February is Black History Month, and every American should take time to glean the lessons from the lives of great people — famous and not so famous. From those who fought for racial equality to those whose ideas were revolutionary; from the business innovator to the organizational culture creator; from the humble parent to the individual determined to overcome hardship and adversity — all provide a rich curriculum from which to learn.
One such is the great baseball player and color-barrier-breaker Jackie Robinson who entered Major League Baseball in 1947. Robinson, who would have turned 100 on Jan. 31, became the first African-American to play in the majors. He endured taunts, slurs and abuses of every kind. Yet, he kept his belief, not only in his personal and professional goals, but in a vision of the kind of equality that could unite the nation.
As he stood on the field, listening to the national anthem in Atlanta in 1948, Robinson noted that black and white players stood together, shoulder to shoulder. He reflected, “What I have always believed has come to be.” His dream of equality was beginning to become reality. Such belief is the bedrock of good causes and great character.
Several years later Robinson participated in a radio essay program called, “This I Believe,” in which he said, “And what is it that I have always believed? First, that imperfections are human. But that wherever human beings were given room to breathe and time to think, those imperfections would disappear, no matter how slowly.”
Then came Robinson's powerful lesson and nation-defining principle: “Whatever obstacles I found made me fight all the harder. But it would have been impossible for me to fight at all, except that I was sustained by the personal and deep-rooted belief that my fight had a chance. It had a chance because it took place in a free society. Not once was I forced to face and fight an immovable object. Not once was the situation so cast-iron rigid that I had no chance at all. Free minds and human hearts were at work all around me; and so there was the probability of improvement. … I can say to my children: There is a chance for you. No guarantee, but a chance.”
The great promise of a liberty loving land and a free people is that everyone and every cause has a fair and fighting chance to find success.
Finally, Robinson declared his belief saying, “I believe in the human race. I believe in the warm heart. I believe in man's integrity. I believe in the goodness of a free society. And I believe that the society can remain good only as long as we are willing to fight for it — and to fight against whatever imperfections may exist.”8 comments on this story
Vision, belief and the determination to overcome obstacles are still the requirement for success in any endeavor, but particularly in the fight for equality, compassion and opportunity in our communities. There are imperfections still in our nation as well as in our neighborhoods and individual lives. The challenge is for each and every citizen to follow the leadership of extraordinary individuals like Robinson.
Americans love an inspiring story of vision, belief, rising up and overcoming impossible odds. But adoration simply isn’t enough. In fact, people cannot be content with merely talking about Robinson; it is time to start acting like him. He lived a life worthy of celebration and left a legacy worthy of emulation.