Robinson recalled as American legend

Robinson recalled as American legend

BOSTON -- On the day he would have turned 89, Jackie Robinson was remembered at Fenway Park on Thursday as one of the true legends in American history.

And there is no better group to teach that history lesson to than school children.

The Red Sox hosted more than 150 Boston-area youngsters from the city's after-school programs of the Boston Centers for Youth and Families along with students from the Red Sox Scholars program.

The group of students played a game a trivia bingo with the theme of great African-American moments in history. The sixth annual "Celebration of Life of Jackie Robinson" was officially opened with a stirring rendition of the national anthem by 14-year-old Jeremy Gooden, a student at the Boston Arts Academy.

Then the tributes began, hosted by Dr. Charles Olgetree, a professor at Harvard Law School.

"In the history of our country, this is one of the most important moments," said George Mitrovich, an annual speaker at the tribute. "The signing of Jackie Robinson, the play of Jackie Robinson and the story of Jackie Robinson became one of the pivotal moments. Jackie Robinson changed America, and America became the country it is today."

Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell was invited but had scheduling issues and was delayed on his way to Boston. But he was able to chat with the gathering over a speaker phone with a very powerful tribute.

"The way to find peace and happiness is to take care of yourself, and the best way to take care of yourself is to educate yourself," Russell said in recalling one of the many lessons he learned from Robinson.

Tommy Harper, who played with several big league teams, including the Red Sox, added his perspective.

"He was a great inspiration not only to blacks but the country itself," Harper said. "Today is about the inspiration he provided. I not only saw it on the baseball field but he was a good athlete and he went to UCLA, and today we honor Jackie Robinson for his excellence on and off the field."

For the first time, the tribute will span two days and concludes Friday at Fenway with a panel discussion about the impact and legacy of Robinson on American society.

But Thursday was about educating children, and the effort to make sure the man who broke the color barrier in baseball and opened countless doors is never forgotten.

Mike Petraglia is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.