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citi field kids event in new york (L to R): Michelle Yu (SNY Anchor), Vallerie Rodriguez (UNH), Muhammad Wilkerson (New York Jets DL), Edwin Aguila (UNH) at the 2013 Citi Field Kids event in New York on April 25. (Photo: Steve Campbell Photography)

Five Years of Inspiration

Teens gather for annual Citi Field Kids event in New York

By Amiri Tulloch | April 29 , 2013

On Thursday, more than 200 teenage students from across New York City spent the morning at Citi Field, the home of the New York Mets.

The kids were taking part in the fifth annual Citi Field Kids event. Citi Field Kids was launched in 2009 by Citigroup, the Jackie Robinson Foundation, the Mets, and United Neighborhood Houses (UNH). UNH is a non-profit organization that supplies independent settlement houses throughout New York City and supports low-income residents.

The goal of Citi Field Kids is to provide motivational and educational services to middle and high school students in New York City. One of the ways it does this is by highlighting the example set by Jackie Robinson.

Robinson broke professional baseball's color barrier in 1947 as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He battled through adversity and racism to become a national hero. Robinson's nine values of life – courage, integrity, determination, persistence, citizenship, justice, commitment, teamwork and excellence – are points of emphasis for Citi Field Kids.

Those nine values are enshrined at Citi Field in the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. The kids taking part in this year's Citi Field Kids event began their day by touring the rotunda and the Mets Hall of Fame with former Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars.

After the tour, the teenagers moved into Citi Field's auditorium. Guest speakers included Michelle Yu, a reporter and anchor for SportsNet New York; Nancy Wackstein, executive director of UNH; former Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars including Cory Adams, a 2006 graduate; and New York Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson.

Much of the discussion was focused on education. This was a really important topic since many of the UNH kids were finishing up high school and preparing for college.

"Education is key," Wilkerson said. "I remember when I was in college, and I saw a lot of my teammates getting kicked off the team or suspended because of their grades. That was one thing I didn't want to do."

Overcoming adversity was another talking point. Jackie Robinson was able to stay determined and succeed over the adversity he faced and racism he encountered during his playing days.

"I wasn't there [when he broke the MLB color barrier]," Wilkerson explained. "But, just to know that he went through all of that [racism], death threats, and people telling him to quit, give up, and that he wasn't going to make it, it shows me he has a lot of character to keep pursuing his dreams."

Yu knows first-hand how to overcome racial adversity. She said that people overlooked her because she was a woman, and because she was Chinese – something the kids couldn't believe.

But Yu was determined to become a sportscaster. Eventually, became the first female Asian sportscaster in New York state.

Education, determination, and leading a principled life – that's the takeaway of the Citi Field Kids program. With those three things, kids can do anything, regardless of where they come from.

"You have all of your future ahead of you," Adams told the attentive students. "If Jackie could [break the MLB color barrier] 66 years ago, then you can do anything you want to do today."

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