PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Roberto Clemente Jr. is proud of who he is and of his heritage.
"Understanding that I am representing the Republic of Congo, more than I am Puerto Rico, through my blood is pretty amazing," he said.
It's the blood of a beloved Pittsburgh baseball legend -- Roberto Clemente. But it took work to get to that iconic status, work that Clemente Jr.'s father was willing to do.
"He was representing not only Puerto Ricans but all minority people. He demanded respect. And that's what he did," he said.
From the World Series to the Baseball Hall of Fame, the accomplishments of Roberto Clemente are indisputable. They are off-the-field as well. Clemente Jr. says his father was a uniter and baseball was the key he used to get into the door to fight for equality.
"That is one thing that I truly believe that we need to focus on is actually how he lived his life, what it meant to do what he did. But we all can do the same thing," he said.
He says part of his father's appeal was that he worked hard as a player, and Pittsburghers appreciate hard work. That was the common denominator.
"And that fit, in terms of the hard-working people that he was representing. It took a minute for them to realize this man was special, but once they did, they embraced him. That love affair began and 50 years after he's gone, he's still there," Clemente Jr. said.
He says that his father threw himself into the community, helping and advocating for those less fortunate. And he says that when it came to civil rights, his father would meet with anyone to help the cause.
"He was a one-man tornado when it came to making an impact. When people came around and he saw that they needed help, he would get involved and that included the Black Panthers. Being able to understand what they were about and sitting down and really having conversations and understanding that was a movement for civil rights."
Though there is no known photo that exists of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Clemente together, the two knew and respected each other. And when Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, it was Clemente and several other players of color that forced the MLB to push back opening weekend out of respect for the fallen leader.
"He was truly moved by what (King) meant to him and this country. But he felt that it was not the right thing to do. So, he literally stopped the opener. He was the one that really was the catalyst not to start that season on time," Clemente Jr. said.
Today, Clemente Jr. says the work isn't finished.
"When people say, 'oh we're in good,' we still have work to do, a lot of work to do, and that's why I believe this is an important conversation," he said.
His father's legacy is still alive and well as the Roberto Clemente Foundation continues to work to bring people together, both through sports and through teaching his father's values of faith, love and service.
"We have that legacy. But it is not our legacy, it's all of our legacy because he was a human being. He was a brother to all of us. And that is one thing I truly believe that we need to focus on is actually how he lived his life, what it meant to do what he did. If we choose to emulate what he did, we will be in good shape," he said.
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