A Lasting Legacy

America was deeply segregated when Jackie Robinson broke into major league baseball in 1947. A year prior to his debut at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers, at least half a dozen blacks were lynched in the South.

The president of the Brooklyn Dodgers at the time was a man named Branch Rickey. Rickey, known for his deep Christian faith, advised Jackie Robinson to wear an “armor of humility” to survive first contact with the league’s racism.

The advice did not go unheeded.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (L) and baseball Hall-of-Famer Jackie Robinson
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson, 1962.
Photo via explorepahistory.com

Notable throughout Robinson’s career was the grace displayed when encountering verbal and physical violence. His philosophy of nonviolence and undeniable skill—Robinson was talented enough to letter in four sports while at UCLA—caused many to support him and did much to amplify the Civil Rights Movement.

In fact, Dr. Martin Luther King said of Robinson to his black teammate Donald “Newk” Newcombe, “You’ll never know how easy you and Jackie [Robinson] and Doby and Campy made it for me to do my job by what you did on the baseball field.”

“You’ll never know how easy you and Jackie [Robinson] and Doby and Campy made it for me to do my job by what you did on the baseball field.”

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

More directly, King said that Robinson was “a pilgrim that walked in the lonesome byways toward the high road of Freedom. He was a sit-inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides.”

"Admit Negroes to Big League Baseball"
“Admit Negroes to Big League Baseball”
Photo via theatlantic.com

Robinson enjoyed a tremendous decade of achievement as a professional baseball player, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

During this his lifetime, Robinson won the Rookie of the Year Award (1947), Most Valuable Player Award (1949), and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1984) among many other distinctions. The barriers broken during this time inspired many Americans, and resulted in much success for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Jackie Robinson Foundation Logo
The Jackie Robinson Foundation was founded after Robinson’s death in 1973 by his wife Rachel Robinson. Della Britton Baeza, President and CEO of the organization says that “the Foundation has advanced higher education by providing generous, multi-year scholarship awards coupled with a comprehensive set of support services to highly motivated JRF Scholars and Extra Innings Fellows attending colleges and universities throughout the country.”

Ivo Philbert
Ivo Philbert, Vice President and Chief Program Officer at The Jackie Robinson
Photo via jackierobinson.org

One person committed to seeing this vision through is ‎Jackie Robinson Foundation Vice President and Chief Program Officer Ivo Philbert. Ivo joined the Jackie Robinson Foundation in June of 2015 and has spent a considerable portion of his time since then organizing the 2016 Annual Scholars’ Mentoring & Leadership Conference, set to take place from March 3rd – March 7th, 2016 in New York City.

Ivo brings over two decades of non-profit leadership experience to the table, and his passion for the youth shows. On his recent trip to the Virgin Islands (Ivo traces his roots back to island of St. John), Ivo squeezed quality time with several groups of students in between the requisite Caribbean recreational adventures.

Ivo and youth
Ivo speaking with the youth in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.
Photo via Terence A. Thomas

One of the exciting aspects of the 2016 Annual Scholars’ Mentoring & Leadership Conference is the opportunity it presents for the JRF scholars to interact with the business leaders in attendance. As any recruiter responsible for diverse hires will tell you, it’s rarely the intelligence or qualifications of the candidate that prevent their hiring—it’s often the interview process itself.

Not every young person has had the opportunity to look an executive in the eye and confidently state their name. They might not yet understand that we’re rooting for them. They might not yet have overcome their social anxiety in a room full of possibility, surrounded by professionals who look like their mothers and fathers.

The experience these bright young leaders get at the annual conference is invaluable.

The accomplished leaders speaking at the conference care deeply about this next generation and the world we’re leaving behind for them. They see themselves in the youth, and they’re thrilled to share their time, energy, and even resources—especially scholars who are already being transformed by the Jackie Robinson Foundation’s famed mentoring curriculum.

The Jackie Robinson Foundation’s Mentoring and Leadership Conference (MLC) is four days of developmental workshops, career exploration seminars, meetings with key public and private sector leaders, cultural and recreational outings, and practical life skills classes for JRF Scholars. It also provides a unique opportunity for JRF sponsors to interact with Scholars in both professional and social settings.

Reflecting on organizing the conference and the broader impact of this work, Ivo offers the following thoughts:

“When one has an opportunity to empower students of color to engage around their role in being change makers, that’s powerful! And with this conference we are doing just that. My work at JRF and throughout my career has been ‘mission work.’

One must realize their purpose in life, and mine is to make a difference in the lives of individuals to help them realize their potential or simply to put a smile on their faces. It’s about impact. I’m just proud to have the opportunity to impact the lives of young people who look like me!”

By willie jackson

willie jackson is an inclusion strategist who empowers thoughtful organizations and the leaders who run them.