Jackie Robinson Day is Monday, April 15. This year marks 72 years since integration of Major League Baseball after the ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’ with the former commissioner of the MLB Kennesaw Mountain Landis.
But y’all didn’t come here for my expertise in history and baseball facts. You came here for me to tell you why we shouldn’t sleep on Jack Roosevelt Robinson.
By now, you should have seen the movie 42 with Chadwick Boseman. But his story is deeper than a movie! His legacy is deeper than baseball. Sure, I can talk about his college education at UCLA, how he lettered in four sports and how the talk was that Josh Gibson (yes, THEE Josh Gibson! Google him!) was being looked at by a MLB team and was denied the privilege of being “the First” because of the ‘Gentleman’s Agreement.’
But that’s the thing about being the first of anything.
The first in your family to go to college.
The first in your family not to be a teen parent.
The first in your family to get a passport or six-figure salary.
There’s a pressure that comes with being the first of anything. This is no exception. But what makes Jackie Robinson’s story revolutionary is he was actually going to be a PE teacher in Texas. More over, one of the reasons why he is and remains a personal hero of mine is amidst all the craziness of being Black and male in the late 1940’s-early 1950’s–he played a sport better than his White counterparts.
Hmph. Humanity proven by athletic ability.
Being first requires this duality I don’t think people are aware of: the ability to be both loud and quiet.
Loud meaning that you are confident and visible in what you have been asked to do (that other people may not think you’re able to do). Quiet in being disciplined, focused enough to do what you do–regardless of the chatter that surrounds you. Despite the people whom actively trip you up, or set out to sabotage you. And realizing that you cannot react to everything! If you did, you would never do what you believe you were placed or purposed to do.
Revolutionaries cannot be concerned about how people perceive them. They cannot be bogged down or concerned about the people that desire to stop them. Being revolutionary requires the ability to maintain a warrior’s focus–no matter what is going on. Everyone wants to be a revolutionary until you have to do revolutionary things!
I believe Jackie Robinson is overlooked in modern culture because he doesn’t seem to fit the aesthetic of what it means to be a revolutionary Black male. We are used to Ali, Malcolm X and the Nat Turners of history. We want our Black male revolutionaries to be John Henry tall with a James Earl Jones resonance. We want them to be like Nas said, ‘walk on water and step on peasants.’ The one thing that makes Jack so amazing has to do with this quote:
This is what makes you revolutionary. This is what it means to have a revolutionary’s mindset: they think about the impact their lives an actions may have on others. This should be the motivation for all wide, lasting change.
And that, dear ones, is revolutionary.