I’m a great admirer of Jackie Robinson, the sports legend, civil rights activist, and American hero best known for breaking through Major League Baseball’s color barrier. But after spending time recently at the Jackie Robinson Foundation’s Mentoring and Leadership Conference, talking with JRF-Strada scholars, I am even more inspired by his legacy – a group of young men and women determined to make the most of their education, their careers, and their roles as active, engaged citizens serving their communities and our nation.
Take for example, Marshall Strawbridge, a sophomore studying philosophy and political science at Manhattan College: Already, Marshall has completed internships with a U.S. senator in Washington, D.C., and a U.S. congressman in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. While taking college classes, he volunteered to teach a class on the U.S. Constitution at a community center in the Bronx.
Or Mia McDuffie, a freshman computer science major at Colgate University who learned to code and explored technology through Strada grantee Code Nation (formerly ScriptEd). She’s an academic rock star who sings and acts, tutors middle school students, and has completed two internships, most recently with Citibank.
And there’s Nadia Khan, a sophomore at the University of Maryland at College Park who is studying to be a large-animal veterinarian and wants to start a therapeutic horseback riding program to help children with autism and other challenges. One of her top goals is to inspire her seven little brothers to follow in her footsteps to college.
Even more impressive is seeing what the 1,500-plus JRF Scholar alumni have achieved since college graduation: Lauren Underwood, a registered nurse, is now a U.S. Congresswoman representing Illinois’ 14th District; Nate Moore produced the Oscar-winning movie “Black Panther”; and Arthur Hayes founded BitMEX, a global bitcoin cryptocurrency derivatives marketplace.
Strada is proud to partner with the Jackie Robinson Foundation through a multi-year $6.5 million grant award, part of which supports 30 JRF-Strada Scholars — highly motivated students who attend colleges and universities throughout the United States and who maintain a nearly 100 percent graduation rate. Because this program is so competitive, drawing more than 5,000 applicants for 60 to 70 scholar opportunities each year, we are also supporting efforts to expand JRF’s IMPACT Program, utilizing virtual tools to provide academic and career support to thousands more college students.
During the conference, our Strada team participated in career panels on law and business and engaged directly with the JRF-Strada scholars, who enthusiastically shared with us their experiences through the Jackie Robinson program, including a life-changing trip the sophomore class took to Tanzania, Africa, last summer. The students spent 10 days digging trenches, carrying dirt and rocks, and mixing cement to build a school. They learned to speak a few phrases in Kiswahili, participated in a shopping exercise to understand the difficult economic decisions to be made daily, and participated in “water walks,” trekking miles to understand the literal steps it takes some people around the globe to address their communities’ basic human needs. And they spent time with members of the Maasai tribe, learning about their culture and day-to-day life.
Besides the trip to Tanzania, the scholars — many of whom secured their first passports through the JRF Scholars program — have studied in the Middle East, France, China, Italy, Argentina and Peru. But far more impressive than how far these scholars have traveled in the past few years, literally and figuratively, is where I’m confident they are going in the future.
These students are bold, intelligent, supportive of each other, and determined to succeed as they complete their college years and transition into meaningful careers.
Some are exploring and asking questions, dreaming of what they want to be. Some are laser focused on a specific direction or goal. But all are going places, and they are committed to serving a purpose greater than their own personal advancement. Strada is proud to support them, and I am proud to know them, because they are our future.