Princeton Prize in Race Relations honors high school students for promoting understanding, respect
Twenty-eight high school students from around the United States have been named recipients of the 2019 Princeton Prize in Race Relations. The students were honored during the annual Princeton Prize Symposium on Race held on the Princeton University campus.
The program identifies and recognizes high school-age students who significantly engage and challenge their schools or communities to advance racial equity in order to promote respect and understanding among all people.
The winners participated in a two-day program on campus April 25-27. The Princeton Prize carries cash awards up to $1,000 for students in grades 9-12 in 28 regions around the country. Listed below are the 2019 winners by region with descriptions edited from the event program about their work:
Alabama: Mei Mei Sun, a senior at Vestavia Hills High School, founded Books4Bham, a youth-driven initiative to promote educational equity in Birmingham by aiding the donation of test-prep materials and children’s literature to inner-city schools and libraries. Over the past three years, the program has grown extensively, and has directly impacted some 6,000 students. Further, Sun participates in the Lincoln-Douglas debate, and is the 2018 state champion. She received the gold award in literary nonfiction for the American Southeast from Scholastic Magazine and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award for Unity from the Birmingham City Council for her essay on racial inequality.
California (Los Angeles region): Bianca Torres Murray is a junior at Polytechnic School in Pasadena. She interned for Professor Sean Kennedy at Loyola Law School’s (LLS) Center for Juvenile Law and Policy, where she researched and wrote a report on the history of deputy gangs within the Los Angeles County Sheriff ’s Department (LASD). The report was given to the Los Angeles Civilian Oversight Commission with the hope that it would lead to policy changes that rebuild trust with communities of color. It was also published for an LLS conference on gangs. Harvard University selected Torres Murray to serve as a youth adviser for the Making Caring Common Project. Every month, Torres Murray invites someone from a marginalized group to share their story with a small group of students over lunch. She has invited former gang members from Homeboy Industries, a person wrongly convicted of a felony, and a DACA recipient. As co-president and co-founder of Breaking Boundaries, a club that promotes awareness of immigrant and refugee issues, she has helped host a school assembly to discuss immigrant and refugee issues.
California (San Diego region): Sarina Krishnan is a junior at the Bishop’s School in La Jolla. She founded a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Pathways to Assimilation, that strives to help refugees acclimatize to the United States. She and her team have tutored numerous families from many countries, helping them improve their English and build the confidence and skills to seek opportunities and connect with the community. Additionally, she has encouraged over 250 refugee youth to embrace their identities and pursue opportunities to further their education. She also has collaborated with the University of San Diego Institute for Peace and Justice, helping organize meetings between refugee youth groups and police officers to foster understanding.
California (San Francisco region): Sabrina McFarland, a senior at Lick-Wilmerding High School, has led and assisted in a broad spectrum of school-wide programming aimed at improving race relations. As Student Council Inclusion chair, she facilitates weekly meetings with the leaders of affinity clubs. This past fall she hosted her school’s affinity club mixer. The conversations at the event included a session on white privilege, beauty standards for Asian identifying women, and the experience of being queer and black. She has been instrumental in planning her school’s annual social justice conference, Walk with a Purpose, and guided her peers in developing workshops around topics such as microaggressions, intersectionality, black lives matter and the prison system.
Connecticut: Shawn Brooks, a senior at Science and Technology Magnet High School in New London, is senior class president as well as president for More Than Words, a leadership diversity training club. Brooks is a core member at a social justice organization in his community, Hearing Youth Voices. This year, he advocated for the implementation of an ethnic studies course at his school, which is being taught this semester. He is a student representative in his school district for the District Equity Leadership Team Advisory. He assisted in writing an equity plan to implement restorative practices and to help students of color gain access to academic resources. This year, Brooks was voted vice president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Youth Council. He has led conversations for students in his high school in response to the film “The Hate U Give.”
Florida (Miami region): Jonathan Janvier, a senior at Miami Edison High School, is president and co-founder of the Racial and Social Justice Alliance, RASJA, bringing students together to discuss problems affecting their community. Topics have included gun violence, mass incarceration, homophobia, racial division and poverty. Janvier developed the idea for RASJA after volunteering with the Power U Center for Social Change, an organization promoting youth leadership and activism. He also formed a coalition of young leaders at Miami Edison to build power, impact change and bring the school’s diverse student communities together. The club has become a vital channel to communicate concerns about racial discrimination and injustice among a diverse group of students. Janvier was also instrumental in creating the Miami Edison Diversity Committee and serves as its chairman.
Florida (Tampa region): Vinay Konuru, a junior at Pine View School for the Gifted and Talented at Osprey, formed a task force called DiGS to address underrepresentation of diversity at his school. Since the eighth grade, he has worked to hold group discussions, conduct student surveys and host presentations, as well as write articles and make YouTube videos about the issue. He developed a smartphone app to give a diversity score to any school, based on its student demographics. He is organizing a community workshop on the importance of racial diversity in gifted education, inviting nationally renowned education researchers and alumni of his school to speak. The school board has started conducting a universal screening program to identify minority gifted students in larger numbers.
Georgia: Audrey McNeal, a junior at Harrison High School in Kennesaw, founded her school’s first political debate club, called Political Converse. The club brings together students to converse on national and global issues. This year, McNeal expanded these conversations as a founding member of the community group, Stronger Together, which works to solve issues with racial discrimination in Cobb County Schools. Within Stronger Together, Audrey co-founded the Cobb County Black Student Union and hosts community events, called Listening Journeys, which are held monthly at Unity North Atlanta Church. A documentary series, “America To Me,” is featured, and black students from the district-wide Black Student Union speak live to the audience from an unseen, secure place within the church about parts of the documentary that closely relate to them. McNeal’s organization invites Board of Education members, school administrators, and county commissioners to the Listening Journeys to advocate for positive policy change.
Illinois: Emily Cho, a junior at North Shore Country Day School in Chicago, is president and co-founder of the Chicago North Shore Asian-American Youth Coalition (AAYC), which meets regularly to organize an annual symposium, fundraise and continue to redefine what it means to be Asian American. Sho also has proposed the reconstruction of her school’s Intro to Upper School, a program designed to educate incoming students on societally relevant topics with an emphasis on race and racism. Cho is a member of the Chicago Facing History and Ourselves Student Leadership Team, and hopes to bring this culture to her own school. Faculty members have responded favorably to her proposal for Intro to Upper School, and plan to move into reconstructing the program next year.
Kansas: Hananeel Morinville, a sophomore at Shawnee Mission North High School in Overland Park, founded the Black Student Union and serves as its president. The goal of the Black Student Union is to educate and promote unity, change and diversity. The group, which is open to all students, also seeks to raise awareness of black history and culture. Morinville also serves as president of Diversity Club. Performances held at the school in October and February celebrate music and spoken word poetry, gathering together more than 900 students and members of the community.
Maryland: Ana Mosisa, a junior at Mount Hebron High School in Ellicott City, is founder and president of her school’s African Affairs Club, through which she launched a school supplies drive that collected over 300 school supplies to donate to African immigrant families in the Baltimore area through the International Rescue Committee. She is secretary of the Delta Scholars program at her school, a Howard County high school honors society encouraging academic excellence and community involvement, presented through Delta Sigma Theta sorority. She also created a podcast with the help of her African Affairs Club and Delta Scholars members, titled “At Home in The Diaspora: Identity, Connection, and Blackness.” As junior class president in the Student Government Association, she has promoted embracing diversity and appreciating a multiplicity of cultures. She has also encouraged Mount Hebron students to volunteer at the English Kids to Kids & Bridging Cultures Program, a summer education program teaching English classes to immigrant and refugee children in the Baltimore/Columbia area, for which she has been a volunteer and is currently director.
Massachusetts: Soleil Kelly, a senior at the Advanced Math and Science Academy in Marlborough, is president and founder of the Black Student Union (BSU) at the school, which she started in hopes that it would become a safe space for black students to share their experiences. Every week, the club meets to discuss what has happened in the school community as well as in the black community at large. Through social media, the group shares articles, information about historical events and international music. Last year, the club also prepared and taught lessons on racism for middle school students.
Michigan: Kristopher Hill, a senior at University Prep Science and Math High School in Detroit, created and directs the group Engaging in Our New Surroundings (EONS), which involves students from University Prep and Grosse Pointe South High School. Drawing on his own experiences attending predominantly white suburban schools and an African American urban charter school, Hill wanted to draw attention to educational inequity by organizing student exchanges. Further, he was invited to speak as part of a Michigan Department of Civil Rights Commission panel, where he advocated for the Detroit public school system to diversify the curriculum to promote career and college readiness. As a metro Detroit Social Justice Fellow, he also planned a social justice training event and Youth Leadership Conference.
Missouri: Amela Sijecic, a senior at Lindbergh High School in St. Louis, is founder and president of S.I.D.E. With Us (Students Improving Diversity and Equity). She has engaged students in discussions surrounding societal topics, decorated the school for special months such as Black History Month, and led Diversity Readings at elementary schools. In addition, she created curriculums for grades 6-12, educating students on the values of diversity, equity and inclusion, through activity-based learning at the middle school level and through statistics and graphical-analysis-based learning at the high school level. She has also been working to develop cultural days at middle schools in her district.
New Jersey (Northern region): Jazmine Shaw, a junior at David Brearley Middle/High School in Kenilworth, serves on the executive board of the school’s Race Matters Alliance. Formed three years ago, the group’s aim is to open a space to speak about race at the predominantly white school. Shaw, an eighth grader at the time, was one of the few middle school students to participate and became a leading voice for the group. She wrote an essay about her experiences as a black student in a mostly white school district that was published on the blog of New York University’s Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools. In addition, she participated on a panel to assist Montclair State University pre-service teachers in addressing race issues in the classroom. She developed a plan for an ethnic studies class at her school after consulting with a professor at St. John’s University and the International Youth Leadership Institute. These contacts helped her to produce a proposal which she presented to her school’s administration, securing a commitment to establish an ethnic studies course beginning in the fall of 2020. This summer, Shaw will assist her principal in developing the curriculum for that course.
New Jersey (Central and South region): Kayla Webster, a senior at Washington Township High School, is president of the African American Culture Club and co-founder and vice president of her high school’s chapter of the NAACP. She is community service chair in the Student Council and is an active member of St. Matthews Baptist Church youth ministry, where she is on the Youth Leadership Team. In 2018, racial issues occurred at her high school. Tensions worsened, and Webster and some friends decided to hold a protest, which included over 200 students and resulted in the installation of the Anti-Defamation World of Difference Institute, a new program titled “No Place for Hate,” and the chartering of the of NAACP high school chapter. Further outcomes were creating an Equity Coalition Team, Webster’s appointment to the Principal’s Student Leadership Team, and a new course, “Social Justice and Humanitarian Studies.” Webster was selected by the school’s administrators to facilitate workshops with the staff about how to recognize conscious and unconscious biases they may hold.
New York (New York City region): Nia Reid, a senior at Queens High School for the Sciences at York College, created her school’s Black Student Union. She has worked alongside administration to help address the overall environment of the school. This includes creating presentations to showcase racial sensitivity, working with the principal to create workshops for parents, consulting with teachers, and creating a documentary with her school’s No Place for Hate student club. Reid also works with other students and the Department of Education’s Office of Equity and Access to create advisory boards for specialized high schools.
New York (Rochester region): Kidest Yigezu, a senior at Arcadia High School, is president of the Mosaics Club, which opens doors to start dialogues about racial inequality and social justice. The club helps students participate in events such as Roc2Change and create connections with others who want to make change. Yigezu is also working on creating a Mosaics Club for the middle school. She is part of The Delegates of Change, a group she created through an internship at the library. The Delegates of Change is a youth-run committee working toward building better relationships and raising awareness about various social issues within the community. The group hosted an event called Teen Talks at the Greece Library and invited teens from the city library to participate. Using the TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as a conversation starter, they discussed the social and economic issues that arise from assigning people a “single story” and how those stories often promote racist ideas.
Ohio: Karson Baldwin, a sophomore at University School in Cleveland, is the founder of Oné Respé, a partnership between immigrant and refugee students at Cleveland’s K-12 International Newcomers Academy and students from local independent schools. The initiative aims to achieve mutual integration through language acquisition and friendship. Oné Respé won the pitch competition Accelerate: Citizens Make Change hosted by the Cleveland Leadership Center and Citizens Bank, which will allow for expansion of the program. Baldwin also founded Project RACE Kids; he is currently president of Project RACE Teens. He launched Multiracial Heritage Week, supported by official proclamations from governors of 12 states. Baldwin serves in many leadership roles and plays basketball and football. He’s the recipient of the Gold Aurelian Award for Service and the Scovil Award. He is also a GOODdler intern with the United Nations Compact for Young People in Humanitarian Action to help bring a youth voice to humanitarian issues.
Pennsylvania (Philadelphia region): Elijah Jones is a junior at The Tatnall School in Wilmington, Delaware. He is a junior class officer and is co-president of the school’s Black Student Union. He has given a TEDx talk to raise awareness about the importance of diversity in 21st-century education. He has also been published in Delaware Online, stressing the need for diversity in his private school. Jones developed Project Increase, a college awareness program geared towards middle school children of color. Additionally, he is involved in the fight for teacher diversity in Delaware. Over 10 months, he and his fellow Youth Advocacy Group members researched how a diverse faculty can benefit schools and students’ educational outcomes. Jones attends conferences on diversity in private schools and how to deal with issues of racism.
Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh region): Peyton Klein is a junior at Taylor Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh and the founder of Global Minds Initiative, a student-led, international movement to combat cultural intolerance and discrimination in schools. Global Minds is an after-school program that bridges English as a Second Language (ESL) and Native English Speaking (NES) students. Conversation leads to team-driven brainstorming for substantive actions. Since 2016, Global Minds has expanded into 23 schools and two countries, impacting over 1,500 students. Klein is a TEDx speaker, the recipient of the 2017 YWCA Racial Justice Award in Youth Achievement, Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award, and the Coro Innovation Leadership Award.
Tennessee (Memphis region): Elijah “Rashad” Oliver is a senior at Harding Academy in Memphis and is dedicated to engineering bonds to fix racial fracturing in both his school and local communities. As a member of the Memphis NAACP Youth Council, he has served as historian, treasurer, first vice president, and is now serving his second term as president. He has focused the Youth Council on local outreach and both mental and physical health. He was instrumental in pushing through the lynching marker of Ell Persons, a man who was wrongfully accused of raping a white woman and was killed in 1917. Oliver was involved in creating Ambassadors for Christ, Diversity Branch, a new branch of a previously dormant club at his school. Under his supervision, the Diversity Club has been instrumental in improving race relations at Harding Academy.
Tennessee (Nashville region): Kennedy Musgrave is a senior at Hillsboro High School in Nashville and a candidate for the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma. After seeing a drastic decline (over 90 %) in the number of African American students in her class pursuing the IB, Kennedy created the IB Achievers program for African American students on track to enter or pursuing the diploma. Musgrave conducts meetings twice a month to encourage the pursuit of an IB diploma, discuss hardships faced by minority students, and celebrate the students’ accomplishments. For one meeting each month, she invites African American professionals to speak about how they overcame barriers to become successful. Other meetings address topics such as study skills, time management, building relationships with teachers, finding balance, preparing for exams and planning for college.
Texas (Dallas region): Frishta Nasari is a senior at Emmett J. Conrad High School in Dallas. Nasari fled war and persecution in Ghazni, Afghanistan, at the age of 13. After living as a refugee in Sri Lanka for two and a half years, she and her family were resettled in Dallas by the International Rescue Committee (IRC). As a result of her journey, she missed a year and a half of school and had to restart her education as a freshman at Emmett J. Conrad High School. As the first in her family to attend high school, she felt immense pressure to pave the way for not only herself, but for her four younger siblings. Despite the obstacles, Nasari excelled at her studies, but quickly discovered the tension and misconceptions about refugees. Determined to find a solution which could engage individuals personally with the refugee experience, she teamed up with the IRC to lead outreach sessions at the IRC’s office, local churches and universities. Speaking to individuals ranging from high school students to retirees, she educated listeners on the lives of refugees and displaced peoples, dispelled myths about U.S. immigration, and shared her personal journey of fleeing Taliban rule.
Texas (Houston region): Melissa Khasbagan is a junior at Westlake High School in Austin. In 2017, she traveled to visit her family in rural Inner Mongolia. Upon her return to the United States, she began collecting books for her cousins in Mongolia who didn’t have the necessary resources to learn English. Melissa eventually collected 1,000 English books to send to schools in Mongolia to bridge a divide in cultures and fight racism. To continue her work long term, she officially established 1000 Books in 2018 as a 501(c)3 organization. This youth-led organization sends books and entrepreneurship materials to rural and undeveloped areas across Mongolia, China, the U.S., Russia (Siberia), Liberia, Mexico, India, Nigeria and Australia. 1000 Books has continued to develop learning resources by producing an audio curriculum, building libraries and training teachers. Khasbagan also introduces entrepreneurship to students by conducting workshops and webinars, as well as hosting the Teen Entrepreneur Podcast, which interviews teen entrepreneurs from around the world who have created their own businesses. While her work has already impacted over 35,000 students and 400 teachers, she plans to expand to include additional countries in Africa, focusing first on Liberia.
Washington, D.C.: Joshua St. Hill is a senior at Monticello High School in Charlottesville, Virginia. He was the playwright and lead actor of the play “A King’s Story,” which is told from the perspective of a black teenager living in America and includes his thoughts on police brutality, racial profiling and the events of Aug. 12, 2017, in Charlottesville. The play and the publicity it received led to several hours of conversation at the school between students and police officers, promoting greater understanding of the importance of working to bring the community closer together around the shared interests of respect and decency. St. Hill presented excerpts of his work at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York, and advocated for more conversations about race relations everywhere. Following the play’s success, St. Hill, with a few of his peers, started a Black Student Alliance Club at his high school in efforts to educate the community on African American culture. The club created a day program titled “We Are Monticello.” With presentations, reviews and education about different subjects regarding African American history, the club’s progress has been vital in improving diversity within the school. Outside his school, St. Hill works as an intern for the Carter G. Woodson Institute at the University of Virginia, researching racial history and African American culture.
Washington: Mawahib Ismail is a senior at Shorecrest High School in Shoreline. She is a Senior Leadership Council Member in her school’s Black Student Union (BSU). When she moved from West Seattle to Shoreline, she noticed that students and teachers were not as open or comfortable about talking about race, especially considering that black students only make up 13% of the Shoreline School District. Since joining poorly attended BSU meetings as a freshman year, Ismail and her fellow leaders has consistently drawn 40-50 students from many different backgrounds. She helped create a race and equity forum to continue the conversation about the impact of race relations. She has also served as a Youth Outreach Leader, and her group created an event with the Shoreline Police about their involvement with youth. She has spoken at city hall in front of the mayor, Shoreline residents and the council board.
At-large region: Jocelyne Argüelles is a senior at the Denver Center for International Studies (DCIS) in Denver, Colorado. She is one of the three Student Board of Education representatives for her school, as well as the president of the Latinx Student Alliance. As a part of a district-wide social justice competition, Challenge 5280, she created an Equity Task Force at her school, leading two groups of 10 students through a Critical Civic Inquiry method of conducting research and creating policy. The first group created a policy around making implicit bias trainings a requirement for all teachers at DCIS. The workshops included defining microaggressions and asking students to share their experiences. In another workshop, all teachers and a diverse group of students participated in a “privilege walk,” which was was followed by discussions of why everyone believed they were closer to the front, or at the back. Argüelles guided her team through making these workshops sustainable and in doing so created a policy, which was implemented by the school administration. In addition to leading the Equity Task Force, she meets directly with the Board of Education to try to create transparency within the district.