A Passion for Giving

Despite the demands of the current economy, corporate executives are finding the timeand the valuein philanthropic efforts

Jimmie Lee Solomon, Major League Baseball
Pitching the virtues of baseball

As a child in a poor community of Sugar Land, Texas, Jimmie Lee Solomon enjoyed watching baseball on television and listening to the games on broadcast radio, but he was only able to play in a handful of little league games because the closest facility was 15 miles away. Instead, he took up football and track at school.

After working as a lawyer for 10 years, Solomon finally reconnected with baseball in 1991, but on a completely different level––he was offered the dream position of director of minor league operations with Major League Baseball. Realizing that there were probably many children and teens who might not have the opportunity to even be exposed to the joys of his favorite sport, in 2006 at El Camino College Compton Center in Compton, California, he initiated the opening of the MLB Urban Youth Academy. The academy became a bricks-and-motar extension of MLB’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program and as such, is able to bring a first-rate baseball facility right into a neighborhood where underserved minority youth reside.

Every year for three to six weeks a minimum of 2,500 elementary to high school-aged youths learn to play baseball and softball while being introduced to career opportunities off the field. Boys and girls can participate in free seminars on umpiring, athletic turf management, statistics, and sports and broadcast journalism.

Now executive vice president of baseball operations for MLB, Solomon is proud of their success: 51 students have been drafted from the academy by major league organizations, six have been signed as free agents, and more than 65 are participating in college baseball and softball. Furthermore, four are umpires and three have internships with major or minor league teams. Plans to open academies in Hialeah, Florida, and Houston have been confirmed, while there are discussions to expand to Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Cleveland, and possibly Milwaukee. Solomon says, “It becomes a very smart, pragmatic thing to do because now the academy is paying for itself.”

This story originally appeared in the May 2009 issue of Black Enterprise.

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