In the local Millersville and Lancaster community, numerous events have been held celebrating the Civil Rights Movement and African American success in the Arts.
On February 10th, the Ware Center hosted an event celebrating Jackie Robinson’s life and his contributions to furthering African-American rights. The actual performance “Everybody’s Hero: The Jackie Robinson Story” was preceded by a short lecture by Millersville’s own Dr. Rita R. Smith-Wade-El.
Dr. Smith-Wade-El is a professor of psychology and African-American Studies at Millersville University and teaches courses such as “Psychology of Racism.” She is also the Director of Millersville’s African-American Studies Minor. At the Crispus Attucks Community Center’s 27th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast, Dr. Smith-Wade-El received the Essence of Humanity award. The Essence of Humanity award is reserved for individuals who have displayed courage in the face of adversity and also those who serve above and beyond their requirements.
During the lecture, Dr. Smith-Wade-El said that she likes to look at racism from the racist’s perspective. In America, there is a perception that no one is racist, and yet racism is a prevalent problem.
In the mid-20th century, there was resentment towards African-Americans for their excelling in sports. Sports segregation of course existed during Jackie Robinson’s baseball career. African -American teams would play against all white teams (and would win too), but these games were not considered “legitimate.”
Baseball was considered the all-American sport: the essence of America. People did not want to see their sacred sport “tainted.”
Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson was the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball (MLB). Jackie broke this racial barrier on April 15, 1947, when he started as first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Besides being the first African- American to play in the MLB, Jackie was also the first player who had his jersey number 42 officially retired.
Jackie was an exceptional player and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. He had a 10-year baseball career.
Jackie Robinson was not necessarily the absolute best African-American baseball player around, but he was talented and could take a beating, both physically and emotionally. The Dodgers needed a player who could take abuse and keep on going. Not only would Jackie have to take abuse, but his family would suffer also. They needed someone who could persevere under this harsh, unfair conditions.
“Everybody’s Hero: The Jackie Robinson Story” was presented by the Mad River Theater Works. Mad River Theater Works is a professional theater group based in the rural communities of the United States. Through their performances, the Mad River Theater Works has over 200 performances and reaches over 50,000 people in a year.
The performance was only a brief 60 minutes with no intermission, but it succeeded in capturing the inspiring story of Jackie Robinson, played by Steven Rice. The musical opened up with a scene of Jackie talking with his older brother Mack Robinson, played by Destin Le’Marr. Mack himself was an Olympic athlete and served as a role model to Jackie. In the performance, Jackie was upset at how he was being treated poorly just because of the color of his skin. However, Mack encouraged him not to react to these racist jaunts.
There were several songs scattered throughout the performance that reinforced the emotion behind what had just occurred in the scene. One particular song “Words Are Alive” struck a chord with the audience. The song talked about the negative impact of racial slurs on African Americans and how words are living and can have the ability to build up or tear down others. After being verbally abused, Jackie sung this song by himself, convicting the popular culture.
Another song “Raised Up By the Family” was sung at the very beginning of the performance by Mack and Jackie. Mack initiated the duet after encouraging Jackie to not react to racist insults and instead uphold the good Robinson name by taking the higher road.
Another key part in the musical was when Jackie first joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. Although he was ostracized at first and had to deal with even threats on his life if he played baseball, Jackie persevered and showed the team and the world his skill in baseball and his unconquerable spirit through his unwillingness to submissively back down from racism.
In the performance, throughout his time on the team, Jackie gradually became friends with the captain of the Dodgers Pee Wee Reese, who was played by Michael McIntire. Through his skill as a baseball player, his true moral compass, and unrelenting spirit, Jackie showed the team his worth both as a player on the team and as a friend.
The performance was both heart-warming and heart-rending. It depicted a triumphant story of an African American baseball player beating the odds, but it also told the more serious and compelling story of racism and the damage that it does.
Children usually do not become racially aware until around four or five. However, this awareness does not necessarily entail negative feelings. These negative feelings are passed down from generation to generation. At the end of Dr. Smith-Wade-El’s lecture, she encouraged the audience to be aware of how they perpetuate racism and pass on this knowledge on to the next generation. Teaching children to build relationships based on differences as well as similarities can help combat racism. We must be aware of what we are saying (whether through actions or words) is acceptable to do in our culture.