Wednesday, October 24, 2012
On the Day that Jackie Died...A Life Lesson Was Taught
I was in 6th grade and school hadn’t started yet. There was a group of my buddies that I’d play sports with, depending on the season of the year. This was 1972 and it was October, so most likely we would be throwing the pigskin around, but there was something different this morning. My mom told me before school that they announced on the radio that Jackie Robinson had died.
Sure enough, that morning before classes began as we meandered around the play ground, there were no games to be played as we usually did. We were actually talking about Jackie. None of us needed to discuss the importance of the man. There was a reverence that permeated when he was spoken of. Jackie was a Dodger. He was an Angeleno. He was a pioneer. Though none of us had ever seen him play and were born after he retired from the game, Jackie was a hero to us.
The players we followed at the time: Wilt Chamberlain, Happy Hairston, Willie Davis, Frank Robinson, Al Downing, Deacon Jones. They were all around because Jackie had broken the color barrier. This was white/middle class suburban America. 90% of us fit in that demographic, yet most of our heroes were African American. That’s because Jackie made it so.
When our teacher arrived to let us in the classroom, one of the kids spoke up and asked her, “Miss Page, did you know Jackie Robinson died?” Her face went white. “Jackie Robinson died?” she said. “No, I didn’t know that.”
What followed was an impromptu narrative once class began, by a teacher that understood the solemnity of the moment and the importance that day had in history. Math, science and reading could wait. There was a history lesson to be taught. We heard Miss Page speak eloquently of the hero that Jackie was and the roads of American history that he paved. She made sure that we all knew that Jackie was strong, courageous, and a hero to be admired.
That was 40 years ago today. I was 11 years old at the time. It was one of those moments that I’ll never forget. I’m not sure where that amazing 6th grade teacher is today, but she taught me a life lesson that I’ll never forget. Thank you Miss Page and thank you Jackie!