Monday, May 6, 2013

JP Fourth Grader Overcomes Barriers and Inspires Others

Xavier at Busch Stadium with Sharon Robinson

Jackson Park fourth grade Xavier Morgan-Gillard has made quite a splash in local media this past week, and with good reason.  Xavier was selected as a first-place winner  of the  Major League Baseball/Scholastic Books Jackie Robinson Breaking Barriers essay contest. 

Selected from a field of 18,700 submissions, Xavier’s essay, “What Jackie Robinson and I Have in Common”, tells about his struggles in overcoming Selective Mutism, a severe social anxiety that left him unable to speak to people outside his own family.
Xavier’s father Tim first learned of the honor last Friday when Major League Baseball called him at work - an experience he described as “awesome.”  That phone call kicked off a whirlwind of events celebrating Xavier’s accomplishment, as well as the legacy of baseball legend and civil rights champion Jackie Robinson. 

On Tuesday, Robinson’s daughter Sharon was at Jackson Park (along with Fredbird!) to present the award in front of classmates and administrators.  The event was covered by KSDK.  Then, on Tuesday night, Xavier and his family were special guests on the field at Busch Stadium, where Xavier was honored once again.  On Thursday, there were nice articles in both the Beacon and the Post-Dispatch.

Fredbird greets the kids at JP
Xavier (2nd from left) and JP Friends

Getting autographs at the ballgame
As exciting as the week’s events have been, the real inspiration here is Xavier’s story.  Like Jackie Robinson, Xavier faced circumstances which left him feeling isolated and unable to achieve his full potential. With great determination, confidence, and a special friend (as well as lots of support from parents and teachers) Xavier overcame his own barriers has gone on to inspire others.  Here’s his story, in his own words:   

The barrier I overcame was Selective Mutism. When you have Selective Mutism, you are afraid to talk.  I couldn’t talk to anyone other than my family.  I didn’t speak at all in school until the second to last week of first grade.  My kindergarten teacher never heard me speak except videos of me talking at home that I showed her after school sometimes. People thought I was just “shy,” but it was more than that.  My parents told me that Selective Mutism is a type of social anxiety, and that when they first took me to a psychologist for help, the psychologist said SM is one of the hardest anxiety disorders to get past and takes a long time.
I felt like I was in my own world and no one knew what I was thinking, except my parents, my brother, and my friend, Adam. I remember feeling really nervous the first day of preschool.  I remember looking around and everyone was talking and having fun and I was just staring at the wall.  I knew that most people could just talk whenever they feel like it. I felt a little bit jealous. I remember feeling almost like an alien. I thought people would make fun of my voice. I was worried in school because usually I didn’t sit by Adam so I couldn’t whisper, “Hey, can you get the teacher? I need something.”
If you had met me back then, you wouldn’t have said, “Xavier, you remind me of Jackie Robinson!” Even if you had said that to me, I would’ve thought, “Who’s Jackie Robinson?” Since then, I’ve learned a lot about him (through books and a play) and it seems like we overcame barriers in a similar way, using similar values.
Jackie Robinson and I both had confidence. He had confidence to be the first black man ever to play professional baseball with a lot of white people. Without confidence, I couldn’t have learned to speak to new people or even to my teachers. I was brave by going into a classroom with kids who were comfortable talking, yet I couldn’t. Jackie Robinson must’ve felt very different, like I did. He probably felt nervous and excited thinking, “Look, I’m making the history books!”  When I started talking, I didn’t feel like I made the history books because I didn’t!
Getting past Selective Mutism took a lot of determination. I had to stay focused on being able to talk to other people instead of saying to myself, “I give up, I don’t want to talk.” Sometimes, my family and I went to Steak and Shake where I was determined to order my own milkshake so I could have a treat. This was very hard for me, but once I did it a few times, it got
easier.  I worked on overcoming SM by doing things like that every day for four years.  Like Jackie Robinson, I had to have commitment to succeed.
Out of all the traits that Jackie and I have in common, I think that teamwork was the most important one. My team was me, my parents, Ms. Hendrix and Ms. Stuart (my kindergarten and first grade teachers), Dr. Pingel (she’s a psychologist), my friend, Adam, and a horse named Cappy. I had to tell Cappy to “Walk On”, “Trot”, and “Whoa”. It helped to start talking to someone who I was sure wouldn’t tease me. But, the most helpful teammate of all was my friend, Adam. In school I’d whisper answers in Adam’s ear and he would repeat what I said to the whole class.  This really helped me a ton. Jackie Robinson needed teammates to accept him for who he was like Adam did for me.
Xavier's friend Adam, with Sharon Robinson
Now, I’m in fourth grade and I still use the values that Jackie Robinson and I share when I want to be successful. I am in the student council, on a robotics team, play soccer, baseball, piano, and cello. When something is hard for me, I think about Jackie Robinson and how he overcame his barriers, which helps me overcome mine. Now if someone said, “Xavier, you remind me of Jackie Robinson!” I would say (yes, say), “You’re right!”


  1. Way to go, Xavier! Thanks to this blog for posting the wonderful winning essay in full. The awards presentation was very memorable. Xavier read the essay, without the slightest clue of anxiety or stage fright, let alone of having once been a boy who just wouldn't talk! Sharon Robinson warmly answered numerous good questions from Jackson Park students. Then Fredbird appeared and gave out Cardinals gifts to everyone. As neighbors just a few doors down, our family had expressed high confidence in Jackson Park's ability to work with Xavier while Kindergarten choice for him was still open--and challenging given his circumstances. Many evenings of backyard ball at Xavier;s house with neighbor kids also helped warm him up to others. So baseball is rather a bigger part of the story than the essay indicates. I understand the 700-word limit was very challenging, as Xavier had much more to say!

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