In Jackie Robinson's birthplace, a new generation draws inspiration
Aniyah Peters, 13, belongs to a Boys and Girls Club that was recently renamed to honor Jackie Robinson.
April 27th, 2013
09:00 AM ET

In Jackie Robinson's birthplace, a new generation draws inspiration

By Moni Basu, CNN

Cairo, Georgia  (CNN) - Aniyah Peters wishes her white teachers would talk about Jackie Robinson as much as her black teachers do. After all, Aniyah, 13, goes to school in Cairo, the small southwest Georgia city where Robinson was born in 1919.

Jackie Robinson

The man who broke modern-day baseball's color barrier could serve as inspiration for all children, Aniyah says. Just as he has inspired her.

This year, Aniyah came in second in a local essay contest on "How has the life of Jackie Robinson changed my life?"

"He showed the world that African-Americans can be just as good as Caucasians during the time of racial discrimination," Aniyah wrote. "Since I really love softball, he has shown me I can make it to the major leagues and become famous one day."

Aniyah has no shortage of ambition coursing through her veins. She wants to be a lawyer, an archaeologist and a fashion designer all at once.

She and her friends Destiny Tice, 14, and D.J. Donaldson, 14, hang out every day after school at the Grady County Boys and Girls Club, which was recently renamed to honor Robinson. On this warm afternoon, Aniyah says she is excited about going to see "42," the new Hollywood biopic about Robinson. Maybe over the weekend.

On the previous Friday, when the movie opened, the kids formed the number 42 on the baseball field and released red and blue balloons into the spring air.

"This place keeps us off the streets," Aniyah says with the wisdom of a mother. She talks about how Cairo is still a tough place for poor black kids to grow up. There's a lot of poverty and drugs and not much incentive to accomplish things in life.

"We recognize we don't have the same opportunities. Lots of kids drop out of school," she says.

Charles Renaud, 49, a former county commissioner who helped found the club and then name it after Robinson, said there are about 140 students who use the facility. It takes $215,000 a year to run the place.

Putting Robinson's name on the club was the best way to honor his legacy and spotlight the club at the same time, Renaud said. If one child learns the life skills to succeed, then Robinson would be proud. Of that, Renaud is sure.

At the Boys and Girls Club, Aniyah and her friends know that the younger kids are looking to them as role models. Aniyah says she never uses bad language or gets angry at the club.

She thinks it's cool that the club has now been named for Robinson. Kids need to know what it meant for him to become the first black player in the major leagues. It was especially important here, in this corner of Georgia, she thought, where many of her friends only know peripherally about the ugly days of segregation.

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