PHILADELPHIA -- Jackie Robinson's life story seems more important than ever today.
Sharon Robinson, daughter of the Hall of Famer and activist who broke baseball's color barrier, told his story to students Thursday night at the Ryan Howard Training Center in South Philadelphia, where they participated in the "Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life" program and essay contest.
"It's a character and education program," said Robinson, who toured the Phillies MLB Urban Youth Academy beforehand. "It teaches kids that barriers or obstacles are a part of life. I've always felt that character was an aspect of my father's legacy that could really help kids today. It's something we all need. He had the talent certainly, but it was the character that was attractive to [Dodgers executive] Branch Rickey and got him through the early years and the other challenges he had throughout his life."
The essay contest encourages students to describe how they have overcome personal barriers in their own lives through the example of Jackie Robinson. Top prizes for winners include trips to the 2017 All-Star Game in Miami and the 2017 World Series and laptop computers.
Past winners wrote essays about battles with cancer, cerebral palsy, stuttering and a grandparent's death.
"Reaching kids is a mission, and I feel very comfortable with it," Robinson said. "And telling my dad's story ... we started having these discussions when I was around 10 about politics. We always talked at the dining-room table about the Civil Rights Movement. We were integrating our schools and all of that. My dad taught me about family mission at that point. He said we need to have a family mission. I just feel like I'm part of that."
And in a country that currently seems so divided, the lessons learned from Jackie Robinson's barrier-breaking life might help.
"There is hope," Sharon Robinson said. "That's why I really love history. It's because we have been here before. This is not the first time we've had to face an identity crisis, injustices. It is part of life. Therefore, if you look back and see how people handled it, it's going to pull from those strengths.
"We've been here before. Not only do you struggle and survive, but you want to get them so they're thriving in their lives. That's where you get your hope from. It's by knowing that rebellion and action is all part of that struggle."
For more information about the essay contest visit: scholastic.com/breakingbarriers.
Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.