At a recent dinner honoring music industry giant Clive Davis, famed educator Johnnetta Cole and film legend George Lucas in New York, I was reminded that Rachel Robinson transcends so much of what Americans hold dear.
She embodies, without question, the values of her late husband, Jackie Robinson, who was the first African American to play baseball in the major leagues as a member of the old
She has tirelessly carried his message of fairness, racial equity and opportunity for all people with enormous grace. Through the Jackie Robinson Foundation, she has built one of the nation’s foremost organizations for assisting able young minority students. Nearly 300 young scholars have been identified and funded for the college experience.
There was a time when many people thought the message of Jackie Robinson was somehow radical, something to be feared and something to be opposed. With enormous inner resolve and strength, this woman of conviction has carried the message of her Hall of Fame honored husband and the civil rights movement to all corners of the United States and around the globe.
Rachel Robinson has been honored at the White House by seven presidents, each of whom has thanked her for her stoic commitment to the common good. She is frequently quoted by members of Congress on matters of fundamental fairness.
I believe she is a national treasure.
Rachel Robinson has rarely said no to deserving causes, especially ones that will advance the futures of deserving young people of color. Former National League President Len Coleman, chairman of the Robinson Foundation and the first African American to score a touchdown for Princeton University, told me that Rachel “cares and shares” and has never wavered “in causes for good.”
An overflow crowd of friends and supporters jammed the ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria for the 35th anniversary of the Jackie Robinson Foundation. Rachel looked radiant as she shook every hand in sight and offered a genuine smile of pride and joy.
Many in attendance said she represented the values that “we as a society embrace today.” She was called “a true pioneer, like her husband,” a historic figure for the ages. One educator said Rachel “unlocked the doors of hope for many promising young minds.”
“The right of every American to first-class citizenship is the most important issue of our times,” Jackie Robinson often said as he traveled the country in pursuit of universal equity. Rachel made many of those trips and stood at his side with people like Martin Luther King. She experienced hostility and grew stronger
Today, she is often accompanied by her daughter, Sharon, an accomplished educator and author. Sharon has reminded thousands and thousands of young people of the relevance of her father’s values as they apply to the turbulent world around us. Sharon has carried the Robinson message to schools and baseball parks in major and minor league baseball cities for years.
Comedian Bill Cosby, film producer Spike Lee and basketball titan Bill Russell were there to support the work of the Robinson Foundation, and Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig called it “a proven bastion for good.”
It was an evening of promise and hope, a time to honor the lasting legacy of Jackie and Rachel Robinson. It was a time of renewal for people of goodwill.
Gene A. Budig is the past president of Major League Baseball’s American League and a former president at three major state universities. He is a professor at the College Board in New York.
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