BRENTWOOD -- Ten-year-old Raymond Beasley V is fifth in his family's lineage, but he's come in first as one of two grand prize winners of the "2014 Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life" essay contest.
The Brentwood fifth-grader, along with a ninth-grade student from Phoenix, triumphed by writing essays revealing how they broke barriers using values demonstrated by Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson as he broke baseball's color barrier.
Honored last week by his peers at an R. Paul Krey Elementary school assembly in Brentwood and by author/educator Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie Robinson, during a San Francisco Giants pregame ceremony at AT&T Park, Raymond said in an interview a hero is "a person, maybe in disguise, who's doing something very important for saving people or for changing prejudice."
Major League Baseball and Scholastic developed the Breaking Barriers essay contest with Robinson's daughter in 1997. Open to students in grades four through nine from the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, Raymond's essay about how he battled through brain surgeries and chemotherapy stood out in a field of 19,000 entries.
He and his teacher, Tammy Egger, will each receive a laptop computer and other prizes.
In July, Raymond will travel to and be recognized at the 2014 MLB All-Star Game at Target Field in Minneapolis.
"My Outstanding Life," the title of Raymond's essay, tells the story of his and his parents' remarkable determination. When Raymond's delayed walking and speaking compelled his parents to insist the pediatrician's "he's a slow starter" explanation was insufficient and demand an MRI, a lime-sized, noncancerous tumor was discovered in the then-4-year-old's brain. A 14-hour surgery removed most of the tumor, but its location near the brainstem meant some of the tumor was left behind.
Three months later, it was growing back, and Raymond underwent 18 months of weekly chemotherapy. At age 6, Raymond had a second surgery that removed the tumor but left him with lost hearing in his right ear and lost feeling in the right side of his face.
Today, after relearning how to walk three times, enduring daily therapy to help him breathe on his own and regain physical strength, Raymond swims and plays basketball, football and baseball -- and is learning to golf.
"Sometimes I forget about the scar on my head, but the questions about it from strangers remind me that I am a survivor," Raymond wrote in his essay. "Just as Jackie Robinson fought prejudice so that blacks could play Major League Baseball, I have applied some of his values in my own life and am very proud to be African-American, too."
Raymond admires Martin Luther King, Jr. because he "wanted laws that treat everyone, black and white, well."
But actually, he says, his own family is a better source for inspiration. "My grandfather was a painter, and his great-grandfather was the first African-American to play football in his (Canadian) league," he says, laying the groundwork. "My mom knows how to take care of me. At the hospital, she'd be there for breakfast, then my grandma would come, then my papa, then my mom again, to stay all night."
Raymond's mother, Shannon Ladner-Beasley, says a school assignment to write about an injury was the "rough draft" for Raymond's winning essay. "He wasn't excited about writing it," she admits. "But I knew he'd be proud of himself, and he'd have a voice for what he's holding inside."
A fierce dislike for hospitals was the primary feeling Raymond held inside, but he used it to push him through recovery in record time. Three years post-surgery, he says "no more brain surgeries" and playing better basketball are his goals. He dreams of becoming a sports commentator.
Asked what advice he'd give another kid facing a scary situation or barrier, he says, "I'd tell them God was in my heart, and I believed He would help me. I felt it. I prayed. I'd tell them you don't have to worry about fear."
Even the story of how Raymond found out he'd won the essay contest backs up his assertion that faith is victorious over fear. Called from the classroom to the school office, he says Principal Brian Jones was "excited"--and he was worried. "I thought I was in trouble," he recalls. "Then I heard a voice (Sharon Robinson), and she said I was a winner."
"The number of essays we received this year is phenomenal," Robinson said in a news release. "I am honored that the values my father used to break the color barrier have played such a large role in helping so many young people break through their own barriers."