High schoolers experience 'Cultural Day' as part of Hank Aaron Week

July 29th, 2023

ATLANTA -- Keenan Jabeth didn’t know where Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King were laid to rest.

The senior outfielder quickly found out when he walked onto the King Center on Saturday and saw the Kings’ white marble tombstone sitting atop the reflecting pool with their names, lifespans and notable sayings engraved in black writing. The moment was so meaningful for Jabeth that he captured a photo.

“I thought it was beautiful to see their gravestones right next to each other on the water,” said Jabeth, who plays for Vero Beach (Fla.) High School and has committed to Florida International University. “It’s beautiful.”

Jabeth was one of the 44 players to experience “Cultural Day” after being selected from the Hank Aaron Invitational, a two-week program of competition, coaching and evaluation that consisted of 200 participants at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach. The chosen few will participate in a special showcase game at Truist Park on Sunday night as part of "Hank Aaron Week."

Before that, though, players and coaches visited the King Center and ate lunch at Paschal's with esteemed guests, including former United Nations ambassador Andrew Young, Billye Aaron (Hank’s widow), Rubye Lucas, Ralph Garr Sr., Braves chairman Terry McGuirk and Braves president and CEO Derek Schiller.

“It’s honoring,” said senior Donte Lewis, who plays outfield at St. Thomas (Texas) High School. “Being around those caliber of people, you don't get that opportunity a lot. So whenever you do, you try to cherish it [and] make the best of it. I even got to shake their hands, so it was a great memory for me all around.”

Players learned about King’s six principles of nonviolence and how each will help a person become courageous. They visited King’s childhood home and burial site and the original Ebenezer Baptist Church to learn about King’s life and the church’s history. Players also heard stories about other important figures and civil rights leaders -- such as Ralph David Abernathy and John Lewis -- who interacted with King and helped fight against racial injustice.

“It just shows you that it takes a village,” said David Hogg, an infielder at Mansfield (Texas) High School and an LSU commit. “It wasn't just MLK. Obviously, he played a huge role -- if not the biggest role -- but just to know that there were a lot of people that were brought into it [and] sacrificed a lot, and to know that they all kind of put their pride aside and were able to work together for a bigger cause -- that was great.”

Players later heard from a panel of Billye Aaron and Young about Hank’s childhood, his parents and his playing career. Young spoke about Hank’s character and how he taught Young’s grandson about his swing. Billye encouraged the high school kids to give back to their community and help others along the way.

“[Hank’s] such an important guy in the world today, and I hope everybody who is striving to become the best baseball player that they can be also thinks about how you become the best person you can be,” McGuirk said. “And that's what Hank Aaron would want you to do today.”

Players enjoyed their day trip across Atlanta and compared “Cultural Day” to popular songs and movies, such as “42,” “Remember the Titans” and “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke.

“It was great,” Hogg said, "just to know that MLB cares about us this much -- to take us not just on the field, but to develop us on and off the field.”