Q&A with Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholar Nigel Williams


In 2020, New York City FC and the Jackie Robinson Foundation announced a multi-year partnership which has remained to this day. 

New York City FC will proudly welcome the Jackie Robinson Foundation to its Black Excellence Celebration match against New England Revolution on April 13, two days before the celebration of Jackie Robinson Day. 

One of the first initiatives the two organizations collaborated on was the Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholarship, with the Club providing a multi-year grant to sponsor a scholar. Nigel Williams the first scholar to emerge as part of that partnership.

As part of the Club’s continued commitment to its work with the JRF, we spoke to Nigel to learn more about his shared love of soccer and conservation, as well as academic journey, and aspirations for the future. 

Nigel Williams has two great passions in life: soccer and conservation. 

“I was fortunate enough to attend a New York City FC game last year,” Nigel said. “It was a great game and I even got to take a picture next to the MLS Cup. It was amazing to be there and I loved every second of it. It’s exciting to see the legacy that the Club is building.” 

When Nigel is not watching or playing soccer himself, he is working on a legacy of his own, one rooted heavily in animal conservation. 

“I’ve always had a passion for animals,” he explained. “My mom would always tell me stories about my love and curiosity for animals - starting from when I grew up in Queens. We would always go to the Queens Zoo, or the aquarium and I would just always be very excited to see all the different animals that I wouldn't be able to see in the wild.”

Now living in Elmont - on the border of Long Island and Queens - Nigel is eager to take his love of animals into his professional career. 

“I’m currently a third-year undergraduate at Cornell University studying Environment and Sustainability with a concentration in Environmental Biology and Applied Ecology,” he explained. “I plan to pursue a path in wildlife conservation specifically.” 

It was during his preparation for college – and in particular his search for potential scholarship programs - that Nigel first became involved with the Jackie Robinson Foundation. Named after the iconic baseball star Jackie Robinson, the foundation was established by Jackie’s widow, Rachel Robinson in 1973, and seeks to administer one of the nation’s premier scholarship and leadership development programs for talented college students.

“As I dove deeper into the Jackie Robinson Foundation I learned also about the mentorship and the shared community that they also provide,” Nigel explained. “Last year was my first time attending the conference that we have every year, and it really showed the essence of what the Jackie Robinson Foundation is.

“We basically celebrated all our achievements, all our accomplishments, and just celebrated us as successful black students. It was amazing that I met so many people from around the country who have such a shared cultural identity that it made me feel welcomed and inclusive.”

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Nigel wasn’t able to attend the conference this year, but for a wonderful reason. He is speaking to us from South Africa, where is undertaking a study abroad that will conclude early next month. 

“It's been amazing,” he excitedly stated. “So far, we've been residing in Kruger National Park mainly. The wildlife and the landscapes here have been beautiful and breathtaking. I feel like I’ve learned so much about ideas, beliefs, and cultures that I have never been exposed to back home. 

“I'm up to like my third research project and I'm currently working on a camera trapping study - trying to understand more of the road ecology and the influence it has on wildlife movement. 

“Things like that have honed my expertise in science and also helped me understand different habitats and landscapes that are not seen at all in the United States. From a cultural aspect, I recently came back from a homestay experience that was honestly life changing. I really had a personal experience of their livelihoods and their traditions and cultures.” 

Being exposed to a new culture has been a positive experience for Nigel, and it is during those early moments, when trying to break the ice with new faces in new places, that his passion for soccer proved most helpful. 

“During my homestay experience I had the amazing opportunity to play soccer with the local children,” he said. “Our study abroad group also facilitated a soccer game at one of the nearby villages where we all came together.

“I've been playing it since I don't know maybe six-years-old. Coming from a Brazilian and Trinidadian family we tend to say that soccer runs in our blood. I play soccer at Cornell for an intramural team, which is not as much soccer as I would love to play, but due to time constraints and my priority on education that's the most that I can do.” 

Things don’t look like slowing down for Nigel any time soon. Thankfully, through the Jackie Robinson Foundation, he has the help and support needed to make the best possible decisions. 

As part of his journey with the foundation he has been introduced to mentors such as Foundation alumnus, Dr Samuel Ramsey (’11). 

“He actually attended Cornell as an undergrad,” Nigel explained. “I came into contact with him last summer and he is currently a professor at Colorado University. He has been such a great help in terms of navigating my career path and my personal goals as someone interested in wildlife conservation. 

“We meet every two months or so just to check in and to see how we're doing and deal with any questions I might have. I remember the last time that we met, something that has really stuck with me, was the idea of finding out why I love animals and learning how to convey that to an audience.” 

That guidance and support will be vital in not only helping Nigel establish his career, but also help usher through the generation after him, including those who might be on the fence about engaging with something like the Jackie Robinson Foundation. For those people, Nigel has a clear message. 

“I guess something that I would tell them is something that I told myself before I joined the Jackie Robinson Foundation and that’s to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” he said. “Don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, because that is where growth takes place and without growth, you’ll stay stagnant.”

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