Eye On The Ball: Wichita Artist Looks To Inspire Others With Jackie Robinson Tribute
A Wichita artist looks to inspire visitors of McAdams Park with work that reflects on baseball player Jackie Robinson's core values.
In April, a life-sized statue of baseball player Jackie Robinson was unveiled at McAdams Park to recognize the sports legend, as well as kick off the baseball season for League 42 — a youth baseball league named in his honor.
On the north end of the park, Wichita artist Ellamonique proudly looks up at the artwork she created from charcoal and pencil. The enlarged images are of Robinson, who was known as the first Black man to play in the major leagues in the modern era.
"The 4 x 8 panels are based off the book called 'Jackie's Nine: Jackie Robinson's Values To Live By,' written by his daughter Sharon Robinson," she said. "The values are courage, determination, teamwork, persistence, integrity, citizenship, justice, commitment and excellence."
The word "excellence" is displayed on one of the panels with the phrase "doing the best that you possibly can" attached to it.
"Jackie Robinson went to college at UCLA, where he played basketball, baseball, football, and track," Ellamonique said. "He's the only athlete to have lettered in four sports in UCLA history."
In another panel, "courage" is written in bold letters. It has a close-up of Jackie Robinson at home plate.
His "eye on the ball" concentration is noticeable in the black and white image, along with the cleft in his chin.
"He's determined, holding on to a baseball bat, ready to swing. When I showed this to Jackie Robinson's daughter, Sharon, she said, 'That really looks like him. That's my dad!' So that meant a lot to me," Ellamonique said.
The next panel called "integrity" shows the businessman side of Jackie Robinson after retirement from baseball in 1957.
"He helped to open the largest black-owned and -operated bank in New York state. A lot of people don't know that. The name of the bank was Freedom National Bank. In the panel, it shows Jackie Robinson with a suit on, and he's the vice president of a coffee company and in the middle, he has his Dodgers uniform."
Her favorite panels are the ones that represent "citizenship" and "justice." Citizenship is defined as making a contribution that improves the lives of others. Justice is defined as treating all people fairly, no matter who they are.
"Jackie Robinson really paved the way for the civil rights movement. He raised money for Martin Luther King, and he was even doing activist work before Martin Luther King started. By breaking the color barrier in baseball, that opened the door for so many other athletes."
The artwork also shows images of people carrying signs during the 1963 March on Washington.
"In the middle, he's depicted with his son, David ... at the March on Washington. He took his whole family to that event and that was really amazing that he was there. Every picture that I saw of him there, he had his arm around his son and that was — that was amazing to see."
The "commitment" panel displays the closeness of the Robinson family unit.
"They're a beautiful example of a black family. It shows Jackie Robinson and Rachel Isum getting married, and then you see them as they've grown older together, and they're still in love. In the middle, there's a family portrait, their three children are there and then you see them on the right side of the panel, looking to the future together."
When creating this artwork, Ellamonique says she saw other great depictions of Jackie Robinson across the U.S.
"I looked those up and I saw how other artists represented him as inspiration … and then I found out that I'm the only Black female artist that's made public art about him and his life. So that is really special to me."
Ellamonique says she wants visitors to take away inspiration from Jackie Robinson's life when they come to see the panels.
"One of the things that is really powerful is when people come to this space and they sit at these picnic tables, they often take selfies in front of the artwork," she said. "And so, you see a picture of the panels in the background. It says something like 'excellence' or 'determination.' It's a constant reminder to them, that is or can be, a part of who they are and how they present themselves in the world."