On March 2nd, 2016, I flew to New York City for The Jackie Robinson Foundation’s Mentoring and Leadership Conference (MLC). Below are some highlights from my experience.
First a little background about me. My name is Kelli Hamilton and I am a first year Political Science major at UCLA. I was born in Burbank, California, to a single parent household. Although I grew up with only my mother, she has been a leading force in my life and inspires me to achieve everything, regardless of my background. I applied to a variety of elite universities, but chose to attend UCLA for its academic excellence, prestige, athletics, and diversity. I want to enact change on campus, but also in the real world, by becoming a lawyer.
I originally learned about the Jackie Robinson Scholarship when searching for financial assistance for minorities. It is a national organization that is centered around the memory of the American legend Jackie Robinson. Through his philanthropic efforts, bravery, and leadership, Jackie Robinson broke a multitude of barriers in sports, business, and the media, and fostered a better future for minorities. The Jackie Robinson Foundation (JRF) addresses the achievement gap among minority students in higher education by providing students with scholarships, as well as leadership development opportunities for extremely intelligent students with limited resources.
I quickly sent in my application. Within a few months, I received an email notifying me that I was a semifinalist and would need to attend an interview. The interview occurred in April 2015. I expected to be interviewed by two, maybe three people, but when the door was opened, I peered inside and saw 12 faces starring back at me. Refusing to be intimidated, I sat at the head of the conference table and answered a series of questions about my life, my hopes and dreams, and about the hero, Jackie Robinson. I left feeling good. Near the end of June, I found out that I had been chosen. The next step would be attending the MLC in NYC.
When I arrived at New York, I met with freshmen JRF scholars from UCLA and other universities. We took a tour of New York, going from Ground Zero to the Financial District to Harlem. It was a wonderful experience getting a taste of city life. The following day we went to a variety of workshops. In the Professional Networking and Communication Workshop, we learned that while knowledge is important, so are your contacts. This leads back to the familiar adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” We were taught the value of making connections early, so that you may benefit in the long run. The disparities in society between different racial and economic groups usually stems from a lack of opportunity, so building relationships with multiple individuals is an important step in a path to success.
The theme of this year’s conference was “I Am The Change.” Change, not only in an intrapersonal way, but in a social way that changes societal progress, attitudes, and values on a multitude of subjects. It also refers to change in the education system, racial relations, economic outcomes, and in the overall quality of life of minorities in America. In order to figure out ways in which we can exact change, all JRF scholars attended two out of four possible talks with distinguished leaders, scholars, and professionals.
The last few days of the Conference included a scholarly debate on the topic of reparations to African Americans for slavery, in which the outcome was a rejection of reparations. Slavery can never be erased with monetary payments, but African Americans can feel a sense of justice, if they receive equal opportunity in all professions so that they can rise up and become equal with non-minorities. Aside from the debate, there were more workshops, as well as a JRF Talent Show. We watched fellow scholars sing, recite monologues, and play pieces on the piano and saxophone. Watching them perform on stage made me realize what a talented group we are. With the potential that we have, we will do great things in this world.
On the last day of the conference we went to lunch with our sponsors. My sponsor was the worldwide management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company. We lunched at their office in New York, and learned about consulting and future opportunities and internships with the company. At night, we donned dressy clothing to attend the annual JRF Gala. One special attendee was Rachel Robinson, the wife of the late Jackie Robinson. It was a wonderful night that showcased how important the foundation, its sponsors, and its scholars are. The first JRF conference was an experience of a lifetime, and I am so glad to be a scholar and get to experience it for three more years.
I look forward to seeing progress being made and fostering justice in all aspects of life that I can, as a UCLA student, a female, a minority, and a Jackie Robinson Scholar. The time for change is now and I AM THE CHANGE.