Especially for Parents: Inspiration for the Future from Black Leaders of the Past

by Angie Williams


My daughter’s 5th grade teacher is a huge baseball fan (instead of taking the lovely Minnesota summers off, she works at the Twins stadium to be close to the action). As she sets the tone for her classroom each year, she highlights Jackie Robinson, the first African American MLB player, and his nine core values. We are entering Black History Month, and it is inspiring to reflect on how these values shaped Robinson’s life, and how powerful they can when cultivated in our own children.


Jackie Robinson’s nine core values were:


Doing what you know is the right thing even when it is hard to do


Staying focused on a plan even though the path to its end may be difficult


Working with other people toward a common goal


Working toward a goal and continuing to move forward even though you face obstacles or barriers


Sticking to your values, regardless of what others think you should do


Making a contribution that improves the lives of others


Treating all people fairly, no matter who they are


Making a promise and following through on it


Doing the best that you possibly can

Jackie Robinson broke barriers and lived out these values in spite of the personal and professional challenges he faced during an era of deep discord over issues of race.

Martin Luther King Jr. followed behind Robinson during the civil rights era, and from a young age he was determined to develop and use his skills for justice and equality in our nation. In reading a recent biography of MLK, it is clear that he dedicated himself to and lived out many of Robinson’s same values. His persistence in fighting for equal rights, though it cost him his life, is evident. He also did so with optimism, which feels remarkable to me given what he and others encountered. In an early sermon, he asked his listeners,

“Life is what you make of it by the way you handle trouble. When malice or misfortune finds you, do you hold it so close to your eyes that you can’t see anything else?…Learn to handle life’s difficulties with kindness and courage.”

MLK implored his audience to keep working toward justice with a sense of positive and hopeful expectation.

While black history is American history and should not be relegated to one month of the year, Black History Month gives all of us an opportunity to focus our attention on the life stories of both well-known black heroes as well as ordinary black citizens and their extraordinary contributions to our world. We can take time on our own and/or with our children to reflect on black history, and to learn about and be inspired by the perspectives and values of the people who lived it.