Raymond Beasley V was 4 years old when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor that required 14 hours of surgery. Three months later, when the tumor reappeared, he began chemotherapy treatments that spanned more than a year. At age 6, with no other choice, he underwent another operation that was deemed a success but left him without hearing in his right ear or feeling on the right side of his face.
His account of these experiences and an unrelentingly positive attitude come alive in his two-page essay, "My Outstanding Life," that rewrites the definition of uplifting.
That essay was the reason for a student assembly Wednesday morning at Krey Elementary School in Brentwood, where the fifth-grade honor student who loves to play sports and video games was honored as one of two grand prize winners, from among 19,000 entries nationwide, in a contest sponsored by Major League Baseball and Scholastic.
The annual "Breaking Barriers: In Life, In Sports" essay contest, created in 1997, stands as testament to the courage and perseverance exhibited by Jackie Robinson, who triumphed over discrimination when he broke the major league color barrier in 1947. Fittingly, it was his daughter, Sharon Robinson, who arrived from New York to honor the 10-year-old essay winner and give him a big hug.
"What stood out about your essay," she said, "was your strength of character. We were looking for kids who had challenges in their lives, who showed the courage and strength like you did -- and my dad did -- to get to the next level."
About 400 students and teachers cheered as Beasley stepped to the microphone and quietly read his essay:
"Sometimes I forget about the scar on my head, but the questions about it from strangers remind me that I am a survivor. Sometimes I wish I could just blend in with the crowd instead of standing out, but I am outstanding because I fought hard to be like most other 10-year-olds. Some people thought a brain tumor would limit me ..."
Raymond's mother, Shannon, encouraged him to enter the contest after learning of it in an email from the Junior Giants youth baseball program in which he participates.
"Raymond is very quiet and timid about talking about his issues," she said. "I thought he could use this to grow his voice. He was not very enthusiastic at first. I just wanted him to own his own power -- the power of knowing what he's been through -- and how he can channel that to get better and better."
Principal Brian Jones knew nothing of the contest when he received a phone call one day from Major League Baseball. "Sharon Robinson was on the other end," he said. "At first, I thought someone was pulling my leg."
Raymond was equally surprised. "When they called him to the principal's office, he thought he was in trouble," his mother said.
Mom said the contest is especially meaningful for her son because he's admired Robinson ever since seeing "42," a movie that dramatizes the hardships he faced as the majors' first black player. He knows that Robinson's trail-blazing heroics are a big reason black athletes can play any sport they want to now.
Beasley's winnings include an iPad; a computer laptop for him and his teacher, Tammy Egger; tickets to a Giants game for his family; and a trip to the All-Star Game in Minneapolis, where he will be honored before the Home Run Derby. But he knows he's already claimed the biggest prize, as he wrote in his essay:
"In the end, it's a blessing that I can enjoy life just like other kids."
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.