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Chicago seventh-grader looks to break down barriers

In heart-warming essay, Arsema explains how brother's death impacted her

Arsema Tesfai wants to change the world.

The seventh-grader from Chicago is one of four first prize winners of the annual Breaking Barriers essay contest offered by MLB and Scholastic, and she's got big dreams.

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In her winning essay, Arsema details the tragic death of her brother, Filmon, two days before he was set to attend college on a scholarship.

"If you live in Chicago and read about it in the newspaper, maybe you said, 'Oh, how terrible.' Or perhaps you thought, 'Another black boy has been shot … so what? They are all high school dropouts on drugs in Chicago. They are all in gangs,'" Arsema wrote candidly.

"My barrier was that I felt like my brother's case wasn't solved because he was African-American, and I don't feel that it was right," Arsema said. "And my barrier is that racism still exists in the world, and I want people to understand that and to do something about it."

Arsema will be recognized for her essay by the Cubs in a pregame ceremony prior to Monday night's game against the Padres.

Arsema certainly plans on doing something about it. She wants to be a criminal justice lawyer.

"I want to make sure all people are treated fairly and I want to argue and fight, not with my fists, but with my words and the law. Just like Jackie Robinson, I will fight injustice peacefully, but in a courtroom instead of on a baseball field," she wrote.

Arsema's teacher, Patricia Brock, encouraged all of her students to enter the contest.

"We talk about civil rights in my social studies class, and a lot of my students have barriers because they are immigrants," Brock explained. "When I saw this essay contest, [I thought that] this is just perfect for my students. Some of them were born in refugee camps, some of them have gone through a lot of hardships."

Brock worked one-on-one with Arsema to fine-tune her student's essay.

"Arsema is very self-confident and very bright and is on the honor roll -- she works very hard. What I think that struck me about her and her essay is how hard she worked on it. Every day she polished it and changed things," Brock recalled.

On Monday, Brock's classroom will host a very special visitor: Sharon Robinson, the daughter of Jackie Robinson himself.

On Friday afternoon, Brock, Arsema, and several other students stayed after school to decorate Brock's classroom at St. Thomas of Canterbury School in anticipation of the visit.

In the words of one of Brock's students, "We all won because Arsema won."

Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for in the fall of '11.

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