NEW YORK -- On Thursday, three days after Jackie Robinson Day was celebrated across Major League Baseball, Robinson's daughter Sharon visited two young students who embody what Jackie stood for at their elementary school in Valley Steam, N.Y.
Fifth grader Asma Kaukab of Shaw Avenue Elementary was this year's grand prize winner of the Breaking Barriers essay contest. Asma's classmate, Hafsa Asghar, was also one of eight MVP prize winners of the contest.
Breaking Barriers, created by Sharon Robinson, MLB and Scholastic in 1997, asks students to write essays on barriers they've faced and how they've overcome them through the core values Jackie Robinson demonstrated in his life -- commitment, citizenship, courage, determination, excellence, justice, persistence, teamwork and integrity.
"We need to celebrate these young people that have written extraordinary stories about their lives," Sharon Robinson said. "They've grown as individuals and grown in internal strength. I want to celebrate that with them. I want to celebrate it with their families, and with their school, and thank the teachers who helped all of them tell their stories."
As the Breaking Barriers contest winner, Asma will be honored at the 2019 MLB All-Star Game in July. She and Hafsa will also be recognized separately by the Mets at a game this season.
At Thursday's assembly at Shaw Avenue Elementary, Asma and Hafsa read their essays in front of their classmates, teachers and families, with Robinson looking on. Asma wrote about facing discrimination and bullying because her family is Muslim and she wears a hijab. Hafsa wrote about the difficulties she faced when her mother passed away at a young age and her family moved to the U.S.
"When you tell your story and put it down on paper, it strengthens you. It allows you to get it out," Robinson said. "To be able to share it really shows the courage of both girls."
Robinson also spoke to the Shaw students about her father, who broke baseball's color barrier when he made his Major League debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947 -- 72 years ago Monday. MLB has commemorated that anniversary with Jackie Robinson Day since 2004.
"At the heart of the Breaking Barriers program is Jackie Robinson being a barrier breaker in life as well as in sports," Robinson said. "You have this moment when baseball has paused to recognize Jackie Robinson, and our family and foundation have been a part of that. [Breaking Barriers is] a chance, while Jackie Robinson has this moment of visibility, to bring the kids in and help them understand who he was and how his accomplishments apply to their life."
This year is also the 100th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's birth on Jan. 31, 1919, and Jackie Robinson Day was at the center of a yearlong centennial celebration put together by MLB and the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
Sharon was in Los Angeles to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day with the Dodgers, along with her brother David and their mother Rachel, Jackie's widow, as well as iconic Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully and 42 Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars and alumni.
"It was a great celebration," Robinson said. "Everything was just so touching... L.A. was incredible. But so was across the country, to be able to see the replays of the day... It's been a very unusual, very special centennial celebration and Jackie Robinson Day."