Princeton University hosted the 2023 Princeton Prize in Race Relations (PPRR) award winners, 29 high school students from across the United States, during the annual Princeton Prize Symposium on Race held on campus April 29-30. The students were recognized for undertaking significant efforts to advance racial equity and understanding in their schools or communities.
“Our goal in putting together the symposium was to create bonds between students from across the country who shared one thing in common: They had raised their voices in their schools and communities to say, ‘Something’s not right,’” said Steve Marcus ’10, national PPRR board chair and a Washington, D.C.-based attorney.
The Princeton Prize and its symposium are the culmination of a year-long effort by more than 400 alumni volunteers who review applications from schools across 28 different U.S. regions and an at-large region before selecting winners. Each Princeton Prize awardee received $1,000 and an all-expenses-paid trip to the University for the Symposium on Race, the first to be held in-person since 2019. Twenty-six of the 29 awardees attended the symposium.
Highlights from the weekend program included a lecture on black feminism by Kinohi Nishikawa, assistant professor of English and African American studies; a tour of the “Toni Morrison: Sites of Memory” exhibition at the Firestone Library; and “La Gran Cumbia Espectacular,” an interactive performance conceived by Kaelani Burja ’23 at the Lewis Center for the Arts.
“Seeing the students all come together on campus makes all the hard work worth it,” Marcus said.
Conceived 20 years ago by Henry Von Kohorn ’66, PPRR’s mission is to “reach out to the next generation of America’s leaders and encourage young people who are working hard to foster respect and understanding among people of different backgrounds.” Since PPRR’s inception, Princeton has awarded more than 2,000 high school students with the prize and certificates of accomplishment.
On the final day of the symposium, the student winners presented their work to advance racial equity in their communities — including next steps for their projects — to an audience of alumni and University administrators in the Chancellor Green rotunda.
After the symposium, Princeton Prize board member Daniella Cohen ’22, a PPRR award winner in 2013, said that instead of being discouraged by the systematic racism that motivated many of the student projects, she walked away in awe: “It’s remarkable that these teenagers are taking responsibility for the future of their communities and leading the way forward.”
“These high-school students are truly impressive; I had a hard time fighting back tears while listening to their stories,” said Yolanda Silva, director of affinity programs for Alumni Engagement at Princeton. “This weekend has given me a boost of hope for what the future holds.”
“Real power and real change come from relying on each other and relying on interpersonal connections, and that’s how a project can become sustainable,” said Summer Sun, a PPRR award winner who created a nonprofit that provides books and reading programs to underserved youth in her hometown of Chico, California. “Activism work can be discouraging sometimes, so I’ve learned to be tenacious.”