Photo depicting Baseball Beyond Borders youth gathered on the Jackson State University baseball field.

‘Reconciliation Tour’ Documentary Connects Black Baseball History-Makers to Young Athletes Today

by Victor Simoes

Baseball Beyond Borders (BBB), a Kent-based organization that uses baseball as a tool to increase opportunity and support academic excellence for student-athletes of color, released its first documentary, Reconciliation Tour, in September. The film centers on baseball’s healing power through community building and the athletes’ shared experiences while paying homage to the sport’s historic role in the fight for civil rights and its place in Black American culture. Made in partnership with local Black media production company Converge, the documentary follows 21 BBB members on a trip to the South. 

During this four-day journey, members of BBB participated in a baseball clinic at Jackson State University, a historically Black university in Mississippi whose mission focuses on uplifting minority communities. The trip also included a visit to historical sites for the Civil Rights Movement, including the Edmund Pettus Bridge and the Equal Justice Initiative Museum and Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, which connects baseball to the history of racial desegregation and the sport’s role in Black communities during the 1960s as a place of congregation and affection.

Reconciliation Tour centers healing on using the sport of baseball as the vehicle,” said Bookie Gates, founder of Baseball Beyond Borders and an alumnus of Garfield High School. “It helps inspire and empower young people to explore their potential in baseball and remove the disparities within the sport.”

Even though Reconciliation Tour is BBB and Converge’s first official partnership, the documentary is the result of the longtime friendship between Gates and Omari Salisbury, the cofounder of Converge. The two friends discussed a media project about baseball as part of Black America’s history six years ago at a corner table in Joey restaurant in Southcenter. Although there were no means to put the idea forward at the time, their conversation set the foundation for Reconciliation Tour.

“Six years later, here we are, back at the same table, and I say, ‘Omari, you got Converge, and we are going down to the South, we got to document this,’” said Gates. “We have to be able to tell the story of these student athletes.”

Gates explains that the strength of this connection is in the shared vision and the power of the community. With the documentary, BBB attempted to discover how to elevate the stories of young baseball players around three pillars — pain, passion, and purpose: the pain around displacement, the passion for playing baseball, and the purpose of preserving the historical role of Black Americans in the sport. 

Through interviews, athletes told the audience how the baseball community helped them deal with trauma caused by racial discrimination. These discussions elucidate the healing power of sports, which turns the community toward resistance through acts of forgiveness and love.

Photo depicting Baseball Beyond Borders members standing in front of The Legacy Museum.
Baseball Beyond Borders members visit the Equal Justice Initiative Museum and Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. There they heard about forgiveness and reconciliation from Anthony Ray Hinton, who was wrongfully convicted for a crime he didn’t commit and spent 30 years on death row. (Photo courtesy of Baseball Beyond Borders.)

Recently added to the in-flight entertainment services of Alaska Airlines, Reconciliation Tour is now available for the 44 million passengers the company receives annually. Gates told the Emerald that this opportunity elevates not only BBB’s reach but also allows youth baseball players to be seen and heard as contributing members of society while exploring their passion and love for a sport that will advance their life and academic outcomes. The documentary is also available for streaming on Converge’s YouTube channel.

This month, BBB is launching Softball Beyond Borders. The sister program of Baseball Beyond Borders will address the gender equity gaps within sports and allow young women to experience and play at the same level as young men. In June 2023, BBB plans to offer another baseball/softball camp at Jackson State University. Back in Mississippi, the organization wants to give more opportunities for Seattleites to understand the legacy of baseball in the country and continue to build relationships in the Jackson community. 

Shortly after the trip, BBB will host the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities West Regional Tournament. The competition will showcase and highlight elite athletes’ talents, skills, and abilities across the western region and bring youth from all over the United States to participate in programs, such as bringing the Dodgers Dreamteam to Seattle from July 14 through 16.

Victor Simoes is an international student at the University of Washington pursuing a double degree in journalism and photo/media. Originally from Florianópolis, Brazil, they enjoy radical organizing, hyper pop, and their beloved cats. Their writing focuses on community, arts, and culture. You can find them on Instagram or Twitter at @victorhaysser.

📸 Featured Image: Baseball Beyond Borders at a Baseball Clinic at Jackson State University in Mississippi. The student-athletes led stretches and warmups with youth players before going on a tour through Jackson College. (Photo courtesy of Baseball Beyond Borders.)

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