Double Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee returned Friday to a poor and crime-troubled city she always has proudly acknowledged as her home.
To chants of "Jackie, Jackie," Joyner-Kersee broke into tears - her two gold medals in hand - as she told the 1,441 students at East St. Louis Lincoln High School how important it was to return home.She grew up only a few blocks from the school in a house that now is a gutted shell, like much of the rest of the city. The home was damaged heavily in a 1986 fire.
"It really touches me to know you really care for me a whole lot," Joyner-Kersee told the students. "You don't understand how much the city of East St. Louis means to me. To see what you have done here today for me is remarkable."
Joyner-Kersee, accompanied by her husband and coach Bob Kersee, spoke about dreams, hard times and pride in East St. Louis.
"There are wolves out there in sheep's clothing," she said. "You have to know the difference between those who care about you and those who are trying to destroy you."
Joyner-Kersee set the world record in the heptathlon with 7,291 points at the Olympics and also set an Olympic record in the long jump at 24 feet, 31/2 inches.
She is the former world record-holder in the long jump, a record she said she hopes to regain in 1989. She said her other goal in 1989 would be to concentrate on setting a world record in the 400-meter hurdles and to continue training on her seven heptathlon events.
The assembly featured poetry reading, a jazz band performance and salutes to Joyner-Kersee, who graduated from the school in 1980.
"Keep to your dreams," Bob Kersee told the students. "Jackie is an example if you work hard enough, if you believe in yourself, that you can make it. There's too many drugs, too much gang violence, there's too much shooting and cutting going on in this world. We don't need it."
Joyner-Kersee said she and her husband hoped to return often to help East St. Louis. She said her first goal would be to raise money through the recently established Joyner-Kersee Youth Foundation to reopen the city's Mary Brown Community Center, which was closed several years ago.
The center, located just around the corner from her childhood home, is where Joyner-Kersee got her start in sports.
East St. Louis is a city teetering near bankruptcy. The city has not paid a full payroll to its approximately 230 employees since Aug. 31.