Ray Robinson Center brings hope

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B.J. (second from left), his teammates and coach pose for a photo.

Thanks to a caring mother, a supportive basketball team, and a concerned Salvation Army coach, 10-year-old B.J. Price is participating in something most kids take for granted.

B.J. was born seven weeks early to 17-year-old Nakita Price. Two years later, B.J. still had not taken his first step. His weak motor skills and lack of normal development sent Nakita into a period of denial, chalking up B.J.’s inability to walk and talk to stubbornness. The following two years for Nakita were difficult both emotionally and physically. She was a young mother with an obviously disabled child, and not much guidance on how to address the problem. Nakita took her son to the Social Security office in an attempt to get support to care for her “slow” son. Upon examination, the caseworkers immediately suggested B.J. have his hearing checked out. B.J. was diagnosed with severe to profound hearing loss present at birth.

B.J. began to attend a playgroup that included other deaf children. A therapist regularly came to the house to work on developing his motor skills. Slowly, B.J. began to learn sign language and his mother soon followed his lead. Nakita began to attend classes at Sacramento City College to learn how to communicate with her child. Eight years later, B.J. is a thriving 10-year-old—artistic, expressive, and happy.

The Salvation Army came into B.J.’s life three years ago. His two cousins were part of the Ray Robinson Oak Park Community Center basketball league. Although B.J. certainly showed interest, Nakita was hesitant to enroll him due to the challenges that his hearing loss might create for both B.J. and the coaches. However, B.J. was welcomed into the league with open arms by The Salvation Army staff. There were certain logistical questions that were left unanswered, however; the main concern being how will his coach communicate plays or even introduce himself? Allowing B.J. to play on the team would require the coach, the team, and especially B.J. to display a level of patience not usually expected of community recreational teams. All were up to the challenge. “Well…for me as a coach, he was a blessing to have on my team. I was able to use him as a tool to teach the other kids on the team the value and importance of teamwork and camaraderie. They were ultimately the ones responsible for making sure that he knew where he was supposed to be on the court,” explains Jamilah Jones (TSA program supervisor).

This is B.J.’s third season with The Salvation Army basketball league; he is a Gator this year. Watching the Gators play you would never know that their guard relies on his mom, standing on the sidelines, to decipher his coach’s directions. B.J. gracefully balances keeping eye contact with his mother and the ball. Nakita is proud of B.J. and admires his strength in dealing with his disability. She acknowledges the plight he has and will face, yet is confident her son will shine. “B.J. is smarter than his peers in many ways,” Nakita explains; “he must rely on other skills, besides talking, to express himself.” B.J. is innovative and perceptive. He seeks answers to many questions.

After the weekly games, the coaches and the team hold hands and pray. “We have never prayed as a family–the team prayers after the games sparked B.J.’s interest, and now he regularly attends church,” says Nakita. B.J. plans on continuing in The Salvation Army league. He is a testament to what can be achieved regardless of a disability–B.J. is the reason the Ray Robinson Oak Park Community Center exists.

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