Role Models & Heroes: Jackie Robinson (2014)

By May 21, 2014 November 15th, 2018 Bnei Mitzvah, Heroes & Role Models
The following essay on Jackie Robinson was written by Austin Shatz, a middle schooler, enrolled in City Congregation’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah program. Students spend a year and a half researching their heritage, values and beliefs, and write on a Jewish subject of their choice, their major project; an example of this can be seen below. The process  improves both the student’s writing and critical thinking skills, as well as his/her self confidence and overall maturity.

Austin Shatz
November 22, 2014

I’d like to start by sharing a quote from Jackie Robinson that I really like:

“Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.”

This quote hit me as something I would really like to emulate. Through my research of Jackie Robinson I realized he is not only my role model but also my hero who I admire for his outstanding bravery, courage and achievements. Jackie Robinson is most famous because he broke the color barrier in baseball, which of course has had a huge positive impact on thousands and thousands of athletes ever since and helped make America a more integrated society. Jackie always showed he was determined to pursue his goals with a positive attitude even when the road to them wasn’t easy. Going through life with a positive attitude and resilience seems to me like the right way to go and I hope I can continue to develop these qualities as I get older.

I really admire Jackie’s determination. He went through many troubled times but never let adversity get the better of him. Most people think he only had tough times in dealing with racism as the first black player in the Major Leagues, but this is not true. Jackie dealt with challenges throughout his life. As a child, Jackie was raised by a single mother along with his three siblings and they were the only black family on his block. Still he made it to college at UCLA where he was the first person to earn a varsity letter in four sports. But then he had to leave college due to financial difficulties and he joined the Army. Jackie Robinson received an honorable discharge from the army after he refused to move to the back of a segregated bus in another example of his personal strength.

On the day he was first to report to the Minor Leagues for the Dodgers organization Robinson endured several instances of racism. He and his wife Rachel were bumped off two different flights and then had to take a bus for the last leg of the trip and they were moved from the comfortable reclining seats in the front of the bus to the seats in the back of the bus. Jackie Robinson later said that he had been ready to “explode with rage,” but he knew one outburst where he gave into his feelings could have blown the whole Major League opportunity and jeopardize the chance for all blacks who would follow. This is what he was thinking when he moved to the back of the bus and made the best of it. I am impressed by the way Jackie handled these two bus incidents with different kinds of strength. In the army example he stood up to racism by not moving seats. When on the bus to the Dodgers team facility Jackie moved seats because that was the best choice in that moment to help others.

When he accepted the offer to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson understood the impact his decision would have. According to his daughter Sharon Robinson, in the book Jackie’s Nine, Jackie Robinson did not accept the offer hastily. He thought long and hard about whether he could succeed in taking on this important challenge.

While breaking the color barrier is what Jackie Robinson is most famous for, I found it very interesting to learn that he kept trying to help the world after his baseball days in ways that perhaps are a little more relatable for me, or someone like me, to emulate. For example, he was very active in the civil rights movement and even hosted Martin Luther King, Jr. for a big fundraising picnic at the Robinson’s family home as the civil rights movement was gaining momentum. Robinson helped emphasize that anyone can raise money for a cause we believe in. I have seen this myself up close during fundraising efforts my family has undertaken and the work my mom has done for our schools.

Much of Jackie Robinson’s work life after baseball had to do with helping African Americans and other poor people get better jobs or have access to affordable housing. Jackie’s first job after baseball was as VP of Personnel for Chock Full O’ Nuts where he was the first black vice president of a major American corporation, breaking yet another barrier. In that role he pushed hard for more hiring of minorities. Jackie’s last job was to run the Jackie Robinson Construction Company, which built housing for low- to moderate-income people. Even in his last farewell to baseball, when in failing health he was honored during Game Two of the 1972 World Series, Jackie used the occasion to deliver a message. In his speech he said “I want to live to see a black manager in baseball.” While others might have just enjoyed a moment of recognition, Jackie used the moment to again demonstrate he was thinking of making the world better for other people. He makes us all think about whether the work we do for a living is good for the world.

After baseball Jackie continued to face many challenges. Through them all Jackie maintained a positive, can do attitude. He still faced racism and was not allowed to join his local country club in Connecticut and played the public golf courses instead. A number of his business ventures were not successful. Also, Jackie had numerous serious health issues towards the end of his life. Worst of all, his son Jackie Jr. became a drug addict and then died in his early twenties in a car accident. None of these obstacles stopped Robinson from continuing to work on the goals he set for himself. And none of these things turned him into an angry or negative person. By all accounts he remained a positive person until literally his last moments when he had a heart attack on the way to work. In fact, his ability to keep a positive attitude, no matter what, was one of the main reasons why Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers asked him to be the first black player in the Major Leagues.

One thing that I learned in researching Jackie Robinson that really excited me was that his family continues to make the world a better place through The Jackie Robinson Foundation. The Foundation is based right here in New York City and provides scholarships and mentoring to future African American leaders. In 2008 the New York Times said the Foundation “might be the best educational effort in the country.” James Blake, an American professional tennis player, is one alumnus of the Foundation. To help me understand the ongoing impact of Jackie Robinson, my dad arranged for me to interview Lauren Booker, who is a Jackie Robinson Scholar, to learn about how the Foundation affected her life. Lauren applied for and was rewarded a scholarship by the Foundation and with it she went to Yale. The Foundation taught her about leadership, networking and giving back. Happily for Lauren, her fiancé was also in the program and that’s how they met. Lauren’s corporate sponsor was Goldman Sachs and after college she worked for them for five years before going to business school at Harvard. After graduating from Harvard Lauren probably could have had any job she wanted and she chose to work for the Omidyar Network, where she invests in small companies that change the world. She was extremely nice and sounded very much like a leader when I spoke with her. Lauren told me that she embodies Jackie’s legacy every day at work. She is a living example of the ongoing impact of Jackie Robinson.

This project made me think a lot about making a difference in the world and the importance of positivity. As I was writing this paper last spring, two things happened that made it real for me. The first was the story about Donald Sterling of the LA Clippers basketball team and how it was revealed he was a racist owner. NBA players carried on the tradition of Jackie Robinson by standing up for their rights and being determined to secure a fair outcome without resorting to violence to solve the problem. The other event was personal. I broke my arm two days before a vacation and two weeks into my soccer season. I was disappointed but I stayed positive by cheering on my teammates and making the best of our family trip. One of my goals, as I become an adult is to remain positive, even through tough times.