SURGOINSVILLE — Author and educator Sharon Robinson visited Surgoinsville Middle School Thursday to honor a student who not only overcame a major obstacle in her life, but also wrote an award winning essay about it.
SMS eighth-grader Eliza Smith's essay on how she overcame a severe eating disorder was chosen as among 9,000 entered in Major League Baseball's Breaking Barriers Essay Contest.
There were 10 winners, two of whom were grand prize winners — one at the elementary level and Eliza at the middle school level.
As part of Eliza’s prize, Robinson came to SMS Thursday to present the award, as well as speak to a school assembly about overcoming barriers. Aside form being an author, Robinson is the MLB’s consultant on Community Affairs and Educational Programming.
As the daughter of Major League Baseball's first African American player, Robinson has keen insight into the subject of overcoming barriers, some of which she shared with the student body during Thursday's assembly.
"Some things we have no control over, and some things we d have control over," Robinson said. "Some kids will say, I'm still in the process (of overcoming obstacles) and that's OK because we're looking for a process. That's the way life is. We're all kind of moving forward. We're gonna go up the hill, and we're gonna go down and have a little hard time. Then we'll go back up the hill and have a great time, because that's the way life works. Obstacles come and go in our lives, and what we're trying to build is an inner strength."
As a grand prize winner Eliza won a trip to the 2019 MLB World Series for her and her family, as well as a laptop computer to help with her continued writing, and the visit from Robinson.
Eliza's teacher, Angelia Hensley, also won a laptop computer.
After Robinson addressed the student body during Thursday's assembly she visited Eliza's classroom where she autographed books for the entire class.
Eliza also read her essay before the assembly. A video of the assembly, including that essay recital, can be seen in the online version of this article at www.timesnews.net.
Eliza states in her essay that it would be "blasphemous" for her to compare her own struggles with an eating disorder with the struggles of Jackie Robinson.
"But, it would also be degrading to my experiences to not acknowledge how I have shattered barriers in my life,” Eliza states in her essay. “I find that the aforementioned quote is of great relevance to my personal journey. For there have been days when I have simply resigned to the the fact that what I must do is not at all what I want to do. While my demons do not present themselves in the form of racism and prejudice, they still have the ability to torment, humiliate, and kill."
She points out how three of Jackie Robinson's nine key values to help him achieve his goals served her well during her treatment — teamwork, persistence and integrity.
Robinson said that one excerpt from the essay about Eliza’s church "brought it home and gives you chills when you hear it again. It was so powerful, and such a powerful image."
Eliza stated in her essay, "I remember going into church a few weeks before I was admitted into treatment. My faith had always been a key component of who I was. I found comfort in the embrace of God and in the in faces of my church family."
Robinson noted, "Ms. Hensley worked very hard with (her class) to understand who Jackie Robinson was. I was telling Eliza, she really integrated Jackie Robinson's story into her own story, and showed what she's learned from him as well."
Robinson spent quite a bit of time answering questions for the student body during Thursday's assembly.
One student asked what lessons she had learned from her father.
Robinson: "I think he taught me that that there's struggle in life, but there's also joy in life, and to try to keep a balance there. He wanted me to stay involved in some of the struggles that are outside of our home, but to find joy and comfort in our homes. It involves all nine of those values because you have to be committed to something and serve your community. Your community can be your church community, your neighborhood, your family - all that is part of service. And then also find a way to serve outside of your community so you're helping other people. On his tombstone it says, a life is not important except for the impact it has on other lives."