In 1948, Jackie Robinson moved into a Brooklyn townhouse and befriended his new neighbor, a young boy named Steve Satlow. Robinson’s daughter, Sharon, has memorialized their story in her new book, The Hero Two Doors Down. As the narrative unfolds, readers learn powerful lessons on overcoming adversity, embracing differences, and acting with empathy. In the book, and in reality, Steve’s friendship with Jackie lasted throughout the ballplayer’s life. As with so much of Robinson’s powerful legacy, it lives on through his daughter, Sharon.
Q | Tell us about your inspiration for The Hero Two Doors Down.
A | The book is based on a true story about a boy named Steve Satlow, who befriended my father, Jackie Robinson, when my family lived in Brooklyn in 1948. Working for Major League Baseball, I’ve seen the reaction of thousands of kids when they meet their favorite players—this book lets kids imagine what it’s like to have their hero living next door.
Q | What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
A | I hope that readers get carried into a world that is largely unknown to them and find joy in imagining themselves befriending their biggest hero. I also hope that they’ll be inspired to take action against bullying and learn to embrace kids from different races, religions, and cultures.
Q | Why write for kids?
A | Sharing stories with kids makes me happy. I particularly enjoy receiving their letters. While they universally love stories about my father, it’s the fictional characters that truly hit home.
Q | In the book, Jackie teaches Steve to keep his head held high when people say mean things. Is that a lesson your dad taught you?
A | I grew up observing my father fight back against injustice. He was relentless in his demand for respect and equality. I also remember both pride and defiance in the faces, posture, words, and songs of civil-rights activists. A song comes to mind: “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around….” It takes inner strength and character to beat your opponent.
Q | Jackie also tells Steve: “A life is not important except for the impact it has on other lives.”
A | Every day, we hear stories of amazing kids who have [encountered] a problem and come up with an action to address it. They help out with younger siblings, wash cars, sell lemonade, raise money, send snacks to soldiers, and run in races to support a cause.
Yet for too many children, every day is a struggle just to survive at home and in a tough neighborhood. These kids must be given additional support and encouragement to change their personal trajectory and impact their community. It begins with getting educated within environments that respect differences, holding all children to high standards, and finding ways to keep parents involved. When kids develop empathy for others and find an outlet, they will understand my father’s philosophy of life.
Q | You and your mother, Rachel Robinson, recently watched the unreleased documentary Jackie Robinson for the first time. What was that like for you?
A | My mother and I screened the four-hour documentary at Ken Burns’s New York office. Ken Burns and his daughter, Sarah, sat behind us studying our body language. As the credits rolled, Mom and I sat quietly for a few minutes unable to speak. We were caught up in the power and emotion of an incredible work of art and the fullness of a life. Finally, we hugged, laughed, and congratulated Ken and Sarah.
Q | Can you share a bit about what viewers can expect to see when it’s released this spring?
A | It’s beautifully told in multiple strong voices. We were amazed at the amount of research! There were photos we had never seen and input from historians that brought clarity to the story, put Jackie’s life into historical context, and deconstructed myths.
In addition, there were so many brilliant moments: Jamie Foxx quoting Jackie Robinson; [my mother] Rachel’s honest and compelling voice; President Obama’s and First Lady Michelle Obama’s reflections; a scene where Jackie meets a trio of young black boys in a candy store and ends up buying them ice cream; a chilling moment from Jackie’s adolescence where a policeman shoves a gun in his ribs.
I could go on and on. The documentary is extraordinary.
Q | Did you have any favorite teachers growing up?
A | I integrated my elementary school. I was shy at school. My fifth-grade teacher challenged me to get involved in politics, and I began a long journey to find my voice. My mother is also one of my best teachers. She is a constant source of inspiration and strength.
Q | What’s next for you?
A | I just signed a long-term contract with Major League Baseball [as an education consultant], so retirement is not a part of my lexicon! I’m working on a novel, considering a memoir, and splitting my time between my family in New York and my home in Sarasota.
Photo: John Vecchiolla