Sharon Robinson inspires at Cincy Urban Youth Academy

Sharon Robinson inspires at Cincy Urban Youth Academy

CINCINNATI -- Sharon Robinson was a little girl when her father, the legendary Jackie Robinson, played for the Dodgers and set a new standard as a pioneer for equality. Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1947 and paved the way for others to follow in his footsteps.

As the founder of Breaking Barriers, Sharon Robinson is dedicated to helping children achieve their own dreams while overcoming whatever personal adversity they may have. She often travels the country to talk about her father and helps students with the annual Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life Essay Contest.

On Wednesday at Cincinnati's Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy, Robinson spoke to a group of about 50 young girls and later helped them craft their essays.

"That is so fun because you sort of build from, basically, who Jackie Robinson was to the importance of developing character," said Robinson, who also authored the book "Promises to Keep." "They were able to take that story and move it into their own lives. It was really great."

The contest is a chance for U.S. and Canadian students in grades 4-9 to write an essay that shares personal stories about how they use Jackie Robinson's nine values to face their own barriers: citizenship, commitment, courage, determination, excellence, integrity, justice, persistence and teamwork.

All entries must be submitted by March 13, and the essays should be between 200-700 words. More information can be found at mlb.mlb.com/breakingbarriers. Grand prizes for winners include a trip to the 2015 All-Star Game in Cincinnati or a laptop computer. There will be 10 winners selected by judges and during a tour, Robinson will visit each of the winners' schools and bring them to local ballparks.

In 2011, Megan Zahneis from West Chester, Ohio, and the Lakota West Freshman School was the grand prize essay winner. Zahneis had the added good fortune of meeting then-Commissioner Bud Selig during that year's World Series and landed a job as MLB.com's youth correspondent.

During her talk with the girls, Robinson discussed life goals such as having confidence, loving themselves, expressing themselves and expecting the best. Before she sent them upstairs to a room to start working on their essays, she had advice.

"I want you to dig very deep," said Robinson, who was visiting Cincinnati's UYA for the first time since it opened last summer.

Later as she milled around the upstairs room, individually talking with some essay writers, Robinson appeared to be energized by the girls.

"I love children. They light me up," she said. "I love this age group because they can really process and understand why it's important to go to this next level.

"It's not so easy to have a blank piece of paper and all of a sudden start writing about an obstacle you've had to overcome. The ones that were stumbling a little bit, I was coaxing them into thinking, 'What is it that's hard for you? What do you think you have to overcome?' Then I went around the room to see if they were making progress and I was really impressed because they've learned techniques for writing essays. There were some girls really digging deep. I was like, 'You stay right on that path because you're a winner.'"

The Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life program, in partnership with Scholastic, is generously supported by MLB and Church & Dwight, maker of Arm & Hammer and OxiClean products.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.