Solomon honored for efforts beyond the game
MLB executive instrumental in Urban Youth Academies
NEW YORK -- On the night that baseball assumed center stage in St. Louis with Game 1 of the World Series, Jimmie Lee Solomon took to the stage at the Rose Theater in Manhattan's Lincoln Center as another of baseball's great achievers and as an honoree of the National Action Network.
Solomon, Major League Baseball's executive vice president for baseball development, was among an eclectic group of artists, actors and other executives from the fields of media and sports to be recognized for making a positive impact beyond their regular public perch.
Solomon was honored for his work in expanding Major League Baseball's campaigns that not only foster diversity and benefit those in need, but target urban and inner-city youths, most notably through the Urban Youth Academies program. The growing number of academies have become the backbone of MLB's outreach to underserved children, and directed Solomon to the attention of the NAN and its leaders, which include Reverend Al Sharpton.
In addition to MLB's Urban Youth Academies, Solomon's efforts include the annual Civil Rights Game, the Futures Game, Minor League operations and a number of other events and campaigns in baseball development.
"He is one of the smartest, hardest-working, innovative executives I have ever known," said White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who presented Solomon to the audience. "Jimmie's contribution to inner-city youths has been tremendous. ... As these kids come up through the academies, some of them are going to go on and continue their athletic careers. But even those who don't will have enhanced their life and their ability to succeed."
It is that measure of success, which has included hundreds of positive stories at academies in Compton, Calif., Houston and elsewhere that left Solomon, a man of many achievements, somewhat modest prior to his acceptance speech.
"Without MLB support and Commissioner Selig's support, I don't think half of the things we do are possible," Solomon said. "The idea of constructing academies in urban areas, and helping inner-city children experience baseball and the opportunities that come from it, would never happen without the widespread support from the entire industry. There are many people working in the trenches to make it all possible. I'm just a personification of the collective effort."
That effort will lead to further expansion in the years to come. Under Solomon's guidance, additional youth academies are slated to open in New Orleans, Philadelphia and Latin America. The growth of the programs coupled with annual achievements, such as the Civil Rights Game, garnered the appreciation of peers in the room, who have also touched the lives of many through their work in media and arts.
"I'm not too familiar with the programs of Major League Baseball, but if baseball can serve as a tool to help youth escape the inner-city, expand and free their mind and build on their education, I think that's a wonderful achievement," said actor and comedian Tyler Perry, who was awarded with the NAN's Chairman's Award for his own philanthropic efforts.
Leading such outreach in the enrichment of underprivileged youths was a common theme throughout the event's proceedings. However, Solomon struck a chord with the audience when he detailed his own personal story -- a track that included an ascent from a small rural town to the halls of Dartmouth to his current position as a leading voice and decision-maker in returning help to the less fortunate.
He reinforced his story by explaining how programs like the Urban Youth Academies and MLB's other campaigns can place children on a better path.
"We better provide [children] with a better opportunity, because we know what the alternative is. No matter what the economy is, or how the housing market goes, we have got to help those kids. They are our future," Solomon delivered with emphasis.
Solomon closed his nearly seven-minute speech by sharing a conversation he had with his late father when he was an adolescent. He detailed how his father impressed upon him that commitment was not merely an effort that could only go halfway. That commitment was a virtue that demanded the perseverance to see something through to the end. In his current role and MLB's collective endeavor, that means assisting youth to reach the maximum of their potential.
"We cannot ignore the fact that many really need a leg up, and that society can be very difficult," Solomon said. "If we leave behind many of the unserved and underserved kids in those areas, I shudder to think what would happen to us. Bringing children to the academies, where I believe they have a chance to make it in this society, goes a long way to making a better human being."
Jon Star is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.