Beacon Awards emblematic of civil rights goals

Beacon Awards emblematic of civil rights goals

Beacon Awards emblematic of civil rights goals
Atlanta will play host to one of the season's most engaging chapters this weekend, when Major League Baseball celebrates the march toward social equality with the Civil Rights Game.

The two-day event -- hosted by Atlanta for the second straight season -- is designed to honor baseball's history in advancing the cause of equality, and also to celebrate the people who made it possible. The event will culminate with the sixth annual Civil Rights Game on Saturday night.

Things will get kicked off at noon Friday ET at the Carter Center with a roundtable discussion about baseball and the civil rights movement. Harvard professor Charles Ogletree will moderate that session, which will touch on the impact of Jackie Robinson's debut on sport and society.

Don Newcombe -- Robinson's former teammate and one of the weekend's honorees -- will take part in that discussion, as will Mel Pender, an Olympic gold medalist at the 1968 Summer Games. Those athletes, icons in their own right, will share the stage with a trio of accomplished men.

Julian Bond, a social activist and a leader in the civil rights movement, will lend his perspective, as will Rev. Dr. Robert Franklin, the president of Morehouse College. Doug Shipman, chief executive officer of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, will also be part of the discussion.

One day later, Major League Baseball will hold the Beacon Awards Luncheon at 1 p.m. ET at the Hyatt Recency Atlanta. Commissioner Bud Selig will be the keynote speaker, and Monica Pearson -- one of the first female African-American news anchors in the Southeast region -- will serve as mistress of ceremonies.

There are three Beacon Awards -- one each for Life, Hope and Change -- and they are annually presented to people who are emblematic of the spirit of the civil rights movement.

Newcombe, one of just two players to win the Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards, will be presented with the Beacon of Hope. Modern-day star Matt Kemp will present the award to Newcombe, which will celebrate his many accomplishments on and off the field.

Newcombe founded the Dodgers' community relations department in 1970, and he's the last surviving member of the team's original trio of African-American players. Newcombe has seen and done a lot in the game, and he's helped countless people in their arduous battles against substance abuse.

Bond will present another award -- the Beacon of Life -- to Congressman John Lewis, his longtime friend and colleague from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Lewis, who has served in the House of Representatives since 1986, has been part of the struggle since early in the '60s.

As a student at Fisk University, Lewis organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Tenn., and he later volunteered to participate in the Freedom Rides. Lewis helped form the SNCC, and at the ripe age of 23, helped shape the historic March on Washington in 1963.

Lewis also helped support Dr. Martin Luther King at another of the most seminal moments of the civil rights movement, the historic confrontation between protestors and law enforcement in Selma, Ala., in 1963. For five decades, Lewis has been one of America's most important crusaders.

The final award -- the Beacon of Change -- will be presented to the founding members of the soul group Earth, Wind & Fire. Paxton Baker, the executive vice president and general manager of Centric, will present to the group, which has sold more than 90 million albums worldwide.

Earth, Wind & Fire -- formed by Philip Bailey, Verdine White and Ralph Johnson -- brought messages of universal love and harmony to the R&B scene of the '60s and '70s. Earth, Wind & Fire, which has more than 50 gold and platinum albums, was inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.

The sixth annual Civil Rights Game will take place at Turner Field at 7:10 p.m. ET on Saturday, and each of the Beacon Award winners will be celebrated in a pregame ceremony. And then, there will be nothing left but to play baseball, fittingly with the Braves squaring off against Kemp's Dodgers.

For tickets or further information on the weekend and of the events involved -- Friday's roundtable discussion, Saturday's Beacon Awards luncheon and the Civil Rights Game -- fans can visit MLB.com/civilrightsgame or Braves.com/civilrightsgame.

The Civil Rights Game originally began as an exhibition game that was held in Memphis, Tenn., in both 2007 and '08. But it evolved into a regular-season game held in Cincinnati in 2009 and '10, and now Atlanta for two straight seasons. Where will it go next? Judging by the growth of baseball, the national pastime, it could conceivably fit in any of the nation's cities and stadiums in the future.

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