Robinson Foundation grads give back

Robinson Foundation grads give back

ST. LOUIS -- On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson forever changed the face of not only baseball, but American society. Taking heed to his ideals, the Jackie Robinson Foundation makes sure his vision is not lost.

Prior to the Cardinals game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, several members of the foundation were honored for their achievements. Partnering with Anheuser-Busch and Mobil On the Run, the foundation also raffled off game-worn No. 42 Cardinals jerseys -- in honor of Robinson -- from April 15 of this year.

"It is probably one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me in my life," said Mauri Robinson, a former recipient who wore No. 42 when he played baseball.

Sixty percent of the money made from the raffled jerseys will go back into the foundation, while the rest will go to Cardinals Care -- the St. Louis Cardinals' charity.

For the past 35 years, the Jackie Robinson Foundation has provided scholarships for African-Americans seeking to attend college. All of the honorees at Busch Stadium on Wednesday were former recipients.

But even though they no longer receive monetary assistance from the foundation, the ties don't end there.

"This is a really roll up your sleeves program and it really becomes a family," Della Britton Baeza, JRF president and CEO, said. "It sounds like a misnomer to describe it as a family, but it really does provide a support system for these students who, for the most part, come out of disenfranchised backgrounds. But the reality is they go on to be incredible leaders."

Throughout its existence, the foundation has supported over 1,200 recipients with an astounding 97 percent graduation rate. Reportedly, only an average of 40 percent of African-American students nationwide graduate from college.

"It's our duty and our responsibility to be advocates of change and increase that number," Mauri Robinson said.

What makes the foundation so successful, Britton Baeza said, is the mentoring aspect it provides its students. Every March for spring break, the JRF brings up all of their recipients to New York City for a 4 1/2 day mentoring program.

During the retreat, the recipients are able to network, learn about careers and undergo courses that will develop their life skills.

"This is one of those iconic organizations built on an iconic figure," said Britton Baeza.

Growing up in South Carolina, David Walker had dreamed of going to college even though no family member of his had previously done so. From the age of 15, he had to work to support his sister and ailing mother. Receiving the scholarship, he said, made a dramatic impact on his ability to attend and graduate from Emory University.

Now working for the Brown Shoe Company, Walker gives back to the community as a volunteer track and field coach and through his work with the Boys & Girls Club.

"You would think that after you graduate or matriculate through life, their touch on your life would decrease but it only continues to flourish," Walker said.

Elizabeth Hudson, another former recipient, took her scholarship from the JRF all the way to Washington University in St. Louis, where she graduated in 2006. Now working with Boeing, Hudson also volunteers with the St. Louis Philharmonic Orchestra.

"I think being in the foundation gives you the tools you need to go out and find jobs," Hudson said.

"We know that we're adding to the overall American society in a profound way like Jackie did," Britton Baeza added. "Jackie really sort of upped the ante. Jackie helped catapult this country to a new social level of inclusion and good will."

Lee Hurwitz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.