FROM READERS: Fourth-graders write about people who overcame adversity

Thursday, May 30, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:48 a.m. CDT, Thursday, May 30, 2013

Celestine Hayes is a member of the John W. Boone Heritage Foundation board of directors and the music specialist at Ridgeway Elementary School.

The three grand prize winners of the Blind Boone Essay Contest are Elliot Bachrach from Lee Elementary School, Elizabeth Henderson from Grant Elementary School and Tia Rawat from Mill Creek Elementary School. They were chosen as winners from 26 entries.

The contest is sponsored each May by the Blind Boone Heritage Foundation Board (Dr. Clyde Ruffin, president). It is a yearly contest for fourth graders in Columbia Public Schools.

The fourth-graders were asked to write one page on the life of John William "Blind" Boone and a second page about a person or a situation that best exemplifies Blind Boone's famous motto, "Merit not sympathy wins."

Here is the life of Blind Boone as written by one of the winners, followed by each winner's essays about other people who exemplify his motto.

Tia Rawat, on the life of J.W. "Blind" Boone

“Blind” Boone is an inspiring legend. He was an amazing musician. He believed that anything was possible. He lost his eyesight when he was 6 months old and had a difficult childhood but he overcame all obstacles and grew up to be an extraordinary American. He was a composer (for ragtime music), concert pianist, philosopher, mentor and philanthropist. Boone’s famous motto is “merit, not sympathy, wins” and he made it true.

Boone was born May 17, 1864 in Miami, Mo. He grew up in Warrensburg, Mo. As a child, “Little Willie” (Boone’s nickname) showed melodic talent. He mimicked wildlife, landscape, and natural noises using his voice. Warrensburg saw Willie’s talent and donated money so he could go to the Missouri Institute for the Education of the Blind at St. Louis in 1873.

During school, Willie did not enjoy academics so he was given broom making instead. Slowly and carefully, he tiptoed toward the piano room and could mimic what he heard. He discovered his talent with music. Willie’s love for music grew constantly. He is frequently asked to play for school, church facilities, and celebrations during the summer.

In 1879, at the age of 15, Boone played a Christmas recital at Second Baptist Church in Columbia, Mo., and met John Lange Jr. who offered to be his agent. That was the beginning of a long and wonderful partnership. Boone initially played concerts in Columbia and surrounding areas. From 1885-1916 he toured the Western and Midwestern U.S., Canada, and Mexico. In 1919-1920 he played at Harvard, Yale, New York, and Washington D.C.

Boone primarily played classical concerts but also included music of the time. One of his compositions the “Marshfield Tornado” had sounded so real that many people started running away.

Boone expressed his blindness as a blessing. He wanted the audience to see his talent and not feel sympathetic. He is a source of inspiration and showed the world a different perspective — a legacy that would last forever. Boone died of a heart attack on October 4, 1927, in Warrensburg and was buried in the Columbia, Mo., Cemetery.

Essays on "Merit, not sympathy, wins"

Elliot Bachrach,  Lee Elementary, on Jackie Robinson

“Merit, not sympathy, wins,” is a quote from John William “Blind” Boone. In my opinion that quote resembles the famous, first African American Major League baseball player, Jackie Robinson. This well said quote means that you work hard, harder than hard, people don’t pity you, and your successful.

When Jackie became a Major League baseball player for the Brooklyn Dodgers (all thanks to Branch Rickey, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers) most white folks weren’t happy about it. Sick, sick people sent threats to Jackie Robinson like: “Get out of the game or your baby boy'll die.”

From physical contact to racism to rude comments. Jackie had to have the guts not to fight back. One little move could get himself arrested. He worked hard by earning the respect of fans and teammates. It is also really hard to be a Major League baseball player, especially if you were African American at that time. There were some teammates, like Pee Wee Reese, who were very kind. And then players like Dixie Walker, who didn't accept him at first. Also some fans were mad (as I said before) that a "Black" was in a “white man’s game.” Most Dodger fans got used to the fact that he was a negro and he was a good ball player.

Jackie Robinson now a days is one of the most well-known and famous ball players known. His number, 42, is retired throughout Major League baseball. To people, they remember him as a hero. To me, he is my hero.

Elizabeth Henderson, Grant Elementary, on a boy from Ethiopia

Blind Boone’s motto was “merit, not sympathy, wins.” He didn’t want people to think of him as "that poor blind man" but by the accomplishments he had done.

I know a boy, a boy who came to America, an unknown country he had never seen before. He had to leave behind his homeland Ethiopia, the only place he had ever been to before. English was an unknown language to him. The world was big, and he was small.

After less than a year, this boy had friends, a school, and a new life. He has learned more words than I can count. He knew, just as Blind Boone did, that merit, not sympathy, wins.

Blind Boone couldn’t see, but maybe it is really us who are living in a colorless world. Because for Blind Boone, color wasn’t something that we see in the world around us; it was something inside us and all we need to do is let it out.

Tia Rawat, Mill Creek Elementary, on Helen Keller

Helen Keller was a fascinating, talented person. She was an American author, political activist, and lecturer. Keller was well journeyed and honest in her opinion. She electioneered for women’s political franchise, working, privileges, and socialism. She was a very active citizen. Helen participated in discussions, and listened to other opinions. She was confident, courageous, courteous, and very considerate.

Helen Keller was the first deaf and blind person to ever receive a Bachelor of Arts degree. She did all this thanks to her teacher, Anne Sullivan. Helen learned to believe in everything, after her teacher helped her overcome her frustration and struggles. Anne helped her communicate with other people. She helped her learn braille — a system that helps blind people read and write.

Keller is remembered as one who fought for people with disabilities and other causes. She was a co-founder of Helen Keller International and American Civil Liberties Union. As an author, she published twelve books and several articles. In 1964 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The subsequent year she was inducted in National Women’s Hall of Fame at New York.

Keller had a difficult life, especially during her childhood. She couldn’t talk, hear, or see. But she was brave, courageous and determined to learn how to overcome all obstacles, and she sure did. She has showed us a new unique way of using things in a good way. This goes back to John William Boone’s quote, “merit, not sympathy wins!” Despite being blind and deaf, Helen made outstanding achievements; she is inspirational, a role model and left behind a rich and lasting legacy. She proved Boone’s motto as her merit stood out and her disabilities just did not matter.

So let’s hear it for Helen Keller!

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We are happy to publish student writing or art, and we hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.

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