Baseball legend’s son promotes nonprofit at U

Jackie Robinson’s son, David Robinson, visited the University to talk about his work with the St. Paul-based nonprofit, Books for Africa.

David Clarey

Baseball and coffee rarely go hand-in-hand, but David Robinson, the son of baseball legend Jackie Robinson, gave a speech at the University of Minnesota Thursday that touched on both.

David Robinson, 64, grew up during the Civil Rights Era and was raised by the first African American to play in Major Legue Baseball.

Robinson, who helps run coffee cooperatives in Tanzania, visited Minnesota to promote Books for Africa, a St. Paul-based nonprofit that donates books and creates libraries for coffee farmers and their communities in Western Tanzania.

About 60 people gathered in a lecture hall on the University’s West Bank to hear Robinson speak.

University President Eric Kaler introduced Robinson and spoke about the importance of minority atheletes’ right to protest peacefully.

Robinson talked about the start of his coffee business in Tanzania, Sweet Unity Farms, and about his life in that country for the last 30 years.

After his speech, Robinson sat down for a Q&A with the Minnesota Daily.

Why did you decide to work in the coffee industry?

Coffee was — and still is — a large foreign exchange earner; a large portion of the Tanzanian economy. America is the largest consumer in coffee. So again there is a natural linkage between the country of my birth and the country in which I live now. We always wanted Tanzania to be involved in global development, so putting together the natural consumer-producer linkage was perfect.

You have 10 kids. Do you anticipate them continuing to work on the coffee farm?

I’m playing the odds. Out of 10 I’m figuring I get, I’m hoping for 20-30 percent. If I can get two or three kids out of it and into the business, I would be most grateful. Its good work, and hopefully we will have created a business that is sustainable and they will want to be involved in.

You father, Jackie Robinson, is an icon in American history. What do you tell your kids about him?

That he was a great baseball player. He brought a lot of baseball skills to the game. But his greatest desire and his greatest impact was on the social level. He wanted to have integration benefit his family, the African-American community and the American community. His impact on the baseball field, yeah, it made for a heck of an exciting game, but I think the greatest excitement was in the transition of social attitudes, where people could all of a sudden see people they did not regard or respect and brought life and brought capacity and ability through a national sport.

Many kids feel pressure to live up to their parents’ image, but you’re something of a special case with that. What was that like for you?

I was the youngest and so he had retired from baseball by time I had become a conscious kid. So there’s probably some benefits in that positioning. I remember him as a father and my memories are … I used to love to play golf, and I used to love to caddie for him. So we had that time together on the golf course. I used to love to fish, and he used to go fishing with me … and as I got to get older and seeing the greatness, that was certainly something you wanted to respect by emulating. That was a good model for me, as both a father and a career.

Social and racial tensions are mounting internationally, what’s your take on the racial tensions in the U.S.?

I don’t think its anything new. They’ve been trying to evolve an equitable and respectful society forever. And humanity is on that same course, whether its racial or multinational. I think we need to honestly confront the truth and make that a priority discussion, because none of that is going to go well without progressive, respectful human relationships … I think we need to be grateful for everybody that’s trying to raise those issues and be understanding and accepting of the way they are raising them, as long as they are raising them in nonviolent ways. Everybody’s got a beef, but we can’t be planting bombs in each others communities. But other than that we need to hear the voice of protest. And it may not sound like the music we’d like to hear so much, but its carrying critical messages so we need to hear them, and we need to keep them going.