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Clemente continues husband's work

Clemente continues husband's work

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The parallels are stark: Two women, both living their lives outside the camera's glare, find themselves thrust into the public's eye after the deaths of their husbands.

For Rachel Robinson, she continued a campaign for racial justice that her husband Jackie waged so openly and so courageously. During the past 30-plus years, she's become a civic force whose work has enriched people of color across the United States.

For Vera Clemente, she continued what her husband Roberto had made his mission in life: helping the youth in Latin America find hope. She's labored tirelessly without the attention that good deeds such as hers seldom seem to get.

Perhaps that will change come Saturday in Memphis, Tenn.

In tribute to her commitment to helping youth, Major League Baseball will honor Vera Clemente. She will join the late Buck O'Neil and filmmaker Spike Lee as the three recipients of the inaugural Beacon Award.

The award program is part of a two-day commemoration of the civil rights movement, culminating Saturday with the Civil Rights Game, presented by AutoZone, beginning at 5:30 p.m. ET in Memphis, Tenn. The game will be carried live on ESPN and on MLB.TV, the latter of which air have a two-hour pre-game show beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET.

The Beacon Award recognizes the contributions of men and women in helping shape a better world, and through her work with youth, Clemente -- who will receive the Beacon of Hope Award -- has done just that.

"When you get the ability and the resources as a child, it changes you," said Sylvia Lind, senior manager of Minor League operations and one of the coordinators of the awards program. "You're more equipped and more composed to go through life. It makes a difference when you give those kinds of opportunities to a child. You're really having an impact on society."

It is that impact on society that baseball is honoring. It saw in Vera Clemente a woman whose work and dedication on behalf on her late husband have made a difference in their native Puerto Rico. She truly has been a beacon of hope for youth there.

At the Roberto Clemente Sports City in Carolina, Puerto Rico, she oversees a 304-acre sports complex that includes baseball fields, soccer fields, a track and swimming and golf facilities. Thousands of youth, who have come from all economic backgrounds, use the complex.

Before his death in a 1972 plane crash while attempting to deliver aid to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua, Roberto Clemente had spoken out about the unequal opportunities that Latinos and blacks faced in baseball. An associate of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Clemente had his dreams, too.

One of those dreams he articulated well himself.

"I represent the poor people," Clemente said in an interview shortly before his death. "I represent the common people of America. So I am going to be treated as a human being. I don't want to be treated like a Puerto Rican, or a black, or nothing like that. I want to be treated like any person that comes for a job."

As for his second dream, he didn't live to see it take shape. He dreamed of building a place where young Puerto Ricans could learn baseball.

It was Vera Clemente who turned her husband's second dream into reality. She became the driving force that converted marshland into Sports City.

Since it opened, the baseball academy, which she and her two sons run, has developed some of the brightest stars in the Major Leagues. Future Hall of Famers such as Roberto Alomar and Ivan Rodriguez are alumni of the academy.

The sports complex, however, is more than just a year-round baseball facility.

The programs at Sports City include instruction in drama, dance and music, as the complex provides hope and opportunity for youngsters with interests other than just baseball.

Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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