Jackie Robinson scholars honored

Jackie Robinson scholars honored

NEW YORK -- Jackie Robinson's spirit could be felt on Monday night at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where more than 1,100 people gathered for the 28th annual Jackie Robinson Foundation Awards Dinner.

Many in the crowd hadn't even been born 60 years ago, when Robinson ushered integration not only into Major League Baseball but also into the consciousness of a society not entirely prepared for it, but his legacy was shared by those honored for their endeavors on behalf of the Foundation and the college students who benefit from it.

Mauri Robinson, 20 (no relation), a junior from Birmingham, Ala., studying business and marketing at Morehouse College, took part in the program as one of three student assistants to master of ceremonies Bill Cosby at the black-tie affair.

"I played baseball the first 18 years of my life, so I knew the name of Jackie Robinson, just because of what he stands for and as a longtime fan of baseball what he provided for me," Mauri Robinson said.

Mauri Robinson learned of the Foundation over the Internet.

"I wanted to apply and was just glad enough to get the scholarship," he said.

So did Anthony Diamond, 19, a sophomore at Stanford who came from a turbulent single-parent atmosphere in Portland, Ore., and is now on a path toward a degree in mechanical engineering, thanks to the sponsorship of the Dodgers.

"Being a student where college wasn't an option to me financially by itself, I looked for different scholarships that were available to under-represented students like myself and came across the Jackie Robinson Foundation," Diamond said. "It's really an honor to be sponsored by the team that Jackie Robinson played with. Because of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, I think my future is truly limitless."

Robinson and Diamond are among 266 Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholars enrolled in 93 institutions who will receive $1.8 million in scholarship support. Scholars over the years have maintained a 97 percent graduate rate, more than twice the national average for minority students.

Rachel Robinson, Jackie's widow, began the Foundation in 1973, the year after her husband's death, as a non-profit organization with a mission to provide college scholarships and leadership training. It provides four-year college scholarships to minority students who demonstrate academic achievement, leadership capability and financial need. Rachel, daughter Sharon and other family members graced a dais that also included Jackie Robinson Foundation president Della Britton Baeza, former National League president Leonard Coleman and Ford Motor Company Fund president Jim Vella.

The Dodgers are one of five Major League clubs that contribute as sponsors. The others are the Mets, Yankees, White Sox and Rangers. Several individual players, such as shortstops Derek Jeter and Royce Clayton and former American League Most Valuable Player Mo Vaughn, have also contributed to the fund.

While Diamond, who also played saxophone at the dinner, is sponsored by the Dodgers, Robinson's sponsor is Merrill Lynch, whose chairman and chief executive officer Stan O'Neal received the ROBIE Award for Industry Achievement, presented by jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

Mauri Robinson introduced Marsalis as well as entertainer John Leguizamo, who presented the ROBIE Humanitarian Award to film director Spike Lee. Broadcast journalist Katie Couric presented the ROBIE Lifetime Achievement Award to philanthropist Sheila C. Johnson, president of the WNBA Washington Mystics.

Monday night's dinner marked the 25th consecutive year that Dr. Cosby served as host. Previous emcees were Sidney Poitier, Howard Cosell and Harry Belafonte.

Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.