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Hub students honored for Black History Month essays

Frederick Ellis Dashiell Jr. | 3/4/2009, 4:04 a.m.
Local student winners of an essay contest commemorating Black History Month pose for a photo during an event honoring them held Thursday, Feb. 26, 2009, at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center at Roxbury Community College. Standing in the back row behind the winners are (from left): Roxbury Community College President Terrence A. Gomes, Gov. Deval Patrick, former Negro League baseball player Jim Robinson, former Boston Red Sox pitcher Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd and Shaw’s Supermarkets President Larry Wahlstrom. Frederick Ellis Dashiell Jr.

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Local student winners of an essay contest commemorating Black History Month pose for a photo during an event honoring them held Thursday, Feb. 26, 2009, at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center at Roxbury Community College. Standing in the back row behind the winners are (from left): Roxbury Community College President Terrence A. Gomes, Gov. Deval Patrick, former Negro League baseball player Jim Robinson, former Boston Red Sox pitcher Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd and Shaw’s Supermarkets President Larry Wahlstrom.

City elementary and high school students were honored in Roxbury last Thursday for the prize-winning essays they wrote and entered into a contest commemorating Black History Month.

Shaw’s Supermarkets, which sponsored the contest, welcomed former Negro League baseball player Jim Robinson, former Boston Red Sox pitcher Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd and Gov. Deval Patrick to the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center to take part in the awarding of prizes and scholarship money to the winning students. In the contest, students were asked to write essays about how they or someone they know has overcome obstacles to make their communities a better place.

“There are so many people who have overcome obstacles,” Shaw’s President Larry Wahlstrom said in congratulating the winners. “To write about them is a form of honoring them.”

Prior to the scheduled ceremonies, the winners — who ranged in age from 8 to 16 years old, took pictures with Robinson, Boyd, Patrick and Wahlstrom, who acted as the event’s emcee.

One of the elementary school essay contest winners, 8-year-old Annalise Ella Englert, read her essay about her friend Glen, a local musician and artist who had to overcome racial stereotypes as a youth because of his multiracial heritage.

“I never won an award before,” said Annalise, a third-grader from Roslindale. “I was a little nervous, but I had fun.”

Patrick praised Robinson and Boyd for setting an example that the youth could follow.

“It’s all about blazing trails, something that Jim Robinson and Dennis Boyd have done,” said Patrick.

Brought to the stage amid a standing ovation, Robinson told attendees of how he grew up in New York City playing catch with his father, an avid Negro League and Major League Baseball fan. Robinson recounted traveling to the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium with his father to watch games before explaining the hardships he and his fellow black baseball players faced in the 1950s, even after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.

“We traveled by bus, and often we slept on the bus,” Robinson recalled, explaining the dearth of services and accommodations available to blacks in many Southern cities and towns.

Robinson was quick to explain that despite the condition, he never felt like giving up because he was playing the game he loved.

“It didn’t matter, we were having fun,” he said.

Sometimes, as in any pro sport, all that fun led to players getting hurt. But Robinson said that because there were only a dozen players on each Negro League team, no one ever wanted to admit when they were injured.

“You didn’t want to tell the manager that you couldn’t play the next day, because there was al­ways someone in the town who wanted to try out for the team,” he explained. “We had a first aid kit with nothing in it except some bandages and rubbing alcohol. You’d have a teammate rub down your knee after the game and hope that was all it needed.”

Robinson also pointed out that many aspects of the game that people enjoy today were brought to the big leagues by black ballplayers. Integral actions like base-stealing were not common in the majors until black ballplayers were allowed to join major league teams.

Robinson emphasized the importance of Negro League baseball, saying the league is an “important part of American history.” It certainly made an impression on “Oil Can” Boyd, who acknowledged Patrick, Robinson and the contest winners for their outstanding work.

Speaking with a distinct Southern accent cultivated growing up in Mississippi, Boyd — the only fifth-generation professional baseball player in history — talked about his father and grandfather, both of whom were Negro League players and told him stories of the league’s greats as a young boy.

“My Negro League baseball roots inspired me to be a professional baseball player,” Boyd explained.

After the guests’ speeches, the essay contest winners were given their awards. The elementary and middle school children received gift bags from Shaw’s containing, among other items, a CD stereo. The high school winners received $1,500 college scholarships.

Peter Guillen, 17, a junior at Fenway High School, said he found out about the contest through the Passport College Prep program.

“I received a phone call during lunch saying I was a winner. I was real excited,” said Guillen, who said he is considering attending the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the University of New Hampshire and Morehouse College in Atlanta.