Robinson Foundation celebrates Scholars, honorees

Awards dinner fetes students of color, filmmaker Perry, business executives

Robinson Foundation celebrates Scholars, honorees

NEW YORK -- Toward the end of his speech Saturday in Selma, Ala., where they commemorated the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday" during the civil rights movement and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, President Barack Obama talked about "who we are" as a nation.

He drew applause when including a familiar name to baseball fans.

"We are Jackie Robinson, enduring scorn and spiked cleats and pitches coming straight to his head, and stealing home in the World Series anyway," Obama said.

Sharon Robinson, daughter of the man who broke Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947, was unable to see the speech live because the Jackie Robinson Foundation was hosting its Jackie Scholars all weekend. But she and others savored the words later.

"It was a beautiful message," she said. "We felt quite honored that President Obama included Jackie Robinson as he was talking about our growth as a nation and towards equality of justice in this country. His words were just poetic. I printed them out so I could see what his message was. We were with Scholars and missed his original speech, and we wanted to share it."

The culmination of that annual gathering of the Jackie Scholars in New York was the 42nd Jackie Robinson Foundation Awards Dinner on Monday night at the Waldorf Astoria, with emphasis on the 42. The legacy of the man whose name was just invoked by a sitting president was being carried on stronger than ever, an obvious fact to those who spent another unforgettable evening with Jackie's widow, Rachel, and with the limitless Jackie Scholars who ringed the ballroom.

• Jackie Robinson Foundation Awards Dinner photos

"We feel we have achieved not just our goals," Rachel Robinson said, "but also our dreams."

She created the Jackie Robinson Foundation soon after her husband's passing in 1972. It provides college and graduate school scholarships in conjunction with comprehensive support and leadership development opportunities for students of color with strong capabilities but limited financial resources. Over 42 years, $65 million has been provided in scholarship assistance and program support. A total of 1,450 students from 44 states and the District of Columbia have participated in the Foundation's Mentoring and Leadership Development Program.

It has become a pipeline to professions, a platform for social impact and a network of impressive alumni.

Earlier in the day, some of the Scholars toured the Major League Baseball Advanced Media offices at Chelsea Market and learned the inner workings of the game's digital operation from MLB.com employees. Then the Scholars suited up in tuxes and gowns and participated in the gala, where Robie Awards were given to BNY Mellon chairman and CEO Gerald Hassell (Achievement in Industry), filmmaker and philanthropist Tyler Perry (Humanitarian) and Don Thompson, retired chairman and CEO of McDonald's (Achievement in Industry).

"They embody [Jackie's] spirit by making an investment in the community," Sharon Robinson said of the honorees. "Even though they are part of a corporation, they have done quite a bit of work in the community where they have affiliations."

"It's about giving opportunities to the Scholars," Hassell said. "The impact that the Scholars are having on our communities is just extraordinary."

Perry was born into poverty and raised in a household scarred by abuse, but he fought from a young age and built a reputation as an entertainment giant. He has donated generously to civil rights causes through work with the NAACP and National Action Network and also supported charities focusing on helping the homeless -- among a long list of philanthropic initiatives.

Holding his new Robie Award, crafted in the Hall of Famer's likeness, Perry said: "I take it home with pride and I'm going to show it to my little boy, who's 3 months old, and I'm going to show him what it means."

The event was hosted for the first time by Andre Holland, who played the role of writer Wendell Smith in the 2013 movie "42" and also portrayed Andrew Young in the recent movie "Selma."

"Andre is a Shakespearean actor," Sharon Robinson said. "He's got a great voice and a great presence and a great connection to us. We hope he'll want to emcee every year."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.