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Onetime Jackie Robinson scholarship recipient Nichol Whiteman helped the Dodgers Foundation find its swing

Onetime Jackie Robinson scholarship recipient Nichol Whiteman helped the Dodgers Foundation find its swing
Nichol Whiteman, executive director of the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation, talks to kids at Darby Park in Inglewood in May 2017. (Jon SooHoo / Los Angeles Dodgers LLC)

Nichol Whiteman was drafted in 2013 to help boost the stats of the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation, which suffered a series of scandals — including a state investigation citing improper expenditures — during the time that Frank McCourt owned the team. Under her leadership, the Dodger organization’s charity has handed out millions of dollars in grants to local nonprofit organizations focusing on recreation, education and health programs for young Angelenos, including $1.6 million in 2018. She also helped it meet the goal of building or refurbishing 50 baseball and softball parks in poor L.A. neighborhoods, a 15-year initiative begun in 2003, representing an investment of more than $10 million. Whiteman, 42, said the foundation plans to build 25 more by 2033, the team’s 75th anniversary of moving to Los Angeles.

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Culture shift

Whiteman grew up in a working-class Jamaican family in Brooklyn before attending the prestigious Canterbury School in New Milford, Conn. The college prep school had few minority students. Although she felt different, she didn’t feel unwelcome.

“I always tell people I think it’s important for students of color to experience nontraditional opportunities like boarding school,” Whiteman said. “It’s all about how you handle it and the background that you come from that helps you realize that there’s so much to gain from it.”

Bridging differences

Whiteman was ready for a change when it was time for college. She chose Atlanta’s Spelman College, the historically black liberal arts institution for women. Bridging that racial and cultural divide created a lasting impression, she said.

“I was missing a leadership component and a confidence component that I was given by going to Spelman,” Whiteman said. “People should go into situations that are going to prepare them for what they want to do in the future.”

Searching

With an economics degree in hand, Whiteman worked as a marketing analyst for JPMorgan Chase & Co. for 11 months. She got into publishing next, serving in a number of roles for Essence magazine and Black Enterprise magazine, eventually moving to the Los Angeles office. “This was where I found my nonprofit career,” Whiteman said. “I felt like this was a city in which I could make a difference, because there’s such huge income disparities among so many residents.”

Right place

In 2006 at a Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit, she met Della Britton Baeza, chief executive of the Jackie Robinson Foundation. The foundation is named after the first African American to play with a Major League Baseball team, the Brooklyn Dodgers. Whiteman recalls her saying, “‘Hey, we’re opening up an office in L.A. We’ve been watching you, seen your skill set. You should come and help us get this thing off the ground and be a leader.’”

When I tell people that the Jackie Robinson scholarship changed my life, there really is a genuine story behind it.


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Right fit

The offer resonated with Whiteman for a particular reason. In 1994, she received a Jackie Robinson scholarship and the next year met Robinson’s daughter, Sharon, who became a friend.

“When I tell people that the Jackie Robinson scholarship changed my life, there really is a genuine story behind it,” Whiteman said. “I had received this opportunity to get financial support and mentoring and leadership development support from the Jackie Robinson Foundation for the four years I was in school. Ultimately, the scholarship was the reason I was able to go to Spelman.”

Dodger blue

Dodgers officials had searched for six months for an executive director. Then they met Whiteman, who had left the Jackie Robinson Foundation in 2011.

“I was doing this random volunteer consulting, just kind of connecting the Dodgers to people I had met through the Jackie Robinson Foundation,” she said. “And in one of our meetings, two of the senior execs said to me, ‘Why haven’t you applied to be the executive director of our foundation?’”

People management

Whiteman credits her success in part to her ability to work with people with respect.

“Relationship management in general and partnerships are part of the secret sauce,” Whiteman said. “Creating, maintaining and stewarding relationships. Valuing how people work differently. Learning from each other. I see myself as a leader who can bring a lot to bear, but I also feel I can learn so much from others. The give-and-take part is very important to me.”

Money management

With a staff of eight, Whiteman assesses how the foundation’s funding can make the greatest impact. Grants go out three times a year, usually in amounts between $10,000 and $25,000. So-called strategic partners can obtain considerably more.

“I would say my management style is collaborative,” Whiteman said. “I do believe that everyone plays a part. So my employees have no choice but to work together.”

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Mirror image

Whiteman sees another part of her role as one of being an example “of the mission of the foundation,” she said. “I think that’s what’s unique about me. The children that we serve is the child that I was. The programs that we’re offering to them are the programs that were offered to me by amazing nonprofits when I was growing up. So I think that I see my story in my work every single day.”

Personal

Whiteman has received numerous awards for her work, including the Anti-Defamation League’s 2018 Deborah Award and the 2018 inaugural Nartey Sports Foundation Leadership Award. She’s also won an Ebony magazine Woman Up Award. Whiteman has been married to her husband, Timothy, for 16 years. They have two sons, as well as a daughter from her husband’s previous marriage. Quality family time is important.

“With technology and everything else today, I feel like we don’t get a chance to tune out,” Whiteman said. “So when I get a chance to truly be attentive, whether it be to my husband and my children, or my parents, or my siblings and my nephews, that ultimately really is what I call my free time. It makes me really happy.”

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