Youth initiatives will be a central focus for Major League Baseball during Black History Month

Efforts will include 'Breaking Barriers' visits with Sharon Robinson, a collegiate baseball tournament for HBCUs, special content from MLB Network & MLB.com, various MLB club activities, and more

Key youth-related initiatives will be a central focus for Major League Baseball during Black History Month, with efforts, including those by MLB Clubs, touching down in multiple cities throughout the country. Activities launch with two Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life visits by Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie Robinson, and continue with a collegiate baseball tournament designed to promote Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) along with several initiatives that celebrate the contributions of African-Americans to our sport and build toward a positive future on and off the field.

Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life Visits by Sharon Robinson
February 2nd in Philadelphia, PA - Sharon Robinson - daughter of Jackie Robinson, MLB Educational Programming Consultant and author - will visit young people at the Philadelphia Phillies MLB Youth Academy as part of an annual "promotional tour" to encourage participation in the Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life essay contest. The visit, which will take place at the newly-opened Ryan Howard Training Center at the Marian Anderson Recreation Center, will include Sharon speaking to the kids about her father, explaining why she created the Breaking Barriers program, and helping the students as they write their essays. Sharon has already visited Youth Academies in Cincinnati (OH), New Orleans (LA) and Washington, D.C. She plans to eventually visit all operational Academies as part of this effort to get kids involved with Breaking Barriers. 

February 9th in Miami, FL - Sharon will visit students at Kinloch Park Middle School, a partner school with the Miami Marlins. Similar to her visit in Philadelphia, Sharon will encourage participation in the Breaking Barriers essay contest and help students as they write.

10th Annual Urban Invitational in New Orleans, LA
February 17th-19th in New Orleans, LA - MLB will host the 10th annual Urban Invitational in New Orleans with games being held at the New Orleans MLB Youth Academy and the University of New Orleans. Launched by Major League Baseball in 2008, the round-robin collegiate baseball tournament is designed to place a spotlight on Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) and their baseball programs. 

Four HBCUs will compete in this year's Urban Invitational, including Alcorn State University (Alcorn, Mississippi), Grambling State University (Grambling, Louisiana), Prairie View A&M University (Prairie View, Texas) and Southern University (Baton Rouge, Louisiana). They will be joined by the University of New Orleans and the University of Illinois at Chicago in playing nine games over three days. The games on Saturday, February 18th will air live on MLB Network. In addition to tournament play, the New Orleans MLB Youth Academy will host three youth-focused events on Saturday, February 18th, a PLAY BALL event, a Scotts® MLB Pitch, Hit and Run competition and a T-Mobile® Jr. Home Run Derby competition. 

RBI Institute in Memphis, TN
February 16th-19th in Memphis, TN - MLB's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program will host its biennial RBI Institute, a training conference for coaches and league administrators within RBI affiliations from throughout the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Curacao. The RBI Institute covers topics such as league operations, players' health on and off the field (i.e., Pitch Smart, anti-bullying and drug-free lifestyles), educational programs, best practices, coaches training, league finances, equipment procurement and more.

During the event, MLB and the Memphis Redbirds (Triple-A, St. Louis Cardinals) will host a special PLAY BALL event, at which MLB will make a donation to Pitch In For Baseball toward baseball and softball equipment that will benefit youth in Memphis Public Schools.

NAACP Image Awards
Two people who are representative of the sport's rich history in the African-American community are connected to nominations in the 48th Annual NAACP Image Awards, which will take place in February:

  • The Hero Two Doors Down (Scholastic; February 2016), written by Sharon Robinson has been nominated for Outstanding Literary Work - Youth/Teens. In the novel, Sharon tells the story of Steven Satlow, a young Dodgers fan in the 1940s who befriended the great Jackie Robinson after his family moved to Satlow's all-Jewish neighborhood.
  • Major League Legends: Hank Aaron, Smithsonian Channel has been nominated for Outstanding Documentary - Television. The documentary, which originally aired during Black History Month in 2016, featured extensive, newly-captured interviews with Aaron as he discusses his upbringing in Mobile, Alabama and the challenges that he faced growing up in the heart of "Jim Crow." "The Hammer" would continue to battle bigotry and racism throughout his life and baseball career. As he sought to unseat Babe Ruth as the all-time home run king, Aaron received numerous death threats and hate mail, making his feat all the more impressive. It seemed justly symbolic that he hit number 715 on April 8, 1974, in Atlanta, the epicenter of the Civil Rights movement. The documentary, also titled "The Hammer of Hank Aaron," will re-air on The Smithsonian Channel in February 2017.

MLB Network & MLB Advanced Media
MLB Network will honor some of the greatest African-American players in Major League Baseball history, including Hank Aaron, Rod Carew, Ken Griffey Jr., Willie Mays, Frank Robinson and Jackie Robinson during its celebration of Black History Month. Daily vignettes about each player's life and career will debut on MLB Network's Hot Stove and MLB Tonight as well as its social media platforms throughout February, with 21 All-Stars, 18 Hall of Famers, 15 MVP Award winners, 10 Gold Glove Award winners, and six Rookie of the Year Award winners represented. Analysts across MLB Network's studio programming will provide comparisons between current MLB players and the historical players featured in MLB Network's daily vignettes.

MLB Advanced Media will support Black History Month across MLB.com, the MLB.com At Bat app, Cut4.com, Sports On Earth and through official MLB and Club accounts on social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram. Each week, these social media channels will highlight today's African-American stars of the game. Among the coverage initiatives, including topics such as influential African-Americans in MLB and the Negro Leagues, reflections on the impact of African-Americans for each of the 30 MLB Clubs and a look at the next generation of African-American managers and general managers, will be supported with photographs, video highlights, interviews and stories from its Club beat and national reporters and columnists.

Club Activities
Clubs throughout Major League Baseball proudly support Black History Month. Following are just a few examples of activities by MLB Clubs in February:

Boston Red Sox
For the 15th consecutive year, the Red Sox celebrated the life of Jackie Robinson by teaching New England students the story of his challenges and triumphs on his birthday - the eve of Black History month. The club visited with students at East Boston High School and Charlestown High School last week accompanied by former Mayor of Boston and U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Ray Flynn, and Red Sox Hall of Famer Tommy Harper. Also on the eve of Black History Month, Red Sox Hall of Famer Luis Tiant traveled to Durham, North Carolina, to serve as keynote speaker for North Carolina Central University's (NCCU) sixth annual First Pitch Dinner and Silent Auction. This is the second year the club has supported the annual fundraising event which benefits the NCCU baseball program. The partnership between the Red Sox and NCCU began in April of 2015 when Fenway Park hosted the first-ever historically black college baseball showcase between NCUU and Florida A&M University.

Cincinnati Reds
The Reds purchased Jackie Robinson-themed books to donate to local churches, libraries and other community organizations alongside newly-created bookmarks that honor the legend. Additionally, they have created special Black History Month public service announcements that will run in radio spots and on billboards throughout February.

Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers will host a luncheon to celebrate Black History Month at Dodger Stadium on Thursday, February 23rd. With community members representing a variety of professions, the Dodgers are encouraging guests to bring their vision and concepts for the Club's upcoming African-American Heritage Night (June 2017) to this collaborative meeting.

Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies will join Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia for a special screening of "They Said We Couldn't Play: An Oral History of the Philadelphia Stars". The event will feature a panel discussion with Phillies' Dan Stephenson, writer and producer of the documentary, Rob Holiday, Director of Amateur Scouting Administration, and Kenny Johnson, Coordinator of Multicultural Outreach. Also on the panel will be Dr. Mahlene Duckett Lee, who is the daughter of the late Philadelphia Stars' player Mahlon Duckett, and also worked with Major League Baseball to develop a curriculum for educating youth about the Negro Leagues. The curriculum will debut at a local school later in February, as well as be featured at the Phillies MLB Youth Academy during the year.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Throughout Black History Month, the Pirates will activate the 2nd Annual Series of "Long Live Their Legacy." The Pirates' community relations staff will visit local schools and youth groups for an interactive educational presentation on the history of Negro Leagues Baseball, its ties to Pittsburgh, and its significance to today's game. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum assisted the Pirates with their presentation.
 
Minnesota Twins
In February, the Twins will continue its "Reading is Powerful" program, which promotes literacy in local elementary schools with high minority populations. Front office staff employees, including Twins President Dave St. Peter, will travel to 22 elementary schools and meet with fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms to talk with kids about the importance of reading. Each trip consists of a reading of a book, a short Jackie Robinson educational video and trivia questions with prizes. Jackie Robinson has been the major theme of the reading program and the Twins highlight his work on and off the field, promoting baseball and showing his success in each challenge that he faced. At the end of each visit, the Twins provide each student with a bookmark listing Jackie's values so kids can remember the importance of courage, determination, teamwork, persistence, integrity, citizenship, justice, commitment and excellence.

MLB Draft Diversity & Diversity-Focused Youth Initiatives - At a Glance
Following is background on recent diversity results in the MLB Draft and diversity-focused MLB Youth initiatives:

MLB Draft results - Over the last five years (2012-16), the first round has featured 34 African-American players out of 168 total selections (20.2%). In 2016, 10 of the top 41 selections (24.4%) and 17 of the first night's 77 selections (22.1%) in the Draft were African-American or Latino. The first round of the 2015 MLB Draft featured the selection of nine African-American players (25%, 9-of-36). On a percentage basis, that represented the most African-American players in the first round since 1992, eclipsing the recent high of 22.6% (7-of-31) in 2012. In addition, African-American players made up 17 of the 75 selections (22.7%) made on the first day of the Draft in 2015. Dillon Tate, who is an alumnus of the MLB Youth Academy in Compton, the RBI Program and the Breakthrough Series, was selected #4 overall in the 2015 Draft. Corey Ray was selected #5 overall in 2016, which resulted in the second consecutive year that an alumnus of the RBI program and Breakthrough Series was selected within the top 5 picks of the draft.

Amateur Development Camps - MLB recently announced the expansion of its diversity-focused Amateur Development Camp effort, which is primarily designed to serve minority, high school-aged baseball and softball players throughout the country. The camps, which are free for all participants, are hosted by Major League Baseball and various partners, including USA Baseball, USA Softball and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA). These include:

  • The Inaugural 'DREAM SERIES' in Tempe, AZ (January 12-16). It was a special event to provide exposure and development opportunities for a diverse group of high school baseball pitchers and catchers from around the United States. Hunter Greene, an alumnus of the Compton MLB Youth Academy (since he was 7) as well as the RBI program, RBI World Series and Breakthrough Series, attended. He is MLBPipeline.com's #1 prospect for the 2017 MLB Draft.  
  • Baseball Breakthrough Series Camps in Chicago, IL (June 20-25), Compton, CA (June 27-July 1) and Bradenton, FL (June 27-July 1).
  • Softball Breakthrough Series Camp in Oklahoma City, OK (June 11-15).
  • Elite Development Invitational at Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, FL (July 13-August 2) for both baseball and softball players.

MLB Youth Academies - The expansion of the MLB Youth Academy network continues with facilities available all throughout the United States and more to come in the near future. MLB Youth Academies are designed to provide free, or low-cost, opportunities for young people to develop baseball and softball skills as well as take advantage of educational and vocational programs offered at each facility. Operational MLB Youth Academies include Compton, CA (opened in 2006), Houston, TX (opened in 2010), New Orleans, LA (opened in 2012), Cincinnati, OH (opened in 2014), Philadelphia, PA (opened in 2015), Washington, D.C. (opened in 2015) and Dallas, TX (opened in 2016). MLB Youth Academies in development include those in the Bronx, NY, Kansas City, MO and San Francisco, CA. MLB also contributed $1.5 million toward programming of Curtis Granderson Stadium at the University of Illinois - Chicago campus. Nearly 160 Academy alumni have been selected in the Draft, including 50 in the last five drafts.

PLAY BALL Summer - On January 18th, MLB and the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) announced the third annual effort for Mayors across the U.S. and Puerto Rico to host PLAY BALL-themed, youth-focused events in their communities. The initiative, called "PLAY BALL Summer," will span from June through August 2017, and will focus on engaging young people through fun events that highlight the many different ways baseball and softball can be enjoyed. MLB and the USCM expect well over 200 Mayors to participate in the 2017 effort.