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Serving the Entire L.A. Community Is a Lofty Mission, but Nichol Whiteman Is Up for the Challenge

With youth programs and family resources, the CEO of the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation is ensuring her community thrives, especially through the pandemic.
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Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are putting the spotlight on the diverse journeys of Black women across sports—from the veteran athletes, to up-and-coming stars, coaches, executives and more—in the series, Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.

Baseball has played a major role throughout Nichol Whiteman’s life. She wasn’t a professional player, but one of the most iconic names in the game, Jackie Robinson, has followed her like a guardian angel. His legacy and family have helped blaze trails in Whiteman’s education and career. From the time she graduated high school and received the Jackie Robinson Foundation scholarship to attend Spelman College, to now, as she sits as the CEO of the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation (LADF), Whiteman is carrying the Robinson legacy forward by ensuring the L.A. community continues to thrive.

The Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program partners with 13 organizations and allows the LADF to accomplish its mission of serving the L.A. community by investing in programs that improve education, health care, homelessness and social justice. The sports-based youth development program—which serves 10,000 kids across 76 locations in L.A. and Long Beach—was launched in 2014 and provides services and resources to families using baseball and softball.

The foundation covers all the expenses associated with equipment, uniforms and more. “We provide a full-on program that includes wraparound services like health and educational resources, basic necessities, financial literacy for families and parent workshops, because the LADF cares and takes into serious consideration the welfare of the athletes’ families,” Whiteman says. “They also train coaches to work with youth who are in trauma-informed environments.

“[Serving the entire L.A. community] is a lofty mission, but we should have such a mission carrying this big brand,” continues Whiteman, who understands that many people face homelessness and food insecurity. “We should want to be responsible for something this big. And we own that. it’s important for us to serve the communities in Los Angeles that need it the most.”

Whiteman, who came on as executive director in 2013 and was promoted to CEO in ’19, says that the LADF had the foundational elements in place to move rather quickly when the pandemic hit. “We had been setting ourselves up for this, and we didn’t know it,” she says. “The reality is that the Dodgers’ foundation was built for this moment in time, in the sense that we were already doing the work to ensure that families [have] these services and resources in their community.”

To date, the LADF has donated 4.5 million meals to families. And since the pandemic hit, it’s given $2.2 million in donations, including everything from at-home fitness equipment and education supplies to clothing, food, gift cards and more—all thanks to its hub of resources and partners, and the foundation’s 50-plus drive-through distribution stations. “We knew this was the moment where it was about mission expansion for us,” Whiteman says. “It was about doubling down. This is the moment in time that we're built for.”

Whiteman was built for this opportunity as well. She started on Wall Street at JP Morgan, but when she didn’t feel that finance was her calling, she put her feelers out and landed at the magazine Essence. Publishing was an unlikely place, but a great fit she says. Executives recognized her skill set and knew she’d be an asset to the company. This theme pretty much followed her everywhere. Publishing brought her to L.A. where she was approached by the Jackie Robinson Foundation, to join them in opening its L.A. office.

“I never imagined that I would be working in philanthropy or for a nonprofit,” says Whiteman. “I’ve been the recipient of so many organizations like the Jackie Robinson Foundation, the United Negro College Fund and A Better Chance. They have all helped me achieve my education, and gain mentoring and networking opportunities. And they have opened so many doors for me.” She adds, “I'm just a product of organizations who said, ‘If you give access and opportunity, there will be results.’”

Eventually Whiteman was recruited to join the LADF, and she recognizes how Black women have played a major role in her journey to this position. “I always say that mentors and sponsors can be of all colors, from all industries and inside or outside your organization,” she says. “I've had the gamut throughout my career. And Black women have supported me in a way that I think is so special.” Rachel Robinson (Jackie’s widow), and Sharon Robinson (their daughter), who have been her mentors for many years; Karen Thomas, the vice president of marketing at Essence; and Kimberly Davis, who she met at JP Morgan and is now an executive VP at the NHL, have all been encouraging her along the way.

“I think especially about Renata Simril, who is now the president and CEO of the LA84 Foundation,” Whiteman says, adding that creating an arsenal of people around you who can advocate and champion for you, and help you get to where you need to is both special and important. “She’s the Black woman who said, ‘Why haven’t you applied for the executive director of [the] Dodgers’ foundation?’”

Whiteman says she feels blessed that she has had so many women who have championed and advocated for her—and she’s going to pay that forward. “The people who are in these coveted positions need to be challenged,” she says. “I encourage people to connect with me. Find that email address and that phone number to ultimately get to me because if you see it, you can be it. Representation matters.”

Empower Onyx/Sports Illustrated present Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports

Bryna Jean-Marie is a contributor for Empower Onyx, a diverse multi-channel platform celebrating the stories and transformative power of sports for Black women and girls.