Over this past school year, approximately 4,700 students from 6 schools in Newark, NJ, 600 of Which from Roberto Clemente Elementary school, raised almost a quarter of a million dollars to erect a statue memorializing the late famed baseball player, Roberto Clemente – all by collecting pennies. The statue will be unveiled on Sunday in Branch Brook Park in Newark.
Prompted by Principal Yolanda Méndez, graduate of Roberto Clemente School, students donated pennies to their teachers throughout the year.
“Our goal is to teach what is means to be a humanitarian, how to give to others, and to know to do the right thing,” Méndez says. “I want my students to mimic Roberto Clemente.”
The school completed its goal of collecting $200 from the students. The children tripled that amount and still tried to donate after the drive was over.
“It has been the essence of the year,” Méndez says. “It makes them feel vested in the statue.”
Nine-year-old Gabriella Rodriguez played Clemente’s wife in a play about the baseball player’s life. Not only did she donate pennies, she donated money for Leukemia research and brought in non-perishable foods for families in need.
“I wanted to help because, I understand how others feel,” Gabriella says, “When people feel like they are about to cry, I also feel like I’m about to cry.”
The statue will mimic the original monument of Clemente outside of PNC Park in Pittsburgh, PA. In fact, the same artist who created the statue also made this new one—just four feet shorter. Clemente’s son, Luis, and wife, Vera, commissioned the artist and were present for a ceremony memorializing Roberto.
“It is unbelievable how many events there are for him,” Luis says. “We want the whole country to see who he really was.”
Charlie Xu, 10, the boy who played Clemente in the play, seems to embody just that.
“I came here not knowing English. I was the only Chinese boy here. I play baseball! Like him, I became a part of the community and give back. I am Roberto Clemente.”
BRIAN LATIMER, NBC LATINO STAFF