Sharon Robinson, author of Stealing Home, a memoir of her family life with baseball dad Jackie Robinson, held court last Friday at what’s becoming the Island’s clubhouse, The Oyster Bar & Grill. From weddings to fundraisers, the trendy eatery at the top of Circuit avenue in Oak Bluffs, with high wooden booths and brown satin curtains that put you in mind of Renoir and absinthe-sippers, has hosted a string of special events. This past Friday it was the scene of Ms. Robinson’s talk, the third in a NAACP series of summer luncheons.
Ms. Robinson — also the author of a romance novel, Still The Storm, and a slew of young adult and kids’ books, all with an emphasis on sports and values — spoke of her family, her family’s ties to the Island, and the social change work to which she remains committed.
Martha’s Vineyard NAACP president Natalie Dickerson introduced Ms. Robinson as a close childhood friend from their mutual growing-up days in Stamford, Conn., explaining how their families had integrated their neighborhood out in the countryside.
Another Vineyard family from the same long ago milieu was Peter Simon’s; Peter’s mother, Andrea Simon, upon discovering that Jackie Robinson’s family was being barred from residency in her Stamford neighborhood, worked indefatigably to break down the barriers. Later, as construction began on the Robinson home, on a wooded property alongside a lake, the baseball player, his wife and kids lived with the Simons in their nearby home for the duration of that first autumn.
Ms. Robinson explained that because she was only six years old when her father resigned from baseball, his ground-breaking status as the first black player in the major leagues, established 12 years before with the Brooklyn Dodgers, was lost on her until understanding came with age. Until that, dad was just Dad, although an exceptional one for all that: “My father always told us to find work we love, but as a family we would devote ourselves to social change. We did jazz concerts at our house to raise money for civil rights. The first one was in 1963, a fundraiser for Dr. King, who attended.”
Jackie Robinson, although a brilliant athlete, never learned how to swim. Consequently summers beside the Robinsons’ lake would find the kids in the water and Dad on a lawn chair. Ms. Robinson described a winter scene of her dad checking the ice by patrolling the pond’s surface, prodding with a broomstick, at last declaring it safe for skating.
Twelve years ago Ms. Robinson, a nurse and a mid-wife before becoming an author, launched a program with Major League Baseball. She travels the country teaching kids strategies to overcoming barriers, just as her father had done. She brings players into classrooms and has the students write essays about their own experiences of surmounting hurdles. In this past year, 11,000 children submitted essays. One was a boy born blind and with cerebral palsy who became the top reader in his class. The grand prize winner was a Milwaukee girl with a drug abusing mother; despite life in a homeless shelter, the girl maintains a 4.0 grade average and intends to be a judge when she grows up.
The first of the NAACP’s luncheons featured broadcaster Skip Finley, and the second, corporate mover and shaker Yvonne R. Jackson.
The final and fourth August event, at noon today, August 29, the NAACP will present both Dr. Gregory H. Tignor and Dr. Ernest Hardaway, both with illustrious backgrounds in medicine and research.
Ms. Dickerson gives credit to NAACP board member, Fred Mascolo, a.k.a. Trader Fred, for coming up with the idea for the August luncheon speaker program. But activities don’t stop with summer’s end. Ms. Dickerson enumerated year-round events for the Island’s NAACP: the holiday bazaar at the Oak Bluffs School, the Kwanzaa celebration in the parish house of the Camp Ground, and Martin Luther King commemorations.
Coming up is the Tankard Memorial Road Race on Sept. 13, Tivoli Day, beginning with a one mile fun race, following by a more serious five kilometer event, The race starts at the Wesley Hotel and loops around the harbor. Inaugurated six years ago, it has been organized by George V. Tankard, Mandred Henry, Rupert Hughes, Jerry Lamb and selectman Roger Wey, whose 90-year-old dad completed the race. Proceeds benefit the NAACP.
Judging by the turnout and the rapt attention paid to Ms. Robinson last Friday, the August luncheon program at the Oyster Bar will prove another tradition-in-the-making for the mightily active Martha’s Vineyard chapter.