What Jackie Robinson Can Teach Homeschoolers
Three score and ten years ago, a great man took his place in American lore. The current location of this famous day is a rundown apartment building that has endured years of poverty and crime-infestation, but 70 years ago, this location had the nation’s eyes fixed upon it. It was April 15, 1947, and on this day, those eyes of the nation and the eyes of fans who dodged trolley cars to get to the ballpark that day watched a 28-year-old man trot out to a place of dirt near first base at the now demolished Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York. Let it be known, however, that this day was not just about baseball. For April 15, 1947 was indeed a day about leadership, a day about a man of extraordinary character, and in many ways, it was a day that introduced a man dedicated to the service of his people and his country.
He was born in the “Egypt of the Confederacy,” and his name was Jackie Robinson. Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia, and named in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt, who inspired many blacks during his time in office and had passed away earlier in the month of January 1919. However, the birth of Jackie spelled defeat for his parents’ marriage, and his mother was soon left to take care of her children on her own and moved her family to Pasadena, California.
As Robinson grew up under the shadow of the newly constructed Rose Bowl, he came to love sports. He used his brother Mack as inspiration. When Jackie was 17, Mack Robinson finished second in the 200 meters at the 1936 Olympics in what has now became known as “Hitler’s Games.” Jackie himself became a four-sport letter winner in high school. He also lettered in basketball, baseball, football, and track in college at UCLA. Robinson was blessed with a gift, but it wasn’t enough for Robinson to be satisfied with simply having a gift. Men and women of great leadership and character do not simply sit on their gifts, they use them to change lives, and that’s what Robinson wanted to do.
When Robinson was in college, a scout for the Chicago White Sox once declared of Robinson, “If that kid was white, I’d sign him right now.” That was 1938. It took seven more years before Robinson would be noticed playing baseball again. On August 24, 1945, Robinson was nursing a sore shoulder before a Negro League game at Comiskey Park in Chicago when a representative of Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, introduced himself to Robinson.
Jackie assumed that Branch Rickey was interested about the possibility of him joining a team Rickey had proposed, the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers. However, four days later Jackie found out the real plan. On the fourth floor of 215 Montague Street in Brooklyn, Robinson entered Branch Rickey’s office to take his place in a white man’s world. There were four portraits on a wall, including one of the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln. Now, it seemed to Robinson as if it were his turn to lead the nation and make true Lincoln’s words of the previous century:
“Let us discard all this quibbling about this race and that race, and the other race being inferior,” Lincoln declared in a debate with Stephan Douglas, “and unite as one people throughout this land until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal.”
Which brings us back to April 15, 1947. It was the day Robinson first trotted out to first base, rather than his natural position at second base. More importantly, it was the day the color barrier was broken in baseball, and perhaps the day that cracked the lock on a white nation. According to the game, it was an easy transition for Robinson. He hit .429 in the opening week and won Rookie of the Year in 1947. Yet, it was far from easy.
Teams threatened to not even play against the Dodgers, and death threats were a common occurrence. Through it all though, Robinson showed America a man with true courage and a leader who refused to accept failure. Robinson knew that in many ways, he was the hopes and dreams of his people, and he realized that if he failed, the hopes of equality for blacks failed. So, instead of fighting insults hurled down upon him and fighting death threats with fists and words, Robinson fought back with base hits. Robinson silenced critics with daring speed. Robinson led a nation to believe in racial equality on the words of a glove and an arm. The great Martin Luther King, Jr., would later say, “You will never know how easy it was for me because of Jackie Robinson.”
Today, what does the 70-year-old story of Jackie Robinson have to do with homeschoolers? First, this is a country in dire need of individuals with strong leadership skills, but even more importantly, this is a country in need of individuals with strong character and a commitment to service. Jackie Robinson showed valor as a black man in a white man’s world with the hopes of an entire race resting on his shoulders. Robinson also showed perseverance to succeed and would not accept failure as an option until justice was finally achieved for the African-American.
As homeschool teachers and students, each of us has the chance to impact numerous lives, but like Robinson, it will take courage, and it will take perseverance. It all starts with the day-to-day decisions we make in our lives. As minorities in the world of education, every step we take is watched, and therefore every decision, no matter how minute it may seem, is seen by others and helps define who we truly are. So, as we reflect on the future of homeschooling, let’s also look back to an image of Robinson heading out to his lonesome spot near first base back in 1947 and be challenged to boldly take our place in the world, cross that white chalk line like Jackie Robinson, find our place of dirt near first base, and leave our mark on God’s world.
Rampersad, Arnold. Jackie Robinson: A Biography. New York: Ballantine Books, 1997.