Let your passion, whatever it may be, drive you to work hard because your hard work will take you places.
Dear Jackie Robinson,
There is so much I want to tell you, but first thing first, thank you.
My name is Morgan Johnson. I am originally from Illinois, grew up in Georgia and am now a student-athlete at Clemson University. I am a competitor at heart and have loved sports since I began playing them at seven years old. My time was mostly split between the two sports I enjoyed the most: softball and basketball. I never fully committed to one, until you were introduced to my life…
In the third grade, I vividly remember looking through my classroom bookshelf and stumbling across a book on the baseball negro leagues. My adolescent eyes were fascinated reading names like yours and Josh Gibson, one of the best hitters in the negro league. I felt connected to your stories and your experiences, even when I was still so naïve. It was after reading the book that I really committed to softball and dove into the sport where I was severely in the minority. The negro league experiences showed me that it was okay to play a sport where I did not look like everyone else. They pushed me to accept the challenge of not always feeling like I belonged in the sport of softball.
As I grew, I experienced more. From those experiences, I learned more. As I learned, I struggled more. And, as I struggled, I questioned more. I questioned if I was good enough for my sport. I questioned if I would ever fit in. I questioned if my passion for softball was worth all the struggles. Through all the questions, I continuously found myself thinking back to you and the struggles you endured. I remembered that even with the countless struggles you and your family faced, both on and off the field, you never gave up. So why would I? My mindset quickly turned to,
I cannot quit either!
I cannot quit either!
My parents always pushed me to be my best self and preserve, but you showed me what perseverance looked like and how to tackle obstacles. You taught me that the color of my skin did not define my skills or my passion to play.
You took your skills on the field and used them to be an activist off the field as well. You used your success to expand conversations of segregation. You broke boundaries. You shut down the hate of your generation by showing the masses that African Americans can play any sport and do anything. The challenge never seemed to phase you and you are now a rock for so many who have come after you.
You have also shown me how to be resilient. I am currently dealing with my second knee injury and have struggled with my role as a Clemson student-athlete; however, your legacy pushes me to not give up. Jackie, I find strength in you and your story. You have inspired me to push through the tough times, to work hard and bounce back even stronger during the most trying time of my career. You emphasized that it is how you finish, how you get back up when things do not go your way in order to show how powerful we are as African American athletes.
You are the perfect example of perseverance and the definition of resilience. You are my constant inspiration, so thank you. Because of you and your legacy, I will continue to keep moving forward. I will continue to be vulnerable. Thank you for setting the stage for African American athletes to become great. Thank you for showing me how to be confident in my own skin and stay true to who I am.
Video courtesy of ESPN
You, along with other powerful African American athletes such as Kobe Bryant, Muhammad Ali, Shay Knighten or Venus and Serena Williams, motivate me to now leave my own legacy at Clemson. For the black athletes to come after me, I want to be an example of perseverance, resilience and passion just like you. Personally, my struggles with injuries and my sense of belonging have not stopped me and therefore I hope to inspire others to push through their battles. Beyond all these attributes, I want to exemplify even more. I want to leave a legacy of being a good teammate and all-around a good person who encourages others. I have had to learn my identity outside of softball and that is something I would love to instill in other young athletes, especially my younger siblings. My legacy does not need to be limited to the field. I want to leave a legacy off the field, just like you did, Jackie.
Through my struggles, I hope I have shown others how to always believe in themselves, trust the process and trust God. I have learned these three lessons are not always the easiest to embrace, but they are necessary for individual success. I live by a quote by Muhammad Ali, “Don’t count the days, make the days count.” I want to be an example of that. The tough times will deter you from trusting yourself and the process, but everything happens for a reason. My legacy will show others to find the positive, even when you can be presented with lots of challenges.
At the end of the day, I would tell those that come after me to do your best, continually strive to reach beyond the limits you feel are in front of you and let God handle the rest. Let your passion, whatever it may be, drive you to work hard because your hard work will take you places. As a black athlete, do not listen to the stereotypes because we can do anything. Prove it to yourself, not others.