Rafaela Silva: A symbol of hope in Rio’s favelas


JUDO-OLY-2016-RIO-WOMEN--57KGBrazil’s Rafaela Silva celebrates with her gold medal following the women’s -57kg judo contest of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 8, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Jack GUEZ

She grew up in a violent favela to become Brazil’s first gold-medalist at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Rafaela Silva’s golden victory was never more hard-fought.

The 24-year-old Olympic gold medalist broke into tears after beating Mongolia’s Sumiya Dorjsuren, the world’s top ranked judo fighter in their weight division.

Silva, who faced discrimination for her skin color, will now be a symbol of hope for generations to come in Brazil.

She spent eight years of her life in the Cidade de Deus, one of Rio de Janeiro’s most notorious favelas, which became famous after the 2002 movie, “City of God.”

Being a black woman made her part of Brazil’s most marginalized population and her neighborhood pushed her to become a fighter.

To keep her away from violence and drugs, her father, Luiz Carlos do Rosario Silva, enrolled Silva and her sister, Raquel, in judo courses.

At the age of eight, Silva studied at the Instituto Reação, founded by Flávio Canto, a former Brazilian judoka and Bronze medal winner during the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.

Four years ago, she experienced racism from her fellow Brazilians after being disqualified from the 2012 London Olympics for a banned leg grab.

One Twitter user wrote: “The place for a monkey is in a cage. You are not an Olympian.”

“It’s funny isn’t it? In 2012, she was called a monkey and in 2013, she was the first Brazilian female champion,” Silva’s father said. “Four years later, she wins an Olympic medal, she’s an Olympic champion.”