Students committed to enhancing race relations for their peers have been awarded for making strides in diversity and unification.
Princeton University created the Princeton Prize in Race Relations in 2003 and awards it annually in 28 different cities and regions in the U.S. to promote harmony, understanding and respect among people of different races.
The prize identifies and recognizes high school students whose efforts have had “a significant, positive effect on race relations in their schools or communities,” according to information provided by the Central Southern NJ Committee of the Princeton Prize in Race Relations.
High school students apply, and Princeton alumni in each locale volunteer to evaluate candidates’ projects and select the recipients.
Prize winners receive $1,000 and participate in an annual symposium on race at Princeton University. This year’s symposium for national winners will be April 30.
Kyler Zhou, a junior at Princeton Day School who lives in the Titusville section of Hopewell Township, is the Princeton Prize Winner.
Kyler is the founder and executive director of “Hear Our Voices,” an online monthly magazine, which, for 18 months, has been publishing articles on the Asian American experience.
The magazine, which has over 10,000 readers, has a staff of 22 student writers and content creators.
In the face of online attacks, “Hear Our Voices” has published over 100 articles regarding contemporary and historical issues affecting the Asian American community with such titles as, “Is Affirmative Action Unfair to Asian Americans?” “Not Your Model Minority: Reasons Why ‘Positive’ Stereotypes Are Bad;” “Addressing Anti-Asian Hate, A Perspective From the Community;” and “Is America Inherently Racist? Critical Race Theory is Asking the Hard Questions.”
The magazine has also hosted events featuring prominent Asian American speakers and has joined advocacy and lobbying efforts helping to mobilize Asian Americans in New Jersey and across the country.
Kyler has also written op-eds, and is currently a correspondent for Packet Media LLC and Newspaper Media Group, which publish this newspaper.
Jocelyn James, a senior at Woodbridge High School, received a Certificate of Achievement.
Given its growing African American population, Jocelyn felt a sense of underrepresentation and neglect for her culture since the high school, which is predominantly White, did not have a Black Student Union (BSU), according to the statement.
A member of the school’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion Council, she identified the need for a safe space for students of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds to collectively educate, promote and celebrate the Black community. She began to lay the groundwork needed to foster a more diverse and inclusive environment within her school community, according to the statement.
Starting the club resulted in challenges greater than anticipated, according to the statement. The BSU leadership team reportedly faced various forms of animosity. Initially, the administration disallowed Black Student Union as the club’s name and so they settled on the “I Have a Dream Club.” Some staff members were reportedly opposed to BSU meeting fliers being posted in their hallways, according to the statement. When BSU planned an African-inspired Zumba dance as its first school-wide event, it allegedly was discouraged from doing so in fear of appearing too ethnic, according to the statement.
Ngan Le, a junior at Princeton High School, also received a Certificate of Achievement.
Ngan is co-founder and executive director of Asian Youth Act, an international youth organization focused on educating and empowering Asian youth to innovate solutions and take action on pertinent modern issues. Because of COVID issues, the organization is largely virtual, with over 300 members and thousands of Instagram followers.
Through her effort, she has striven to build a community that prioritizes compassion, deep understanding of root causes of perpetuated issues, and analyzing problems with consideration to nuance, according to the statement.
Ngan has been an engaged participant in the Building Equitable Learning Environments (BELE) Network, working with a diverse group of students whose voices have been generally marginalized, according to the statement. This work has a much broader focus, and has taken Ngan to two national conferences.
Faria Majeed, a senior at Princeton High School, also received a Certificate of Achievement.
Faria is the co-founder and president of the Cultural and Racial Equity Club (C.A.R.E.), a social justice group working to educate and create safe spaces for peers at Princeton High, a predominantly White institution. The main goals of C.A.R.E. are teaching student peers about the importance of social justice, reforming the community, amplifying minority student voices, and creating safe spaces for students, according to the statement.
With Faria’s leadership. C.A.R.E has created an Instagram series, “Amplify Our Voice,” which enabled minority students to anonymously share experiences of racial injustice.
Faria has also pushed for C.A.R.E to expand outside of the high school and into the larger Princeton community with workshops and other discussion event. Her latest efforts are now aimed at perpetuating the C.A.R.E organization by training the next generation of leaders, and creating a C.A.R.E curriculum and handbook for the club’s future.
Laura-Simone Martin, a junior at Lawrence High School, also received a Certificate of Achievement.
Laura-Simone, out of concern for the growing racial divide between Black students and the majority student population, petitioned for and founded the school’s first Black Student Union (BSU). She took responsibility for promoting and submitting all approval documents to the administration, according to the statement. Also, after creating the charter and constitution, Laura was elected as the first president of the BSU.
The student population was diverse (58% Black/Asian); however, there were virtually no Black student leaders. The newly chartered BSU provided leadership and speaking opportunities for students of color and is currently one of the most active and diverse student organizations at Lawrence High, according to the statement.
Their first major event, accomplished in partnership with local organizations, energized Black neighborhoods to create the first Black Parent Organization.
Laura established the BSU while carrying a heavy academic and musical course load. She plays bass with the Lawrence High School Jazz Band, Orchestra Pit, 2021 Honors Jazz Ensemble, Jazz at the Lincoln Center Youth Orchestra and with the Youth Orchestra of Central Jersey’s Symphony Orchestra. Laura’s love for music led her to establish the Queen Amina Music Project, a program for fourth to sixth grade girls, to encourage their love of music and their knowledge of African American music history.
Kritika Nagappa, a senior at South Brunswick High School, also received a Certificate of Achievement.
Kritika, a woman of color, founded Proudly Female in 2020, a social media-based organization that highlights the achievements of women of all cultures to help young women, and particularly women of color, envision themselves in careers and opportunities they felt were unavailable to them because of their race or gender. As of 2020, Proudly Female grew to more than 1,100 members.
In 2021, Kritika was selected to the Algerian Youth Leadership Program, a U.S. State Department funded exchange. Her experience with Algerian students demonstrated how people and the issues they face are more similar than different, even if they arise in different racial groups, according to the statement.
She then founded the International Women’s Empowerment Exchange, and reached out to a Newark summer youth program to help with logistics. The four-week program provided 80-plus students an international exchange experience and the opportunity to learn about the intersectionality of gender and racial oppression in the U.S., Russia and Algeria. Kritika secured speakers from the U.S., Europe, Brazil and Africa, and featured the undersecretary of the U.S. State Department.
She is currently planning to run the exchange again this summer, according to the statement.
Two other recipients of Certificates of Appreciation are Zion Lee, co-founder and president of the Black Student Union, TED, NAACP, body of work, from Haddonfield Memorial High School in Camden County; and
Emily Lu, who organized a Stop Asian Hate Rally, a member of Dear Asian Youth Projects and Redefy New Jersey, and a student at Bridgewater High School in Somerset County.
To learn more about the prize program, visit https://pprize.princeton.edu.