MINNEAPOLIS -- Raymond Beasley V knows a thing or two about breaking barriers.
Beasley, a rising sixth-grader from Brentwood, Calif., has been through more in his 10 years of life than most of us could even dream of.
At age 4, an MRI revealed results that would change his life -- Raymond had a lime-sized brain tumor. Worse yet, it was located near nerves that help the processes of breathing, hearing and balance.
So it was off to the hospital, where Raymond underwent a grueling 14-hour surgery to remove the tumor. Although the procedure was successful, the tumor came back and Raymond had a second surgery at the age of 7.
That one left him with no hearing in his right ear and no feeling on the right side of his face. Raymond also sports a scar running down his skull as evidence of what he's endured.
And while Raymond is often asked about the scar, he is able to harness others' curiosity into a personal source of strength.
That's precisely what Raymond, a student at R. Paul Krey Elementary School, wrote about as his contribution to the more than 19,000 essays that poured in as entries to the 2014 Breaking Barriers essay contest sponsored by Scholastic and Major League Baseball.
Raymond was honored on the field before the Gillette Home Run Derby on Monday night.
The Jackie Robinson story, which is the impetus behind the contest, wasn't new to Raymond, according to his mom, Shannon.
"In our family, we always try to just stay grounded with heroes and our history and especially African-American history," she said. "So when the movie ['42'] came out, my sons were both like, 'I really wanna go see it.' And we had known that it would have some things in it that would be kind of deep and eye-opening for them as young children. But they really wanted to see it, and once they saw it, they were really moved by what Mr. Robinson had to deal with in a very different time.
"They're very into sports and I'm trying to raise strong men and have them have strong minds, so from what they saw, and then applying it to their own lives, I think Raymond really saw the definition of just what it means to be courageous and brave and it wasn't until we heard about this contest that we were really able to connect all the dots and really show him that that story could be his story, or is his story. To see those things come together is a good experience."
So when Raymond heard about the essay contest from his school principal, he knew he had to enter -- and was shocked to hear back.
"My principal at my school told me Ms. Sharon Robinson was on the phone and I didn't even know what was going on," Raymond said. "Then it just started, like someone was talking on the phone and I didn't know who it was. And then Ms. Sharon Robinson told me that I won the contest and I was excited and shocked."
Raymond's hard work had paid off: The tenacity and determination his essay conveyed impressed the judging panel.
"In the end, it's a blessing that I can enjoy life just like other kids. Most people think that I'm brave, but I'm just committed to thinking good thoughts, even when I feel sad or afraid. Having courage, being persistent and keeping a commitment to surviving helped me get back up when I was knocked down," Raymond wrote in his prize-winning essay, which won him a school visit from Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie and contest ambassador, and recognition at a Giants' game, among other honors.
And when he is, you just might see Raymond's "outstanding crooked smile," as he referred to it in 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. But I AM OUTSTANDING because I fought hard to be like most other 10-year-olds," Raymond wrote.
That smile may not be perfectly straight, but it serves as a reminder to Raymond and to all he meets that he didn't break a barrier.
He smashed one.
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less