Cosmetics industry pioneer Bobbi Brown was presented with the Jackie Robinson Foundation's ROBIE Humanitarian Award; Pittsburgh Steelers chairman and former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney received JRF's Lifetime Achievement Award; and Vista Equity Partners founder Robert Smith was given the ROBIE Achievement in Industry Award.
Thomas Tull, chairman and CEO of Legendary Entertainment -- the studio that made the Jackie Robinson biopic "42" -- made some news in presenting the award to Rooney. Tull pledged $1 million through his foundation to the Jackie Robinson Museum.
The Jackie Robinson Foundation, started by Rachel in 1973 to carry on her husband's legacy a few months after his passing, has administered a unique scholarship program for more than four decades to provide four-year grants accompanied by comprehensive support services for high-achieving minority college students. The foundation is also in the throes of a campaign to build the Jackie Robinson Museum in Lower Manhattan.
"The people we put in front of our JRF Scholars are those who exemplify the same character traits, the same sense of accomplishment, the same sense of excellence, that we want them as young people to aspire to," said Della Britton, president and CEO of JRF. "We want to put before them the wonderful role models that our honorees are, but we also want to salute them. We want to make sure they understand that everything we do is to promote their success."
Earlier in the day, some of the Scholars toured the MLB Network studios in Secaucus, N.J. Then all the Scholars suited up in tuxes and gowns and participated in the gala.
The dinner was hosted by actor André Holland, who played sports journalist Wendell Smith in "42" and currently stars in the Cinemax series "The Knick." R&B star and three-time Grammy Award nominee Angie Stone entertained the guests in attendance. Presenters included fashion industry icon Norma Kamali.
Brown was honored not only for her professional success in the cosmetics industry, but also for making a difference in the community. In 2010, she introduced Pretty Powerful, an ad campaign featuring women from all walks of life, and in 2013, she launched the Pretty Powerful Campaign for Women & Girls, a global initiative dedicated to funding nonprofit organizations that strive to empower women and girls through education.
"The important thing for these kids is to be grateful -- to realize how lucky they are, and also to work really, really hard," Brown said of the Scholars in attendance. "None of us have had it easy. We've had to work really hard, and if we can pass that along to the kids, going through school, because a lot of the young kids don't realize how hard life is ... so just work hard and be grateful."
Rooney became chairman of the NFL Diversity Committee in 2002, implementing what became known as the "Rooney Rule" to provide greater opportunities for minorities in NFL coaching and management positions. Sharon Robinson said he was also an investor for the "42" movie.
"We really worked hard to come up with this policy that we have. Jackie's name was mentioned quite often during our deliberations. He did so much to stop prejudice," Rooney said. "He made baseball available to all, and that's a special thing."
Smith is founder, chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, a leading $14 billion private equity firm focused on software and technology-related businesses. He is also chairman of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the founding director and chairman of the Fund II Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving the African-American experience, safeguarding human rights, providing music education, preserving the environment and sustaining critical American values. He was unable to attend due to the expected birth of his child.
For the past 37 years, this event has recognized some of the most important leaders in a great number of sectors throughout society, including Hank Aaron, Tom Brokaw, Wes Bush, Clive Davis, John Finnegan, Dick Gregory, Gerald Hassell, Sheila Johnson, Michael Jordan, George Lucas, J.W. Marriott Jr., Rita Moreno, Joseph Perella, Tyler Perry, Joseph Plumeri Jr., Robert Redford, Mariano Rivera, Robin Roberts, Commissioner Emeritus Bud Selig, Henry Silverman, Ruth Simmons, Sanford Weill and Stevie Wonder.
"My father was such a humble man," Sharon Robinson said. "He didn't really focus on awards and trophies. He really felt focused on living every day of his life to its fullest and doing the best he could to help support social change in this country. Fighting against injustice, political or whatever it is. I can't even imagine what he's thinking up there, his wife and this 43-year-old institution that bears his name.
"It really is an amazing tribute to him as a man and as a baseball player."