“We all need a center.”
These were Jackie Robinson’s astute words of advice to his children, representative of his wisdom and the inspiration he gave to the world.
Robinson’s daughter, Sharon, spoke at the Dwight Performing Arts Center to an attentive and excited audience about the impressions Jackie left on her, her family and the world.
Jackie Robinson was born in Cairo, Ga., and moved to Pasadena, Calif., where he spent most of his childhood. He was raised by his single mother along with his equally athletic siblings. By the time he attended Pasadena Community College he was already a star in most facets of his school’s athletic program.
Soon after, he was recruited by the University of California, Los Angeles to play on their baseball team, but was drafted into the Army prior to signing a deal with the Negro League’s Kansas City Monarchs. He was later recruited by the President and General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey. He debuted for the Dodgers’ AAA team, the Montreal Royals.
Before Jackie Robinson began his professional baseball career, he became one of the first African Americans admitted into the Officer Candidate School in Fort Hood, Texas. One day while taking a bus across the Army base, he refused to give up his seat to a white soldier. Because of that, he was court martialed, but the charges were eventually dropped and he left the service with an honorable discharge.
“My father knew his rights,” Sharon explained. “It was showing my father’s temperament and unwillingness to just accept injustice of any kind.”
This was years before Rosa Parks’ famous bus protest, and the integration of the Army and most American schools.
The move from Montreal to Brooklyn was nothing less than a challenge. Jackie had to deal with racist fans daily, and the never-ending taunting and slurs from opposing, and sometimes even home fans. Sharon recalled Branch Rickey, Jackie’s recruiter and lifelong mentor, stressing, “I want you to be able to hold back your natural instincts of fighting back with either fists or words when you are being attacked.” Robinson did this faithfully, at least for his first season. During his second year in the majors, he achieved MVP of the season.
Sharon recalled the memorable events of her father at home, such as backyard jazz benefit concerts, or just the struggles of finding an accepting neighborhood in which to settle. She also described the excitement when she saw her father on the television right next to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“If something happened in the South, he would go down there and lend his celebrity to the crisis,” said Sharon. The jazz concerts were usually fundraisers for Dr. King’s cause, or for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Sharon also exhibited the numerous books she has written. This collection includes photographic and non-photographic biographies of her father’s life and legacy, as well as many children’s books – some inspired by Jackie himself.
One particular book, “Testing the Ice,” was based on a story that Sharon shared with The Gatepost after the presentation. She said the entire story was an analogy about a precaution her father used to take before letting Sharon, Jackie Jr. and David play ice hockey. He would slowly go out onto the ice with a shovel and a broom, tap the deepest part of the ice with a broom and then the shovel to make sure it was absolutely safe for his family.
Jackie dedicated his life opening up doors for others, according to Sharon. This is exactly what he did in his earlier years in Major League Baseball, but with a Louisville Slugger and a glove.
Jackie Robinson’s achievements changed the MLB and the nation. But he still was a humble man. When the National Baseball Hall of Fame opened in 1962, he was elected in the first induction class. During the selection process, he stressed to the jury that he wanted his worthiness to be judged purely on talent, and not his outside contributions.
Sharon Robinson is currently the Educational Consultant for Major League Baseball and has taught at Yale University, Columbia University, Howard University and Georgetown University. She left the audience inspired with Jackie’s Nine Values to Live By: Courage, Determination, Teamwork, Persistence, Integrity, Citizenship, Justice, Commitment and Excellence.
Sharon closed with perhaps the most important quote her father is known for – the one on his gravestone.
“A life is not important except in the impact that it has on other lives.”