolphus, who went by his middle name, was fearless. He decided to hitchhike to Boston in mid-July.
“He’s done the majority of the 2,000 miles,” Shines said. “It was mostly dirt roads and mostly buggies. He was hitchhiking on a buggy and getting annoyed at how slow they were going. He said I could run faster, so he got out. Otherwise, he said I would never make it in time.
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Dolphus arrived six hours before the competition. Broken down, hungry and exhausted, he collapsed on his sixth round and saw his Olympic dream come crashing down.
“RACE”, a new opera influenced by jazz, R&B, gospel and hip-hop, is inspired by his life. It is the brain child of Shines, a playwright, who, along with Springs librettists Idris Goodwin and Ashley Cornelius, and International Brazilian Opera Company artistic directors Athena Azevedo, João MacDowell and Christina Morgan, will present the complete opera on the stages of Paris, New York La Ville et les Sources in 2024.
In partnership with the Pioneers Museum and IBOC, members of the Stroud family will present a free opera performance workshop on Saturday at the museum. Registration is mandatory. Go online to cspm.org.
“The Stroud family is known for studying classical music and literature,” Shines said. “Everyone had to have an instrument they played. Opera is the most athletic performance of all the performing arts. We brought home athletics and a discipline that represented Dolphus and his journey.
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Goodwin, a successful playwright who recently served as director of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, and Cornelius, Poet Laureate of the Pikes Peak Library District, were selected to write the opera after months of interviews.
The story of Dolphus moved Cornelius.
“Knowing how good you are and being able to prove it, but you have limited resources and you have to walk most of the distance to a space where you can prove it,” she said. “And he failed, but that doesn’t take away from all the hard work. It is a process, not a product. When you don’t reach the biggest goal, it doesn’t mean it’s over. It doesn’t mean you haven’t started a legacy.
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Dolphus was one of 11 children born to Reverend KD (Kimball Dolphus) Stroud and Lulu McGee Stroud, who moved the family from the Oklahoma Territory to the Springs in 1910 in hopes of leaving behind prejudice and the ‘oppression. Dolphus attended Bristol School and Colorado Springs High School (now Palmer High School), where he was barred from running due to his color. He also won the Pikes Peak Marathon several times, even breaking the record in 1928.
After returning from his failed devastating trip east, Dolphus graduated from CC with a degree in political science and moved to Forsyth, Georgia to work at the State Teachers and Agricultural College as an athletics coach and professor of political science. He then earned a master’s degree from the University of Mexico with a treatise chronicling black history in the United States and eventually moved to Portland, Oregon. He died in 1975.
Shines never met his relative, but heard the stories of this humble but confident athlete and scholar. Digging deeper into his family, he found many similarities between them, including their interest in math, science, and physics. This achievement inspired Shines in his schooling at the Air Force Academy, where he trained and competed with Olympic athletes on the AFA men’s gymnastics team.
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“I saw it so much in me,” Shines said. “He figured out how to market himself and market himself. He spent time cultivating relationships with the press to get his story out there. He understands the power of writing and history. He understood that it was historic in a way.
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