By Menra Mapfumo
New York- On July 26 in New York, after years of anticipation and fundraising, the founder of the Jackie Robinson Foundation and the wife of the late Jackie Robinson, Rachel Robinson, opened the Jackie Robinson Museum.
The museum will educate visitors by showcasing the life, legacy, and accomplishments of Jackie and Rachel Robinson, and not just their role in transforming America’s pastime, but their social justice activism.
The museum is one of a kind as it is the only Civil Rights museum in New York City.
At 100 years old, Rachel Robinson was able to attend and cut the ribbon in front of a crowd of several hundred which included her two remaining children, Sharon and David Robinson, and many of her grandchildren.
Jackie Robinson Foundation CEO Della Britton described what she wants young people to get out of the museum. “We want them to become knowledgeable about Jackie Robinson and Rachel Robinson and their legacy. We want them to be inspired by that. We want them to learn from the challenges Jackie had, from strategies he had for how to create change.”
She continued, “He spent his entire life working to close the achievement gap to get a level playing field. So, we want them to learn the story and then we want them to be inspired to continue the work, and to create a society that is more just.”
Former United States Attorney General Eric Holder shared how Jackie Robinson inspired him while growing up in New York City. “Jackie Robinson was a hero of mine. Jackie Robinson was the key to my interest in the Brooklyn Dodgers. The first team to integrate. You could not be a young Black man in New York without rooting for the Dodgers. To see this museum, it is the culmination of recognition that I think he deserved. I think this is not only a testament to the past, it is also a call to people to be engaged in the future in the way that Jackie and Rachel want.”
New York City Mayor Eric Adams expressed how he felt about the impact Jackie Robinson had on his life. “Just the belief that because something seems impossible, it is possible. We cannot always find the safest pathway. He just inspired me.”
Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark and Vice President of the MLB Players Alliance C.C. Sabathia, gave their opinions on what needs to be done to get more African Americans back on the playing field, and as managers and owners.
Clark said, “There is a long answer and a lot of moving pieces. As it relates to ownership, as it relates to management, those are decisions that ownership and management are going to have to make. We are hopeful that at some point in time the light will indeed come on and the folks that are making decisions on that side of the equation will appreciate the value of a more diverse ownership group and a more diverse management group.”
Sabathia added, “That is a big issue. That is [The Players Alliance’s] big mission, to get kids back playing. When I was playing I thought the kids were not playing baseball, but that is not true. Kids are playing baseball at a high clip, especially in our community. We just got to give them more opportunities.”
Sabathia shined a light on Major League Baseball’s development programs like the Hank Aaron Invitational and Elite Development Invitational. Sabathia mentioned some of the players drafted this year that came up through those programs.
He said, “It is just about making [the programs] bigger and expanding and doing a better job of identifying those kids that want to play baseball.”
New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, an admitted Brooklyn Dodgers fan while growing up in Rockville Center, also spoke about what the opening of the museum meant to him. “The Yankees were there for the beginning and we have stepped up. [Former Yankees Owner George Steinbrenner] had a great relationship with Rachel Robinson. It means everything.”
On Robinson, Cashman said, “He was a game changer. We celebrate his life, his impact, and obviously a lot more work to be done. He is a pillar of hope and strength for so many. To remind us of where we were, but also where we need to keep going. It is a pleasure to be here for the opening. It is my trade deadline, but when it is Jackie Robinson you stop everything and come.”
Director Spike Lee and author Howard Bryant talked about what most impressed them about the museum and what the opening meant to them.
“This is something that the queen Rachel Robinson wanted for her husband and herself,” Lee said. “This is a place where this should be one of the top museums, not just in New York City, not just in Washington D.C., but the United States of America. You cannot underestimate the significance, the importance, of Jackie Robinson. April 14, 1947, is a delineation, the day Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, and it is one of the greatest days in the history of this country.”
“That is what it means,” Lee added.
“It means more than I can say,” Bryant said. “The thing that means most to me is that Rachel is here to see it. To be able to see a vision come through. She’s wanted this for more than 20 years and to be able to see it with your own two eyes, it brings you to tears. It is really special.”
Howard commended the collective effort it took to bring the museum project to life. “The number of people who were committed to making this happen, it tells you how important this is and it tells you how when you are really committed to something worthwhile see it through, “ Bryant said. “You fight for it. You make sure that everybody else around you builds you up. This is a testament to Jackie’s commitment, Rachel’s commitment, to the commitment of everybody who wanted to see this happen, and now it is here.”
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