BROOKLYN HEIGHTS – To honor baseball legend Jackie Robinson on what would’ve been his 100th birthday, his family was presented the posthumous “Key to Brooklyn” award yesterday afternoon.
Though Borough President Eric Adams was not able to make the event – he was stuck in the airport due to inclement weather – NYC Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo was there to hype up the young students from the Jackie Robinson Schools in Crown Heights and Queens.
“Jackie Robinson… shattered one of America’s most symbolic pillars of institutional racism when he desegregated Major League Baseball (MLB),” she said. “We want to continue to recognize that history and we want to remind you that there is so much more history for us to achieve.”
Jackie Robinson was born in 1919 and was the first Black man to play MLB for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was an exceptional player, playing for ten years, helping the Dodgers win the World Series championship in 1955, and being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. According to Cumbo, Jackie Robinson inspired people in all of Brooklyn.
“Because of his courage and ability to defy the odds and look racism directly in the eye, we have dynamic women like Shirley Chisholm, who became the first African American congresswoman and then ran to for president of the United States,” Cumbo said. “We have Spike Lee… one of the most prolific filmmakers of all time. We have Jay Z and Biggie Smalls, two individuals that have created hip-hop legacies all throughout the world.”
And she wasn’t done.
“We have myself, the first African American woman Majority Leader right here in NY. We have our Borough President Eric Adams… and more recently, we have our City Council Member, then turned Public Advocate, then turned NY State Attorney General… Letitia James.”
She said she mentioned these individuals because she wants to encourage the students to “continue to create this type of “herstory” and “history” all throughout Brooklyn and the country.”
Brooklyn is a very special place, she said. “This is a place where we defy the odds. Where we look challenges right in the eye.”
Della Britton Baeza, the CEO of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, says the baseball legend’s 100th birthday will be celebrated all throughout the year. And on December of 2019, the Jackie Robinson Museum will open in SoHo, Manhattan. She also spoke kind words about Sonya Pankey, Jackie Robinson’s granddaughter. His wife, Rachel Robinson, couldn’t be at the event, though she would’ve loved to, Baeza added.
“[Sonya] personifies the grace, the intelligence, and just the sheer grit of her grandmother, Rachel Robinson,” Baeza said.
Every year, the Foundation holds essay contests. Three students read aloud their work on Jackie Robinson and what he meant to them.
“Jackie Robinson gave students like me a chance to live in America,” one student read. “Jackie Robinson is important to me because if he didn’t fight against racism, I wouldn’t be alive today to write this paper… I would not be here today as a 12-year-old black student. I am sure of that.”
Students from PS 15 Jackie Robinson in Springfield Gardens and PS 375 Jackie Robinson School in Crown Heights received certificates and medals for their essays. They were also rewarded with pizza at the end of the event.
“Jackie Robinson is very inspirational,” Gregory Taylor from PS 375 said. “He was resilient and he persevered. He inspired Black people. He inspires me to work hard and become successful.”
Arianna Adorno, also a student at PS 375, said racism should stop because “we are all human.”
Jackie Robinson’s granddaughter took the “Key to Brooklyn” handed by Cumbo and said she felt very humbled and proud.
“I’m honored to be here to celebrate. My grandfather started here in Brooklyn, a place that was very special to him as a Brooklyn Dodger,” Pankey said. “Continue to do work, work hard, live your life with purpose, and dream big.”