President's Message

Jessica Kronstadt
WLALA President 2020-2021

January 2021

Albert Camus said, “In the depth of winter, I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.”  This January, a new Presidential administration will take office – that is promising.  Covid numbers are soaring; lockdown is seemingly unending.  We are home schooling while teleworking (and as the article WLALA Board Member Jacquiline Wagner and I wrote on this topic in WLALA’s April 2020 newsletter makes clear, this is really challenging).  Still, January is my favorite month.  Why?  I am so glad you asked!  Because my birthday is on January 31.[1]  And, as it turns out, some pretty badass lawyers, musicians and athletes were also born on January 31.  So, in honor of January 31 – and to pay homage to my superhero mom who went through 16 hours of labor with me – I pay tribute to a mix of athletes, lawyers and musicians, all of whom were born on January 31 and all of whom had – and for those still alive, still have – within them an invincible summer, even when they faced the darkest depths of winter.

The Athletes

Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson (January 31, 1919 – October 24, 1972)[2]

Jackie Robinson.  Hallowed be thy name. Glass ceiling breaker.  Advocate.  Civil rights icon.  MVP. Dodger.  Mr. Robinson was born in 1919, the same year as my grandfather, Arnold Kronstadt, to whose memory I dedicate my Presidency.  My Grandpa Arnie loved Jackie Robinson.  Mr. Robinson was born in Georgia and moved to Pasadena, California when he was very young.  He was an outstanding athlete in every sport in which he participated:  baseball, football, track and field and tennis.  After graduating from Pasadena Junior College, Mr. Robinson attended and graduated from UCLA, where here he became UCLA’s first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football, and track.  He was one of only four Black players on the Bruins’ 1939 football team, and that team went undefeated. 

After graduating from UCLA, Mr. Robinson served in the military, where, because he was Black, he was charged – baselessly – with public drunkenness and insubordination and his commanding officer recommended that he be court martialed.  At the time of his court-martial proceedings, the charges against him had been reduced to two counts of insubordination and he was acquitted by an all-white panel of nine officers.

In the mid-1940s, Branch Rickey, club president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, began to scout the Negro leagues for a possible addition to the Dodgers’ roster. In a famous three-hour exchange that took place on August 28, 1945, Mr. Rickey asked Mr. Robinson if he (Mr. Robinson) would be able to face racism without reacting angrily.  After obtaining a commitment from Mr. Robinson not to react violently to bigotry, Mr. Rickey agreed to sign Mr. Robinson to a contract. In what was later referred to as “The Noble Experiment,” Mr. Robinson was the first Black baseball player in the International League since the 1880s.

In 1947, the Dodgers called Mr. Robinson up to the major leagues and on April 15, he made his major league debut.  He was derided by his own teammates, managers and members of other teams.  He had his leg gashed when an opposing team member slid into him; he received death threats.  Dodgers teammate Pee Wee Reese once came to Mr. Robinson’s defense with the famous line, “You can hate a man for many reasons. Color is not one of them.”[3]  Jewish baseball star Hank Greenberg, who had to deal with ethnic epithets during his career, also encouraged Mr.  Robinson. One time, after Mr. Greenberg collided with Mr. Robinson at first base, Mr. Greenberg “whispered a few words into Robinson’s ear,” which Mr. Robinson later characterized as “words of encouragement.” 

During his 10-year Major League Baseball (MLB) career, Mr. Robinson won the inaugural Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, was an All-Star for six consecutive seasons from 1949 through 1954 and won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949—the first Black player to be so honored.  Mr. Robinson played in six World Series and was a member of the Dodgers’ 1955 World Series championship team.  He was elected to MLB’s Hall of Fame in 1962.

In 1997, MLB retired his uniform – number 42 – across all major league teams; he was the first professional athlete in any sport to be so honored.  On April 15, 2004, MLB adopted a new annual tradition, “Jackie Robinson Day,” on which day every player on every team wears number 42.

Jackie Robinson’s character and his talent challenged the traditional basis of segregation that had then marked many other aspects of American life.  He contributed significantly to the civil rights movement. He was the first Black television analyst in MLB and the first Black vice president of a major American corporation (Chock full o’ Nuts). He helped establish the Freedom National Bank, an African-American-owned financial institution based in Harlem, New York.  After his death, Mr. Robinson was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin remarked that Jackie Robinson’s “efforts were a monumental step in the civil-rights revolution in America … [His] accomplishments allowed black and white Americans to be more respectful and open to one another and more appreciative of everyone’s abilities.”

Shirley Babashoff (January 31, 1957)

Ms. Babashoff was a competitive swimmer, Olympic champion, and former world record-holder in multiple events.  She set six world records and earned a total of nine Olympic medals in her career.  She won gold medals in the 400-meter freestyle relay in both the 1972 and 1976 Olympics, and she won the 1975 world championship in both the 200-meter and 400-meter freestyle races.  During her career, Ms. Babashoff set 37 national records and she is regarded as one of the top swimmers in history.  She is most vividly remembered for having swum the anchor leg on the United States’ gold-medal winning, 4×100-meter freestyle relay team, in its victory over the steroid-plagued 1976 East German women.  This race has been acknowledged as the single greatest race in the entire history of women’s swimming.  The media occasionally referred to Ms. Babashoff as “Surly Shirley” because of her public accusations of performance-enhancing drug use by the East German swimmers. Ms. Babashoff once said, “I couldn’t get up there and go, ‘Hey, I’m second, I’m so happy!’ It’s hard for me to reach over and shake the hand of someone standing there who just cheated me out of a gold medal.”  To her credit, she was later proven correct-that most East German athletes were using performance-enhancing drugs.  In April 2005, Ms. Babashoff received the Olympic Order, the highest award of the Olympic Movement.

The Lawyers

Stewart Udall (January 31, 1920 – March 10, 2010)

Stewart Udall was an American politician and a federal government official. After serving three terms as a congressman from Arizona, he served as Secretary of the Interior under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.  After graduating from the University of Arizona and serving in the Army, Mr. Udall returned to the University of Arizona, where he attended law school and – fun fact – played guard on the University of Arizona’s championship-winning basketball team. In 1947, Mr. Udall, along with his brother Mo Udall, helped integrate the University of Arizona cafeteria. The Udall brothers were respected student athletes.  At that time, Black students were allowed to buy food, but were not allowed to eat in the cafeteria. The Udall brothers invited Morgan Maxwell Jr., a Black freshman, to share their table in the cafeteria.  This meaningful act of allyship helped to calm long-simmering racial issues surrounding segregation at the University of Arizona.  During his career as a lawyer, Mr. Udall served as a school board member, where he participated in desegregating the Amphitheater School District in Arizona, even before the United States Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education

Mr. Udall served as Secretary of the Interior from 1961 to 1969.  Among his many accomplishments, Mr. Udall oversaw the addition of several national parks, national monuments, national seashores and lakeshores and national wildlife refuges.  Just weeks after becoming the Secretary of Interior, Mr. Udall demanded that George Preston Marshall – then-owner of the Washington Football Team (known then as the Washington Redskins) – integrate the football team and that failure to do so would result is the team’s eviction from the stadium, which was built on federally-owned land.  In 1962, Mr. Marshall integrated the team.[4] Mr. Udall’s letter to the United States Geological Survey’s board chairman led to a wider codified policy by the United States Geological Survey prohibiting the use of any ethnic slur in any map name.

Benjamin Hooks (January 31, 1925 – April 15, 2010)

Mr. Hooks was an American civil rights leader. A Baptist minister and practicing attorney, he served as executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1977 to 1992, and throughout his career, campaigned for civil rights in the United States.  Mr. Hooks hailed from a line of impressive and groundbreaking women.  His paternal grandmother, Julia Britton Hooks, graduated from Berea College in Kentucky in 1874.  She was only the second Black American woman to graduate from college.  Her sister, Dr. Mary E. Britton, also attended Berea, and became a physician in Lexington, Kentucky.

Mr. Hooks was thoroughly committed to breaking down the practices of racial segregation that existed in the United States.   He passed the Tennessee bar exam and set up his own law practice.  In 1965, Tennessee Governor Frank G. Clement appointed Mr. Hooks to fill a vacancy in the Shelby County criminal court. With this appointment, Mr. Hooks became the first Black judge in a criminal court in Tennessee history.  In November 1976, the board of directors of the NAACP elected Mr. Hooks as NAACP’s executive director.   In 1996, Mr. Hooks and faculty members in the political science department at the University of Memphis founded the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change.  That Institute, housed at the University of Memphis, is dedicated to preserving the history of the civil rights movement and continuing the struggle for equality.

Brenda Hale – Baroness Hale of Richmond (January 31, 1945)

Baroness Hale is a British judge who served as President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom from 2017 to 2020.  In 2004, she joined the House of Lords as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary. She is the only woman to have been appointed to that position. Law Lords are judges appointed to the British House of Lords and serve as the highest court of appeal for most domestic matters.  In 2017, Baroness Hale was appointed to serve as President of the Supreme Court.  She is the third person and first woman to serve in that role. Baroness Hale studied at Girton College, Cambridge (the first from her secondary school to attend Cambridge).  She was one of six women in her class, which had 110 men, and graduated at the top of her class.  Baroness Hale became the first woman and youngest person to be appointed to the Law Commission – an independent law commission set up by Parliament to maintain the laws of the United Kingdom and to recommend reforms – and oversaw a number of important reforms in family law during her nine years there.  Baroness Hale was later appointed Queen’s Counsel – a lawyer who is senior counsel in court cases and who is appointed by the monarch of the country to be one of “Her Majesty’s Counsel learned in the law.”

Kerry Washington (January 31, 1977)

Yes, I know that she is not a lawyer.  Still, she is totally amazing, and she has played lawyers on television.  Ms. Washington starred in her television portrayals of Olivia Pope – a former lawyer turned crisis manager – in Scandal and Anita Hill in Confirmation.  Ms. Washington attended George Washington University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa with a double major in anthropology and sociology.  She has been named as Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential people.  She has won a Primetime Emmy Award and five NAACP Image Awards, including The President’s Award.  For her work in the second season of Scandal, Ms. Washington was nominated for an Emmy, becoming the first Black woman to be nominated in the category of Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 18 years.  Ms. Washington has used her celebrity status to support voter registration drives.  She is a staunch advocate for LGBTQI+ rights and is a member of V-Day, a global movement that brings awareness to violence against women and girls.  In 2015, Ms. Washington won the ACLU of Southern California’s Bill of Rights Award.  Listen to her speech.  Ms. Washington once said, “You can be the lead in your own life.”  And #leadlikeagirl she does.

The Rockers

Franz Peter Shubert (January 31, 1797 – November 19, 1828)

Justice Helen Bendix – my superhero mom – is a concert violinist and violist.  She is a big fan of Schubert.  Schubert was remarkably prolific, writing over 1,500 works in his short career. He wrote more than 600 secular vocal works, seven complete symphonies, sacred music, operas and a large body of piano and chamber music. His major works include the Piano Quintet in A major, the Symphony No. 8 in B minor (better known as the “Unfinished Symphony”), the “Great” Symphony No. 9 in C major, the String Quintet, the opera “Fierrabras” and the incidental music to the play “Rosamunde.”  Mom, I will always tell people that Schubert and I share the same birthday!

Philip Glass (January 31, 1937)

Philip Glass is an American composer and pianist and is widely regarded as one of the most influential composers of the late 20th century. He describes himself as a composer of “music with repetitive structures.”  Mr. Glass founded the Philip Glass Ensemble, with which he still performs on keyboards. He has written numerous operas and musical theatre works, twelve symphonies, eleven concertos, eight string quartets and various other chamber music, and film scores. Three of his film scores have been nominated for Academy Awards.  He won a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score for his work on The Truman Show

Mr. Glass and his family were Lithuanian-Jewish emigrants.  His father owned a record store and his mother was a librarian.  At the end of World War II, his mother – Ida Glass – helped Jewish Holocaust survivors, inviting those who had recently arrived in America to stay at their home until they could find a job and a place to live.  Mrs. Glass developed a plan to help the Holocaust survivors who lived with her learn English and develop skills so they could find work.  Mr. Glass’s sister, Sheppie, later performed similar work as an active member of the International Rescue Committee.

My husband has taken me to two Philip Glass performances:  “Age of Innocence,” which we saw in February 2013 before Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” and “Satyagraha,” Glass’s opera which was inspired by the life of Gandhi.  Mr. Glass’s own words, “the point of writing music and experiencing music isn’t to make people comfortable necessarily” resonate with me.

Amelia Fiona J. “Minnie” Driver (January 31, 1970)

Sure, you know her as an actress.  I mean, she was nominated for both the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and a Screen Actors Guild Award for her role as Skylar in Good Will Hunting.  No big deal.  She also starred in Grosse Pointe BlankThe Phantom of the Opera; and Circle of Friends, her breakout role.

But, did you know that before she was an actress, Ms. Driver started as a recording artist and has released three full solo albums over the span of her career?  I did not!  Apparently, she he has also lent her voice to a variety of animated series and films – including Tarzan – and to video games including Jurassic Park.  Ms. Driver began making music at boarding school.  She received a recording contract when she was 19-years-old. In 2001, she signed with EMI and Rounder Records and performed at the South By Southwest (SXSW) music festival.  In 2004, Ms. Driver played Carlotta Giudicelli in the film The Phantom of the Opera.  She sang “Learn to be Lonely,” an original song written for the film by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Ms. Driver released her album, “Seastories,” in July 2007.  This album featured guest appearances by Ryan Adams, the Cardinals and Liz Phair.  She released another album in October 2014 called “Ask Me to Dance” that includes songs by Elliott Smith, Neil Young and The Killers.

Hillary DePiano said, “You can get excited about the future. The past won’t mind.”  As we get excited for what 2021 has in store – hello, Jolene Vaccine – remember what Jackie Robinson taught us:  “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”  In 2021, let’s continue to make an impact.  Let’s continue to do better.  Let’s embrace that even in the depth of winter, there is within each of us an invincible summer.  Let’s continue to Lead Like A Girl.


 

[1] My daughter Caroline was born on January 25.  January is joyous for this reason.  My daughter Catherine was born in October.  Girls, when you read this, know that I am equally excited for both of your birthdays.

[2] Major League Baseball Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan and Ernie Banks were also born on January 31.

[3] My daughter’s name is Caroline Reese Turner.  Her middle name honors Pee Wee Reese.  In 1947 or 1948, during a game in Cincinnati, Mr. Reese put his arm around Mr. Robinson in response to fans who shouted racial slurs at Mr. Robinson.  Read about it.  Yeah, I cried, too.

[4] I am a diehard fan of the Washington Football Team.  George Preston Marshall was a reprehensible racist.  In June 2020, his statue removed from the grounds of RFK Stadium and his name was removed from the team’s Ring of Fame at FedEx Field.  If only Washington could remove Daniel Snyder from ownership…

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