Students and faculty gathered in the Jack Morton Auditorium last Thursday night to celebrate the 62nd anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier and to recognize those in the community who exemplify his spirit.
GW’s Jackie Robinson Society helped organize the annual event, which is in its third year. Society members chose Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon, WJLA-TV news anchor Maureen Bunyan and civil rights activist Frank Kameny to receive the Jackie Robinson Community Recognition Award.
“We especially want to get [award recipients] outside of sports so that we emphasize that [Robinson] was a civil rights figure and that there’s more to his life and more to his legacy than just sports,” said Richard Zamoff, a GW professor and director of the Jackie Robinson Society.
Kameny, a longtime gay rights activist, was recognized at the event for joining Jackie Robinson in the struggle for civil rights.
“Jackie Robinson and Franklin Kameny have shaped the American civil rights history,” Zamoff said. “They are the trailblazers that set the pace for others to follow.”
“I well remember his appearance on the scene and my cheering him on,” Kameny said in his remarks. “Little did I think well over a [half-century] ago, that I might be honored with him.”
Wilbon, co-host of “Pardon the Interruption” on ESPN, was unable to attend the event due to personal conflicts, but addressed the crowd through a video message. Wilbon reflected back on a period in history when black Americans were not allowed to attend Robinson’s games at Wrigley Field.
“My dad tried to attend Robinson’s very first game in Wrigley Field in 1947 and was turned away from the park and vowed never to set foot in there again,” Wilbon recalled. “He did only once more in his life when my brother and I begged him to take us to see [Hank] Aaron.”
WJLA-TV news anchor Maureen Bunyan was honored for her advocacy for women and minorities in the newsroom.
“I want you to remember that whether you’re out on the field or in the classroom or at a job, you all have courage. You simply have to define it for yourself,” Bunyan said. “And then after you have faced the fear of going ahead, you have to go ahead. That’s what Jackie Robinson did and that’s why we are here.”
Gavin Swanson, a senior and starting outfielder for GW’s baseball team, received the Jackie Robinson Award, given to the varsity player who best reflects the qualities of the legendary Dodgers outfielder.
For Zamoff, this year’s celebration of Robinson’s legacy had particular significance.
“I’m not saying there’s a direct link between Jackie Robinson and Barack Obama, but it’s a continuum of sorts,” Zamoff said. “Jackie Robinson taught America, encouraged America, challenged America and ultimately forced Americans to think differently about matters related to race.”