I saw a snapshot of reality. Dawit got the same cheers as any other child.
It was entirely unremarkable.
As a newsman, that is usually the worst possible condition. Events that are really good or really bad tend to be far more noteworthy. But when Dawit took the field for his first tee ball game, it was entirely unremarkable.
I think Jackie Robinson would be really happy about that.
Just days after Major League Baseball honored its first black player by having everyone in the league wear No. 42 for a day, and just week’s after the release of a movie about Robinson’s life and career, Dawit took the field as the only black child on his team and no one really noticed.
Don’t get me wrong. Dawit is noticeable.
He wrestled with his catcher’s mask and forgot to run when he batted the first time. He waved at his mom who was running a video camera after sliding into first base. He was very noticeable.
But this little boy who lived in Ethiopia until two years ago could have been black, white or blue and no one would have cared.
Since coming to this town in Kansas with about one half of one percent of the population with the same skin color as his, Dawit has recognized that he doesn’t look like everyone else. But thanks to the way people have treated him, even though he looks different, he has never felt different.
Not long before Jackie Robinson was becoming the first African-American to play in major league baseball, Augusta, Kan. was a “sundown town.”
Minorities were not allowed in the city after the sun went down. Sundown ordinances kept minorities from living in towns along side white people. It was 1968 before Congress took action to outlaw discrimination in real estate transactions.
Sometimes, we let the loud words of the vocal minorities convince us that we haven’t come too far from those days of Klan rallies and sundown towns. Racist jokes and hateful comments by ignorant people get far too much attention.
But last week, I saw a snapshot of reality. Dawit got the same cheers as any other child. He had as much fun as anyone. He was just another kid.
When Robinson endured boos, ridicule and threats, could he have even believed that one day a little boy from Ethiopia – a true African-American – would be a welcome and normal part of a team full of white kids?
Robinson’s work to integrate baseball was remarkable. But his work alongside Martin Luther King Jr., and with the NAACP helped integrate the country as a whole.
We still deal with racism in society today.
But a lot of walls have been knocked down. When those walls are knocked down by the first black baseball player, the first black Supreme Court Justice and the first black President, it makes it easier for everyone else to follow.
Jackie Robinson wasn’t a dreamer like Martin Luther King Jr. Robinson played baseball.
But I think he would love the fact that all across this country that little boys and little girls are playing on the same fields together and no one worries about who is black and who is white.
Robinson said in his autobiography, “I Never Had it Made,” that, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
The success of the work that Robinson and so many more civil rights activists did and the impact they had is more evident every day.
Kent Bush is the publisher of the Augusta Gazette, the El Dorado Times, and the Andover American newspapers. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org