Who is Gwen Berry's son? Olympian who had kid at 15 feared for him after Michael Brown killing
The death of Michael Brown, who was fatally shot by a white Ferguson police officer, had a profound effect on Gwendolyn Berry
On Saturday, June 26, during the US Olympic track-and-field trials, hammer thrower and activist Gwen Berry turned her back to the American flag as the national anthem was being played. Following that, Berry has received fierce backlash from conservatives.
Berry, who placed third in the hammer throw, and secured a spot to compete in the Tokyo Olympics, told the press that her protest had been spontaneous because she had been told the anthem would not be played while she was on the podium. She said she was surprised when the song started playing and, in response, turned away.
“I feel like it was set up,” Berry said. “I feel like they did that on purpose, and I was pissed, to be honest. I was thinking about what should I do? Eventually, I just stayed there and just swayed. I put my shirt over my head … I know they did that on purpose, but it’ll be all right. I see what’s up.” However, officials said it was purely coincidental, as the anthem was played at about the same time it had played other nights.
“They said they were going to play it before we walked out, then they played it when we were out there,” Berry said. “But I don’t really want to talk about the anthem because that’s not important. The anthem doesn’t speak for me. It never has.”
In 2019, Berry, during the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, famously protested expressing solidarity with those experiencing racial injustice. On the podium for her gold medal, the athlete threw her fist in the air during the national anthem. At the time, the move cost her sponsorships and got her suspended for 12 months.
Who is Gwen Berry’s son?
Born and raised in Ferguson, Missouri, Berry’s life was shaped by two big events that took place when she was just a teenager in the early years of her high school. She became pregnant. She gave birth to her son, Derrick, three weeks after her 15th birthday. She told ESPN in 2019 that at that point, she had someone looking up to her, which made her want to "thrive a little harder."
"When you're younger, you're kind of living for yourself, right?" she said. "But when you have a kid, you've got to up your game a whole other level because you're not living for yourself no more. You have to make better decisions."
The second event had to do with her father. Berry’s father Michael Berry was 17 years old when she was born. At the time, he traveled regularly from Ferguson to William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, where he played football. When Michael failed to make a few professional football teams, he signed up for the Army reserves. In 2004, mere weeks after Derrick was born, Michael was deployed to Iraq.
"My dad fought for this country. He was away from four kids," Berry told ESPN in the same profile. "My dad taught me a lot about this world and this life, especially about history and African history. He was always a rebel, always spoke up for himself, did what was right for himself and his family, and I feel like that's where I get some of my drive from."
Michael returned to the United States midway through Gwen's high school years, around the same time when she set triple jump records at McCluer High School as a sophomore, junior and senior. When Southern Illinois offered her a scholarship, she took it. While she was in college, Derrick lived with his paternal grandfather as both his father and Gwen went to college. She saw him each time she visited home, which was a two-hour drive away.
In 2014, the death of Michael Brown Jr., an 18-year-old Black man, who was fatally shot by 28-year-old White Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, had a profound effect on Berry. The thought of her son, ten at the time, meeting a similar fate in the same place where Brown died scared her. "It definitely woke me up," she said. "I just had to look at myself and say, 'This could be my child. This could be my brother. This could be my uncle.'"
The day before she was set to compete in Peru was the five-year anniversary of Brown's death in Ferguson. In the days leading up to the event, Brandon Dennis, her boyfriend whom she met in Oxford, Mississippi, reportedly had conversations about how upset it still made her. She had said that one day, that could be the fate of her son walking home, adding that Derrick, then 15, was much closer to the age Brown was when he died.
Berry’s 2019 suspension sparked fellow athletes to call for the abolishment of Rule 50, an International Olympic Committee regulation that prohibits all “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda … in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
Earlier this year, the IOC changed its rules, now allowing athletes to protest at domestic events without retribution from the committee. However, the Tokyo Olympics will reportedly uphold Rule 50, barring protests of any kind. “When I get there,” Berry said about her continued activism and protests, “I’ll figure out something to do.”
"It’s really important for me and my community just to be able to represent,” Berry said. “I think sports is a distraction. Sports is entertainment. But my purpose and my voice and mission is bigger than the sport. So me being able to represent my communities and my people and those who have died at the hands of police brutality, those who have died to this systemic racism, I feel like that’s the important part. That’s why I’m going. And that’s why I was here today.”