Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

March 8, 2006:

Della Britton ’75

Della Britton ’75 in front of a photo of Jackie Robinson. (courtesy Della Britton Baeza ’75)

Taking up a hero’s torch
Della Britton ’75 promotes Jackie Robinson’s legacy

The only girl among six siblings, Della Britton ’75 (who now goes by Della Britton Baeza) used to bond with her father watching baseball games. While cheering on their local team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, her father would talk about Brooklyn Dodgers great Jackie Robinson, who not only broke the color barrier in major league baseball in 1947, but also ran successful businesses in Harlem and helped set the stage for the civil rights movement. Britton recalls, “My father always said, ‘Jackie Robinson is royalty. He carries the weight of the African-American public on his shoulders.’”

Many years later, after careers in corporate law and the music industry, Britton has taken up her hero’s torch: In February 2004 she became president and chief executive officer of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, the brainchild of Robinson’s widow, Rachel Robinson. Based in Manhattan, the foundation awards about 80 college scholarships each year to minority students from around the United States who are academically gifted and demonstrate a commitment to community service. In addition to giving students up to $7,000 per year, the foundation provides mentors, annual workshops, summer internships, and a support network to make sure the students are successful in college and beyond. “We view our scholarship recipients as ambassadors of Jackie Robinson; our goal is that they not only succeed in college, but that they contribute positively to society,” says Britton.

Numerous Robinson scholars have attended Princeton, including, most recently, Justin Baker ’05 and M. Brandon Loadholt ’05. Ninety-seven percent of Jackie Robinson scholars graduate from college, compared to a national graduation rate of 40.5 percent for African-Americans and 47 percent for Hispanics, says Britton.

Although this is Britton’s first job at a nonprofit organization, she has volunteered throughout her career, including doing pro bono work at a neighborhood legal services agency in Washington, D.C., and serving on the board of a residential facility for troubled teens in New York. The seeds of community service were planted early by her parents: Her father, who is African-American, ran a drug rehabilitation clinic in Pittsburgh, and her mother, who is white, was Pennsylvania’s secretary of public welfare. At Princeton, “those seeds were nurtured and bolstered,” says Britton, who helped found the Third World Center (now called the Carl A. Fields Center), tutored prison inmates in Trenton, wrote her thesis for the Woodrow Wilson School on the juvenile justice system, and won a community service award in her senior year.

Britton says she wants to increase the number of scholars the foundation recruits each year, and she hopes to secure new office space that would include an exhibition space or museum honoring Jackie Robinson’s legacy. None exists today for this American hero. The museum will serve as a learning center so that children and adults can come to appreciate Robinson’s contributions to a more integrated society. The honor, says Britton, is “long overdue.”

By K.F.G.