VIDEO: Fifth-Grader Wins Visit from Sharon Robinson
Alexis Williams submitted an essay for Breaking Barriers, a contest through Scholastic and Major League Baseball.
Lafayette Avenue School welcomed Sharon Robinson, daughter of baseball legend Jackie Robinson, for a school assembly Thursday morning.
The visit was made possible thanks to the efforts of Alexis Williams, a fifth-grade student at LAS who won first place in the Breaking Barriers essay contest by writing about an obstacle she had to overcome.
Alexis, 11, and her family have lived in Chatham Township for the past seven years. "My family and I are the 0.16 percent of the African American population in this town," she wrote in her essay.
For the contest, Alexis wrote about being pushed by a friend in second grade because her parents planned to vote for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential elections while the rest of the parents from her class were voting for John McCain.
"With all the courage and goodness inside of me, I took a deep breath and walked away. I knew if I had reacted any differently, negative consequences could have followed. Determination carried me through that day," Alexis' essay reads in part.
The next day, she wrote, she began talking to her friends about the election, expressing her opinion freely and sharing her thoughts. "Ever since then, I've learned that the biggest barrier can sometimes live within us. Although I've lost some friends along the way, on the path to justice I've met excellence," she wrote.
Determination and Justice are two of the Breaking Barriers program's core values, along with Commitment, Persistence, Integrity, Courage, Teamwork, Citizenship and Excellence.
"I was so impressed with your sophistication in writing," Robinson told Alexis during the assembly. "I had to say, did a fifth-grader really write this essay?"
Robinson said Alexis' essay especially touched her because when she was in the fifth grade herself, her teacher organized a debate in advance of the 1960 election based on which candidate their fathers—"not [their] fathers or mothers, or your parents," Robinson noted—were voting for.
"Unfortunately that year, my father was still supporting Nixon at the time," Robinson said. "I was the only black girl in the class, and everyone in my class was supporting Kennedy. So I was already different than everybody else in my class, ... and then I was going to have to come in and say 'Nixon' when they all wanted Kennedy, I really wanted Kennedy myself."
Robinson said she tried to convince her father to change his mind before the assignment, but with no luck.
"I really related to your essay on a very private note," Robinson said.
"All of us have differences, you know, something that makes us different from the other people. ... But it's not easy to be different, and it's not easy to stand up for what you believe in. So I'm very proud of you for standing up."
An Ambitious Fifth-Grader
Maggie Williams, Alexis' mother, said her daughter enjoys writing, as well as math. "She's an overachiever," Williams said of her daughter. "She'll be up at 3 a.m. with a flashlight, reading under the covers."
After Williams and Alexis found the contest online, Alexis knew she wanted to write about the moment her friend pushed her over politics. She went through "at least five drafts," Alexis said, and asked her teacher Mrs. Pafford for comments and edits. "Then I typed it up and it was like, this is what I wanted," she said.
When the time came to enter the contest, the website was having problems and would not accept the attachment. "My mom emailed them that night, and they accepted it without penalty," Alexis said.
"You don't think to win first prize when you enter these things," Williams said. "It happened so fast."
Sharon Robinson works with Major League Baseball (MLB) as an educational consultant, and writes books for Scholastic. She said between 6,000 and 10,000 essays are submitted to the contest each year from the US, Canada and Puerto Rico. Alexis was the only student from LAS to submit an essay for the contest.
Representatives from MLB and Scholastic, along with Robinson, chose a grand prize, first place and second place winners from among the entries. As a first prize winner, Alexis attended a baseball game at Yankie Stadium on Jackie Robinson Day, when she was able to go down onto the field and meet Robinson, Reggie Jackson and Yankee players. Robinson also visited her school and awarded Alexis and her teacher, Mrs. Pafford, with new Samsung computers.
Also, every student in Alexis' class received a T-shirt from Breaking Barriers and a copy of Robinson's book, "Promises to Keep," which she wrote about her father.
Alexis' two sisters, Ashley and Amanda, and her parents, father Tony and Maggie, attended the assembly with her.
As an added treat, Robinson answered questions from LAS students. She told them about doing yard work on the weekends with her father and two brothers, about going on safari in Tanzania, where her brother has a coffee farm, for her mother's 85th birthday, going to Florida for spring training with her parents, and watching her father test the ice before she and her siblings could go ice skating on a lake where they grew up.