Not in Our Town Princeton recognized 10 Princeton young people who are working to combat prejudice and promote racial unity at its 2018 Unity Awards 20th Anniversary Event on June 10 at the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding at Princeton University.
The students were recognized for being leaders at their schools in activities that range from starting student groups on racial awareness, organizing a conference, and being active in a group that helped put together a textbook on racial awareness.
New Jersey Assemblymen Andrew Zwicker and Roy Freiman presented the students with certificates of a resolution by the State Legislature recognizing the students, who also received a certificate signed by U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman recognizing their community service. “When I see you, I get a sense of optimism, I get a sense of pride,” Zwicker told the students. “The state of New Jersey is so grateful and wants to recognize the dedication of all of you.”
Many of the students said they took action after experiencing prejudice themselves. Mojisola Ayodele, an eighth-grader at John Witherspoon Middle School, said she organized a group called “We Are People” after seeing how insensitive her classmates could be. We Are People helped plan one of the programs for a diversity conference for eighth graders. “I had an idea for change,” she said.
Hamza Nishtar, a member of the Not In Our Town board, was an award winner who was at the event with his grandmother from Pakistan and other family members. Among other activities, the Princeton High School (PHS) senior started a free debate camp program for middle-schoolers as part of Urban Promise Trenton. He was interview manager for the CHOOSE organization, which produced a textbook on racial bias.
Valeria Torres-Olivares, a senior at PHS who will attend Princeton University in the fall and is a Not In Our Town board member, was recognized for numerous activities that include co-coordinating with Nishtar, a student-run Board of Education candidates night sponsored by Not In Our Town. She is organizing Princeton Chronicles, a project to tell the stories of residents of Princeton’s Jackson-Witherspoon neighborhood. Torres-Olivares also teaches girls to code through Princeton Public Library’s Girls Who Code Club.
The celebration also included previous award winners like Farah Parker, who received the award in 2001, and is now a student counselor at a college in New Orleans. “Please continue to do this work because it is very much needed,” she said. “And never be afraid.”
Founded in 1998, Not In Our Town Princeton is a multi-racial, multi-faith group that promotes racial justice and inclusivity in Princeton. The group co-organizes “Continuing Conversations on Race and White Privilege,” with Princeton Public Library the first Monday of the month at 7 p.m. at the library. Not In Our Town also sponsors book readings, workshops, film series, panels, and anti-racism demonstrations.
Other award winners were: Fedlyn Cleophat, Brianna Silva, Leah Williamson, Yayla Tur, Nina Tillmann, Zainab Qureshi, and Shane Spring.
Fedlyne Cleophat: Cleophat is a PHS senior who has been active with the Minority Student Network for four years, most recently as vice-president. She worked with the Princeton Board of Education on the PHS Racial Literacy course and has interviewed Princeton residents for the CHOOSE textbook.
Brianna Silva: Silva has been an advocate for Hispanic students at PHS and has tutored ELL students. She brought her concerns last year to Princeton’s Civil Rights Committee. She organized fundraising events through the student group Woke, which she co-runs, to raise college funds for a student. She was vice-president of the Student Achievement Network.
Leah Williamson: A graduating senior at Princeton High School, Williamson has used her artistic skills to promote social justice events in Princeton for Princeton Human Services, such as Welcoming Week, for immigrants and U.S.-born residents; and the Send Hunger Packing program. Williamson founded the Urban Arts Club at Princeton High School and is a member of the Princeton Youth Advisory Committee.
Yayla Tur: The eighth-grader at the Princeton Charter School is a peer leader who speaks up against discrimination. She has been active with ACT, a school organization against gun violence.
Nina Tillmann: A PHS student who has been active in the Minority Achievement Network and Multicultural Student Union, Nina also participated in the “See Me, Hear Me” conferences. She is part of the Trenton Circus Squad, working with youth.
Zainab Qureshi, a PHS student, helped organize VOICES discussions at the Princeton Public Library about social justice. She helped found the ECHO Club and the Muslim Society at PHS, which organized cross-cultural and multi-religious events at PHS.
Shane Spring: The PHS student co-founded the PHS Multiracial Student Union for multiracial students, Spring was also active with CHOOSE as a story editor for the textbook on racial awareness.
by Jeanne De Voe