Barrier broken: IS 211 student takes lesson from Jackie Robinson’s legacy

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An IS 211 eighth grader’s fight to improve his math scores and overcome an ugly stereotype has grabbed the attention of the daughter of the biggest barrier-breaker of them all — Jackie Robinson.

Sharon Robinson, noted author and education consultant for Major League Baseball, visited the E. 100th Street school on April 15 — “Jackie Robinson Day” — to honor 13-year-old Canarsie resident William Chambers, whose inspiring story to excel won him this year’s Breaking Barriers Essay Contest.

More than 9,000 essays were submitted, but Chambers’s story about reading a New York Times report indicating that “only 12 percent of black eighth-grade boys are proficient in math,” and then making a personal promise to shatter that stereotype, got Robinson’s attention.

“It’s an inspirational story,” Robinson explained during a special assembly inside the school, which is between Avenue J and Flatlands Avenue, where student-drawn posters of her father hung in the auditorium. “Children are so often told that they can’t do something, but very few have the confidence to override the message.”

Robinson said Chambers’s tenacity reminded her of her father, who broke the color barrier when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 — becoming the first African American to join Major League Baseball.

In 1997, Major League Baseball retired Robinson’s number — 42 — and designated April 15, the day he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers, “Jackie Robinson Day.”

Chambers received a laptop computer for winning the contest. He also got a chance to celebrate his win with Sharon Robinson at Yankee Stadium that Friday night to watch the Bronx Bombers take on the Texas Rangers.

Chambers, who is black, said that when he read the Times article, “I got an anger inside of me.”

But instead of shrugging it off, he steeled himself to do better at math. Today, Chambers is in an advanced math course, his teachers say.

Chambers said he was “extremely happy” to win the essay contest and learn more about Jackie Robinson’s victory over discrimination.

“Jackie Robinson overcame a lot of obstacles in his lifetime, more than I thought,” Chambers said.

And if Jackie himself was on hand to present Chambers with the Breaking Barrier’s award?

“I would faint,” Chambers said.

Updated 3:07 pm, October 19, 2011
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