Ivo Philbert started began his presentation commemorating Jackie Robinson’s centennial year to the students of Our World Neighborhood Charter Middle School in Astoria with a simple question.
“What was Jackie Robinson famous for?” asked the Philbert, a representative of the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
“Baseball!” many of the students shouted back.
“He was the first African American to play in the major leagues. But he was so much more than that and I want to talk about that,” said Philbert.
The Astoria middle school held an assembly to celebrate Robinson’s centennial on Friday by focusing on his legacy as a civil rights activist, entrepreneur, father and husband.
“He was an activist, he was in the army, he was a family man, he was a businessman, he was for education. And his family continues to work so hard to continue that legacy,” said Glenn Roth, a special education teacher who organized the program.
After the school glee club performed a rendition of “Lift Every Voice” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and students recited Robinson’s famous “Free Minds and Hearts at Work” speech, Philbert took the stage to frame Robinson’s life in a larger context.
“I’m going to talk about Jackie Robinson the patriot,” said Philbert. “While in the military Jackie Robinson fought for the rights of all individuals, so people of color can be officers in the military.”
Philbert launched into the story about how during his Army service before his baseball career, Robinson stood up to discriminatory charges against him in military court. When a military bus driver and investigating officer drummed up racist, false charges against Robinson and threatened him with a court martial, he fought to exonerate himself, and won, jumpstarting his career as an activist.
Philbert went on discuss Robinson’s business pursuits and the lasting influence of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, the philanthropic nonprofit created by Robinson’s wife, Rachel. The foundation will open a new museum in Lower Manhattan in December. He invited the whole school to visit.
Roth, a lifelong baseball fanatic, saw the diverse student body of charter school as a perfect audience for Robinson’s legacy. “I hope that they go to someone that they’re friends with or family and teach them something they learned about Jackie Robinson today,” he said.