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MLB celebrates youth for Black History Month

Highlights include Breaking Barriers essay contest, Play Ball events
MLB.com @DKramer_

Continuing its efforts with youth-focused initiatives off the field, Major League Baseball announced Wednesday that it will roll out multiple events with a central focus on children as part of a league-wide celebration of Black History Month.

Headlining the various celebrations will be the first Play Ball event in Nashville, Tenn., hosted by MLB Youth Programs on Saturday. Play Ball has become the signature platform for MLB's youth engagement, with events throughout the calendar year. The Nashville event is intended to raise awareness and encourage participation in the local Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program, which is geared toward getting young people from underserved and diverse communities to play baseball and softball, while also encouraging academic achievement.

Continuing its efforts with youth-focused initiatives off the field, Major League Baseball announced Wednesday that it will roll out multiple events with a central focus on children as part of a league-wide celebration of Black History Month.

Headlining the various celebrations will be the first Play Ball event in Nashville, Tenn., hosted by MLB Youth Programs on Saturday. Play Ball has become the signature platform for MLB's youth engagement, with events throughout the calendar year. The Nashville event is intended to raise awareness and encourage participation in the local Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program, which is geared toward getting young people from underserved and diverse communities to play baseball and softball, while also encouraging academic achievement.

Among the other initiatives that will be celebrated include an essay contest through the Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life program, with Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie Robinson. Robinson is slated to speak to children about her father and the foundation of the Breaking Barriers program. Robinson will be visiting the Texas Rangers' MLB Youth Academy in Dallas on Feb. 14 and will be in Houston on Feb. 16. Her visits are part of an annual promotional tour, which has also included visits to the MLB Youth Academies Compton, Calif., Cincinnati, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Washington.

Founded in 1997, Breaking Barriers is a bilingual education program developed by Robinson with the support of MLB and Scholastic Inc. The essay contest, which encourages children to write about barriers or obstacles they have faced or are currently facing, highlights nine values -- commitment, citizenship, courage, determination, excellence, justice, persistence, teamwork and integrity -- which were the pillars demonstrated by Jackie Robinson, who broke MLB's color barrier in 1947.

The contest will award 10 student winners, with a grand prize winner from grades four to six receiving the chance to attend this year's All-Star Game at Nationals Park. The grand prize winners for grades seven through nine will have the chance to attend this year's World Series.

Also part of the Black History Month celebration will be the Andre Dawson Classic, a baseball tournament in its 11th year for historically black colleges and universities, which will be held at the MLB Youth Academy in New Orleans. Formerly known as the Urban Invitational, the round-robin tournament will feature six HBCU teams -- Alabama State, Alcorn State, Grambling State, Prairie View A&M, Southern University and Arkansas at Pine Bluff -- as well as the University of New Orleans and University of Illinois at Chicago. Two of the games will air on MLB Network Feb. 17.

Many of MLB's 30 clubs will also be celebrating Black History Month with their own events.

In Atlanta, the Braves will host "Braves Untold," featuring untold stories of individuals connected to the organization told through the club's website and social media channels. The club will also oversee an apprenticeship program connected to Bill Lucas, the Majors' first African-American general manager, at Clark Atlanta University on Feb. 12. There will also be a youth clinic sponsored by the Braves' RBI Program in Montgomery, Ala., on Feb. 24, which will include a field refurbishment announcement through the Atlanta Braves Foundation.

In Cincinnati, Reds Hall of Fame member Dave Parker will be speaking to elementary school students on Feb. 13 at the P&G Reds MLB Youth Academy. The Reds have also purchased Jackie Robinson themed books to donate to local churches, libraries and other community organizations for the second straight year. And throughout the month, the Reds Hall of Fame & Museum is offering self-guided tours showcasing memorabilia from past and present African-American Reds players. Fans will also have the chance to meet former Negro Leagues player, Paul Jones, on Feb. 24.

In Kansas City, Royals Hall of Fame members and Kaycee "The W Guy" will make several visits to local elementary schools to share Jackie Robinson's legacy.

In Oakland, A's staff members will visit a local elementary school to read to students as part of African-American literature week. The club will also host a panel discussion for local activists, and on Feb. 25, will host the inaugural Black Joy Parade, which will provide a live experience celebrating influences on cultures past, present and future.

In Philadelphia, the Phillies will be joined by Mahlene Duckett Lee -- daughter of the late Maholn Duckett, who played for the Philadelphia Stars throughout the 1940s and was the Negro National League Rookie of the Year in 1940 -- to share stories about her father's experiences. The club will also make a special visit to William Rowen Elementary.

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.