About 30 minutes before I met Junichi Royal, I saw him on a bicycle speeding down University Drive, zooming past cars in the rush-hour traffic.
Later that evening I was waiting for a takeout dinner when the bicyclist came in to order food. I recognized him immediately by his distinctive long, bushy hair.
“Didn’t I just see you a while ago riding down University?” I asked.
That question started what would become a long conversation with an impressive 21-year-old who has an amazing outlook on life, had overcome some adversities and obviously has the ability to inspire.
Before I left, I told Royal, who happens to be biracial, that I’d love to tell his story. He said he would think about it, and a few weeks later he sent me an email saying he was ready.
Royal, the son of a Japanese mother and African-American father, said he’s gotten used to the terms Blackinese and Jack (Japanese combined with black), to the point that he’s not offended by them.
“At first it did bother me,” he said. “But when I got older it was unique: two cultures, ancestors are different. I feel blessed to have two nationalities.”
Although he can be seen riding his bike along the trails from Hulen Street to Tarrant County College Trinity River campus, bicycling is something he does for fun, not sport.
At Paschal High School, he was a tennis player and had plans to play as a professional. But he tore his anterior cruciate ligament, not once or twice but three times, and underwent three surgeries.
“I kept on going back,” he said. “I never wanted to give up where I started from. I always wanted to be a professional.”
Noting that rehabilitation was “really tough,” he admitted that “sometimes I cry. I got angry at myself. When I see a court or see [tennis] on a TV, I want to be there. … I wanted to continue without being injured.”
After graduation, he realized he had to stop playing tennis. He said that after the injuries he began to focus on ways to use his mind.
Royal, now enrolled at TCC, at first thought of studying to become an athletic trainer, but he changed to physical therapy, mainly because of the salary difference. He will attend the University of North Texas when he leaves TCC.
His faith has helped him to overcome the unpleasant things in his life.
In sixth grade he was bullied, he said, primarily because of his dark skin and his long hair, which some said made him look like a girl.
“That bothered me a lot,” Royal said. “At first I tried to ignore it, but every time I thought about it, I’d get angry and frustrated.”
But as he got to know God, whom he calls by the Hebrew word Elohim, he realized one thing: “Even though people didn’t like me — how I looked, how I acted — God always loved who I am, how he created me.”
Royal said he began to help other people with their problems. And as one who’s fluent in Japanese, he teaches the language to some of his fellow students.
His advice to those who may be taunted because of their race or culture:
“Be proud of who you are and where you come from, regardless who criticizes you. Talk to someone you trust who can understand your problems and feelings. And always stand strong.”
It was refreshing to meet a young man with such a great attitude about life and his fellow human beings.