Sharon Robinson: 2019 National Book Festival

Sharon Robinson: 2019 National Book Festival


>>Monica Valentine:
Good afternoon. My name is Monica Valentine, and I work in the
Library of Congress. Sharon Robinson is the
award-winning author of several books including
“The Hero Two Doors Down”, “Under the Same Sun”,
“Jackie’s Gift”, and “Jackie Robinson:
American Hero”. She is the daughter of
baseball legend Jackie Robinson, the first black player to
break major league baseball’s color barrier. She carries forward
his legacy today as an educational consultant
for major league baseball and as the Vice Chair of Women of the Jackie Robinson
Foundation. In her newest book, “Child of
the Dream: A Memoir of 1963” due out September 3rd, Sharon
writes candidly about her life as a teenager during the
emerging Civil Rights Movement and the role her family
played in supporting it. She shares with the reader the
racial tension she experiences as one of only a, one of
only two black students in her Connecticut high school. Sharon explores the impact
of the Civil Rights Movement on her life, her
family, and the world from her unique perspective. Please give a warm
welcome to Sharon Robinson. [ Applause ]>>Sharon Robinson:
Good afternoon. Thank you for coming. I love these bean bags,
and I have too many things. So, let me just put
something down here. So, I’m so happy to
be back in Washington. I actually lived, I have
a tail, so I’m going to, it’s kind of trailing
behind me here. Feels funny. Anyway, I’m so happy to
be back in Washington. I went to college here,
went to Howard University. And, I also, then, came
back and as a faculty at Howard and Georgetown. So, it’s always wonderful
to be back here. I’m here with my family. Can my nieces please stand up? Sonia and Meta. [ Applause ] Thank you for coming. Meta took the bus
down from New York, so she gets the real
prize today. She traveled the furthest. So, I’m really thrilled to share
“Child of a Dream” with you. It’s a memoir. 1963 I turned 13,
and the inspiration for this book was the Children’s
March in Birmingham, Alabama. So, I’ll tell you more
about that as we go forward. But, it’s, I wanted to write about the Children’s March
for a very long time. I did a lot of research about
it, and we kept trying to, you know, work with my
editor trying to figure out from what angle I
wanted to tell the story. And, finally, he convinced
me to do it as a memoir, and I wasn’t thrilled
with the idea. But, as it turns out,
he was absolutely right. And, in the research, as I
found out, I had to do research on myself as well
as on my family, not just on the Civil
Rights Movement when I was preparing this book. So, I’m really, the reason
why I like it, the blending of the stories is
that turning 13. Are any of you guys
13 or 11 or 12? Any 12 year olds? How old are you? Ten. Okay. You’re close. How about you? Eleven. Okay. Well, I have a 13-year-old
grandson, so know, I’m very, very familiar with
these transitions in this next generation. But, for me, it was
a big turning point, and one I was very nervous
about because my older brother, after he turned a teenager,
he really struggled. And, I was like, you know,
I kind of anticipated that I was going to be
struggling as much as he was. So, it was also 1963 was such
a pivotal moment in our country in terms of us really pushing
the Civil Rights Movement forward and getting to the point where we got the Civil
Rights Act of 1964 passed. So, it was, and it was
also a very important year for my family because my father, who I’ll tell you a little
bit more about after. He had been going south for
the movement and traveling across the country and coming
back and telling us stories. And, my brothers and I
were integrated our schools in Stanford. But, you know, we wanted to go,
we wanted to travel with him. We wanted to be a part
of the larger movement. We didn’t really feel like what
we were doing was, you know, working towards change. You know, we kind of
took it very personal and just thought we
were just, you know, integrating our schools. But, it wasn’t anything like
what was happening down south. So, we didn’t think very much
about what we were doing, but we wanted to be part
of the larger movement. And, my father did not agree
to take us to Birmingham, but he said he would
work it out. So, in 1963, he defined
for us out family mission and our family, and
essentially our family legacy. And so, it’s a year
I will never forget, and I will never
forget his words to us. But, I’m going to share the
story with you through pictures. So, you know, one of the
things my father told me right up front was that, you know, you
can’t, we may pass this bill, we may pass this Civil Rights
Bill, but that’s not going to, doesn’t mean we’ll
eliminate hate. And, yet, I found that my
parents also taught me to hope and that if we lifted
our voices, we could make a difference. So, that’s the kind of work I
do with kids in schools and have for the past 24 years, and
it’s, I think it’s effective because I judge it based on
an essay contest we’ve done for 24 years where kids have to
define an obstacle in their life and talk about how
they’re getting beyond it. And, in that process, and show
the process of moving forward. And then, I go out to the
schools and visit the, it’s an essay contest, so
the winners in their schools. And, we bring them the ballparks
and also we’re honoring one of them this year
at the World Series. So, you know, it’s a program
that encourages kids to speak, to have a voice, and
it also lets them know that we care, we’re listening. And, from what they tell me, and
many of these kids have stayed in touch with me, you know, it really did help them
feel, gain confidence. And, that’s what my
work has been about. And, that work is actually with Major League
Baseball and Scholastic. So, anyway, so I want to
tell this story a little bit through pictures. I just finished this CSPAN,
and incredible Peter said, showed pictures, these same
pictures I’m going to show you that are in the book,
and he said, “So, are all these pictures set ups?” And, I was like,
“Yeah, you know.” So, you’ll see that
they’re lovely pictures and I’m very happy we
have them in our archives, but most of my family shots
were for Life Magazine or something like that. And, you know, we
didn’t have phones with instant cameras back then. So, this picture is my birthday,
and that’s my mom and dad and my brother, my
older brother Jackie. And, you know, we really
did celebrate birthdays, but this was a setup. So, my younger brother
David was born. Well, I won’t say what
year because we don’t want to discuss years
that we were born. But anyway, he’s
my younger brother. He’s a little younger than I am. Not much. Looks older,
though, I’ll tell you. I don’t know. He lives in Tanzania,
East Africa. David is a coffee grower and
the father of ten children. So, he has repopulated
our entire family. So, when David was born,
we moved from Queens, actually Queens was,
our neighborhood in Queens was an
integrated neighborhood. A number of ball
players and entertainers, black entertainers lived
in this neighborhood. And, the reason why we moved
was my father wanted privacy. And so, he wanted to have the
land, and we moved to Stanford, Connecticut and we
had six acres. And, we were, had woods on all
the corners of our property. So, it did give us
a privacy we wanted. So, we really had a
very normal childhood in that we had a great deal
of freedom on our property, and we love nature,
and we loved all of the activities
around the lake. So, that was important to us because when we left
our property, we then became a public family. And, we understood the
difference, and, but it was fine because we had all
this privacy at home. So, ultimately, we
sort of agreed that it was a good decision, but
as we became teenagers, that, we didn’t need all that
privacy as teenagers. We needed friends. And so, it became more of
an isolating experience as we entered out teenage
years because the black friends that we were beginning
to make lived downtown. And, it was ten miles of a
public bus that ran, you know, every five hours or something. You know, we had to walk a
mile to get to it, and we. So, we didn’t have great
access to our friends downtown. So, this is another
setup shot, I will admit. But, this is my family. Besides, probably in the late
’50s, probably just shortly after Dad retired from baseball, this is after he’s
announcing his retirement. And, we actually had a trophy
room in our house, and we had a, it was kind of interesting
because our playroom, and I put quotes around that
because I’ll tell you why. But anyway, we had to pass
through the trophy room to get to our playroom. So, you, our friends
were always stopping and looking at trophies. And, we were trying to pass
through as fast as we could, you know, because
as we got teenagers, it created a certain anxiety
to go through this trophy room. You know, what, how
will, what are we going to be successful at, and it really brought
up questions for us. But, in the trophy, in the
playroom, my brother Jackie, who is a very good
pool player, he, my parents bought him a
professional pool table. So, that took up about, Sonia,
do you remember that pool table? Where’s Sonia? You do, yeah. So, the pool table took
over half the playroom, and then my father, when
he discovered there was such a thing as an indoor golf
range, he took the other corner over here as his, you know,
for his indoor putting. Which left me, I, my favorite
thing was making milkshakes. So, I had the soda
fountain which, you know, so that was our playroom. But, so, in 1957, my father
retired from baseball, and most of you kids
probably know my dad as a baseball player,
am I right? You heard Jackie Robinson
the baseball player. Yeah? No. Yeah. Okay. So, he played for
the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the Dodgers are now,
where are the Dodgers now? Anybody know? L.A., yeah. And, we’re going to be in the World Series
this year, too, I must. And, we’re going to win. My prediction. Maybe we’ll play the Yankees. Wouldn’t that be fun? So, in, so he played for the
Dodgers a total of ten years, and he retired in 1957. So, what happened is my father
started playing for the Dodgers when he was older because
remember he broke the color barrier. So, he didn’t have an
opportunity to play with them when he was a younger
person, a younger man. So, he played later in life
which meant he retired at, in his late 30s which
is sort of normal. So, when he retired, and
this particular picture is us when he’s, you know, having
this, you know, they do parties or ceremonies or whatever
around the retirement. It actually was a
surprising retirement because my father had been
traded to the Giants, and we, you know, that was our hated
team, the New York Giants. So, he knew he wasn’t going, but
he told them I’ll do the best. I’ll give it my best shot. And then, immediately set
forward is retirement plan. And, announced it not
at a press conference with sports writers
but in Life Magazine. So, this is one of
the ceremonies. Now, I want to point out
a person in this picture, and I don’t even know if my nieces really
know her very well. Oh, over here. I’m sorry. I’m pointing down. You can’t even see that. But, this lady here is my
grandmother, and that’s, her name is Zellie Isom, and
she’s my mother’s mother. And, she came to live
with us when we were ten. And, you’ll see in the
book, Zellie, you know, was so important to me. She taught me to cook. She taught me to knit,
but more importantly, she kind of helped me have a
structure during my teen years. And, I would come home, and
so my grandmother wanted me to be a nurse and she wanted to
guarantee that I would be nurse. So, I would meet her in her room
when I came home from school, and we would have a
knitting lesson in front of General Hospital where she
would point out all the virtues of the doctors and nurses. And then, as I got
older, she said, told me that in her bedside
table, she kept romance books about doctors and nurses. So, that was like
even saying, “See, you can even have romance
if you go into this.” Anyway, my grandmother
got her way. I became a nurse. This is my best friend Candy. Candy and I continue to be
close, although we live, she lives in London, and I live
in, all over, New York, Florida. But, we, so she’s a
partner in this book. And, it was Candy and
I, Candy came to Hoyte when we were in fifth grade. So, that meant I was no
longer the only black child in the school. It was Candy and I, and
that sort of helped us through junior high school. This is our junior
high school pic. I love the hair. We used to tease
our hair back then. You remember? Even the black girls teased
their hair a little bit. So, everybody’s hair
stood up very high. It’s my dad. After he retired, he became Vice
President of Chock Full o’ Nuts. So, his first year after
retirement he made a deal with Mr. Black who owned,
who was the President of Chock Full o’ Nuts that
he would be able to travel for the Civil Rights Movement. So, his first year, he was a
fundraiser solely for the NAACP, and he traveled the country
raising money for them. The NAACP at that point was our
premiere legal organization. We needed them to change these
laws we were trying to change. So, this is my dad
and Dr. King became, started doing some partnerships. When my dad was elected to
the Hall of Fame in 1962, Dr. King had a dinner for
him at the Waldorf Astoria, and it was to raise
money for SCLC. So, now, he was also
raising money for SCLC. And then, Dr. King would have
him come down to various things. For example, when Dr. King
was in Albany, Georgia, which he was just before
they moved into Birmingham, my father came down for a voter
registration drive, and they, he arrived the day that two
churches had been bombed in Albany, Georgia. And, Dr. King, my father made
a contribution right then for the rebuilding, and Dr. King
said, “Would you be the lead, the fundraising nationally for
churches that have been bombed?” And so, that was my,
their first, kind of, collaborative fundraising
activity. So, I open the book with a
scene from my 13th birthday which was a really
low-key birthday party. At this point in my life, I
was just having sleepovers with girls, and but this year, I
only had one person at my party. And, I was, so I
was creating my, when I start writing my book, I was writing this first
scene, my 13th birthday. And, I knew Candy was
there, and you know, I kind of knew what we did. But, you know, I was writing,
and I go, “Wait a minute, now, was Jackie home?” And, that’s when I realized
I had done all this research on the Civil Rights Movement
and Dr. King and Birmingham and my dad and blah, blah,
blah, but I had forgotten to, you know, recheck some
facts about us personally. And so, I went, did
my research and found out my dad was actually
in the hospital and had complications
from surgery. My dad had diabetes. So, he, they had
complications from surgery. And so, he was not home
for my 13th birthday. We had to go to the hospital
to celebrate with him. But, I also was worried
about where my brother was because my brother had
gone to boarding school, and I didn’t know if he was back from boarding school
at that time or not. So, I looked, you know, I was
looking up those kind of facts. But, from that, I, you know,
my brother David and I, this is current, were doing, we’re going through my mother’s
attic for, looking for items for the museum, for the
Jackie Robinson Museum which we’re building
in New York City. And, in that process,
we came across, my mother had kept
files on each of us. And, we found my report cards. I mean, it was like
a treasure chest. She had kept my diary
from when I was 12, the year before the book. And, I found, she kept all
the letters we had written to she and my dad. So, that was very
helpful in the research because it helped me
remember my voice from 13. Because, you know, if
you’re looking back when you’re a child, you have to
remember, like, how did you talk and what were you doing
and what were you thinking. So, in my diary, as juvenile
as it sounded reading it now, it also helped me
see where I was at 12 and how I had this big
shift when I turned 13. So, my dad, after he did some
work with Dr. King early, Dr. King now moves from
Albany, Georgia into Birmingham with the Birmingham Campaign. And, they, the Birmingham
Campaign, they were doing marches and
with adults and families to raise awareness and try to
change the rules in Birmingham. So, it was like, for example,
they closed down the park just so that the blacks would
not come to the city park. So, they wanted the
park open to all people. They had businesses, the Birmingham community had
created their own subculture and their own town almost so they could have all
the resources from stores and grocery stores and
department stores and whatever within their own community
because they were not allowed to shop downtown Birmingham. So, their whole, marches
were, and they also, schools, of course, were segregated,
but they learned from Albany, Georgia that they can’t cover
everything in one campaign. So, they kind of narrowed
the focus and they and said the other thing
they wanted to do was to desegregate schools, but they
wanted to set up a committee to make that happen
and not expect to do it in this three month period
or four month period. So, anyway, so they had,
they weren’t having, they weren’t galvanizing
enough adults, and you know, there was opposition
from white ministers and. This is when King
goes to jail, and he, the white ministers
protest him coming into their town stirring
up trouble. Outsider. You know,
we’re working this through as a community. So, Dr. King responds, because
now he’s in jail, by the, with his “Letter from
a Birmingham Jail”. So, in this photo here, Dr.
King has invited my father, and my father brings
Floyd Patterson with him down to Birmingham
because they need help. They need support. And so, my dad and Floyd
Patterson come down. And, the day they come down,
the next, it was the day after the AG Gaston
Motel had been bombed. So, at the same time,
the beginning of May, King’s associates suggested
having children march because the adults said
they’d lose their jobs. You know, they were scared,
whatever their reasons were for not continuing to march in
enough numbers, they thought, let’s try it with children. And, there was opposition. Some people felt we shouldn’t
use children, and you know, some people felt that
it was an adult problem. But, they started off
with college students and then high school students. Anyway, by May 2nd, they had
trained kids in nonviolence, and these kids left their
schools at noon, marched, as they would leave one school,
they would go to another. Anne Jamerson’s not here is she? Anne is here! Oh, my god. Anne, please stand up. So, Anne, this Anne. [ Applause ] Anne is, I’m so glad you
made it because I forgot to call you and remind you. Anyway, Anne has this
online group called Kids in Birmingham 1963. And, I wanted to be able
to, as I’m writing this, I wanted to talk to kids that
had actually been involved in this march or been involved
in Birmingham during this time. So, I, another friend of Anne’s
and mine connected us together, and I read the profiles online. And, I called or
texted or wrote, I don’t know how
we communicated. Emailed or whatever we did, but
I told Anne I wanted to speak to two people who
had been involved in this Birmingham period. And, Anne connected me to
Dale long and Janice Nixon who I now consider my family. So, we spent exhaustive time
on telephone, and we met. And then, they invite Anne and
Janice invited me to Birmingham which was my fantasy when I
was 13 because I wanted to go with my father to Birmingham
and be a part of this movement and meet these kids and all. And, they invited me
down, and you know, it was just an amazing time. So, thank you Anne. But, so they really were
instrumental in my research in understanding this period. So, this is the, so this is after they visited
the AG Gaston, my dad and Floyd Patterson
also stayed at the same motel. They did a rally at
one of the churches. So, this is from that rally. Okay. So, moving
from Birmingham. I’m sorry I’m talking so fast. It’s a lot of history, but
I just want you to kind of understand the context. So, when my Dad said to us after
he came back from Birmingham. This is after the
children have marched and they’ve been mobilized
the whole country including President Kennedy because the,
they were peaceful and singing and holding placards for
freedom and ending segregation, and the authorities turned the
fire hoses on them, knocking, literally knocking
kids off their feet. And, also, they had
threatened kids with dogs. And, that went public, and
when it was like, today, we would call it going viral,
but you know, this was ’63. So, it was as fast as it could
get spread, but people from all over were writing to Kennedy
and writing editorials in newspapers saying
this can’t be. This can’t be happening
in America. So, you know, you probably
hear some parallels. You know, this, so anyway. So, moving on. So, my dad came home from
Birmingham and said to us, “You know, I hope you’ll
find work that you love, and you’ll always keep
family and God as a priority. But, we’re also going to
have a family mission,” and this he really. So, then, he told us how that since he’s now been
traveling south, he found a way for us, he and my mom had found
a way for us to be involved as a family in the
larger movement. And, that’s when we had our
first jazz concert at our house. Oh, wait. I got to go back one
minute before I get to jazz. The first thing, we had a jazz
concert to raise money for SCLC in our home, and my brothers and I had roles at
that jazz concert. So, it was our first fundraising
activity as a family. And then, we, and then
August, we came down here for the March on Washington. So, this is a photo of
my mother, my brother, and my father at the
March on Washington. And then, we had our second
jazz concert at our home. This is our home in Stanford. You can see the, you know, the
guests all sat on the lawn, and the music was
down at the bottom. And, I’m playing the
flute with Herbie Mann. Very nice. Anyway. And Dr. King
actually came, and Roy Wilkins actually
came to that jazz concert. So, that’s my mom and dad with Martin Luther
King and Roy Wilkins. Roy Wilkins was, at that
point, the head of the NAACP. So, it set in motion a family
legacy that we continue today. We have a Jackie
Robinson Foundation. We, David and I, in our
work have been activists and doing community development,
me as a nurse midwife in women’s health and
moving on to my work with children today
and in my writing. And, my brother David
has this coffee business, but it’s a cooperative of
smaller African farmers. And, they pool their
coffee and sell it here in the United States and do community
development in Tanzania. So, this is a picture
of my dad and I when I’m a little bit older, and we were at a,
it was a push event. So, we, you know, just kind
of showing the activism again. So, that’s, so in
“Child of a Dream” I talk about how I found my own voice
during this 13th year, and it’s, you know, for all of us. I was very shy in
elementary school and never spoke up in class. I was mostly hiding. I wouldn’t even wear my
glasses I was so shy. But, that was because I
was the only black girl, and I didn’t want another
thing that made me different. And so, as I moved into
junior high school, I was kind of forced
into activism because I wanted
to take Spanish. And, I was in too low of a group
to take Spanish, and I realized at that point that
I had been trapped into a low group
based on a test. Not based on my grades
because I had my report cards. And, I literally went to
the Principal and said, “I want to take Spanish,” and
that would mean I would have to be moved up two groups. And, we worked it out,
and I was, he asked why, and I gave him my reasons. And, I moved up two
groups the next year and took foreign language. But, that was my first time I
spoke up for myself or believed that I had a right to speak up. And, it worked, and
from that point on, I tried other things
of activism. But, it’s, you know, finding
your voice is something that’s really important. And, when I talk to you guys
about finding your voice, I’m really talking about,
you know, feeling confident in yourself, believing in
yourself, and being able to, you know, if you’re
having trouble in school or if you’re having
trouble socially, you know where to go for help. Because you believe
it’s, you deserve more. Okay. So, that’s
what I really talk about when I say
“finding your voice”. So, that’s why I wanted to write
“Child of a Dream” because I had to go through that same process
myself, and it’s one, I mean, now I can talk in front
of you and feel confident. But, it wasn’t always like that. Does that make sense? Good. All right. So, where’s my timer. Uh-oh. Wrap it up. Sorry. Can I ask one question? Can we ask for one question? No. Sorry. I forgot to look at you. [laughs] Thank you
all very much. [ Applause ]

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