Tesfai's essay recounted her determination to overcome her grief and sadness after her brother, Filmon, was fatally shot. He was the victim of a drive-by shooting two days before he was to attend the University of Illinois on a scholarship. Arsema was 3 when the shooting happened; her brother was 18.
"Her barrier was grief and anger, and even though it's been 10 years, the family still mourns his death, and it's particularly hard because they never found out who did it," Robinson said Monday at Wrigley Field. "She wrote brilliantly and she wrote about racism and how that plays into her life."
"Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life" was developed by Major League Baseball, Sharon Robinson, and Scholastic, the global children's publishing, education and media company. Since its inception in 1997, "Breaking Barriers" has reached more than 22 million children and 2.9 million educators in the continental United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.
The essay contest asks students in grades four through nine to write about barriers or obstacles they have faced or are still facing in their lives, and how they overcame those obstacles using the values demonstrated by Jackie Robinson: commitment, citizenship, courage, determination, excellence, justice, persistence, teamwork, and integrity.
Nearly 20,000 essays were submitted, and Tesfai was a first-prize winner.
"What we look for is how they're working it through and for us, that's the real important part, and they have to talk about how they use the values to move to the next level," Robinson said. "She talked about courage and working together as a family.
"It was so cute today when she got asked, 'What do you think your brother would say?' and she said, 'I think he would be very proud of me.' She knows she's taken up his cause and not let anything stop them. They're going to move on with their lives and it's still very painful."
Tesfai's family emigrated from the state of Eritrea, a small African country north of Ethiopia.
Patti Brock, Tesfai's teacher, read through the essays as did Brock's mother.
"My mother said Arsema's made her cry," Brock said.
Tesfai shared her win with her classmates. When she found out she was going to the Cubs game, she asked if everyone could come, and the Cubs arranged for tickets for all the students. That way, Brock said, they're all winners.