Breaking Barriers winner honored in pregame ceremony
By Megan Zahneis
SAN DIEGO -- Kendal Young didn't even want to enter this year's "Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life Essay Contest," sponsored by Scholastic and Church & Dwight. Her mom made her.
And now, Kendal and her mom, Kim, are both glad they entered.
Kendal, who's 11 and will enter the sixth grade at Walden Green Montessori School in Green Lake, Mich., this fall, was announced this spring as the grand-prize winner in the grades 4-6 division of the contest. Kendal was recognized on the field at Petco Park before Monday night's T-Mobile All-Star Home Run Derby.
Now in its 20th year, Breaking Barriers honors the legacy of Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball's color barrier, by encouraging kids nationwide to submit essays about barriers they overcome in their own lives.
When Kim Young, who's a teacher, heard about the contest from a colleague, she told her daughter to give it a whirl. At first, Kendal was stuck trying to think of a topic to write about.
"I was stumped, and then my mom was like, 'Breaking a barrier is like being a minority,'" Kendal recalled. "I know plenty about that!"
So Kendal decided to write about her experience being one of the only students of color in her community, from school to sports teams, in a piece that impressed contest spokesperson and judge Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie.
"I was very impressed with her self-confidence. That's what she achieved so well and expressed in her essay," Robinson said of Kendal. "Yes, she's a minority and had a real problem with that, but because she had a support system behind her, she was still proud to be a young black girl. And when I met her, I was so charmed."
That confidence shines through in Kendal's winning essay.
"You want to always commit to be yourself. If you don't, there is a good chance that, wherever you are, someone may want to change you," her essay read. "As I have gotten older, I understand that I can be different and still have friendship with everyone in my class. I can commit to love myself for who I am and not let anyone make me change the things I do."
Kim Young said that when Kendal read her essay aloud at an assembly called in her honor -- in front of Robinson, local news media, classmates and teachers -- several of her daughter's best friends were moved to tears.
Her piece has garnered many similar reactions since it was announced the grand-prize winner, but Kendal was just surprised to have heard back after submitting her entry.
"I was in my classroom [when I found out I'd won]. I was called to the office thinking I had done something wrong. While I was going to the office, that was the only thing in my head," she laughed. "Then my friend told me as I got to the office that I had won. I couldn't believe it. On my way back to class, I wanted to do a cartwheel."
"But," she quickly added, "I didn't."
Despite Kendal's restraint, her essay is one worth celebrating, even by her own admission. She said her piece sparked conversations about race amongst her friends.
"I don't think my classmates really thought about how I felt, because I am the only person like me at my school," Kendal said.
"I gave them something to think about."
Megan Zahneis is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.