The following is an expanded version of a letter from PAW’s Nov. 12, 2014, issue.
The Oct. 8 issue is particularly interesting to me as board chair of the Princeton Prize in Race Relations, since it includes several articles relevant to our work. The cover article on race and privilege, the online article about black students in the Ivy League, and the article on Princeton’s repudiation of the Ku Klux Klan (That Was Then) prompt this response.
The Princeton Prize in Race Relations began operating in the fall of 2003. Our mission is “to promote harmony, respect, and understanding among people of different races by identifying and recognizing high-school-age students whose efforts have had a significant, positive effect on race relations in their schools or communities.” For more information, please to go our website: www.princeton.edu/pprize or our YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/PrincetonPrize/featured.
Our foundational documents state, “Racial conflict is perhaps the most critical domestic issue this country faces. By recognizing, rewarding, and reinforcing the good work of students who are making a difference, the Princeton Prize hopes to promote better race relations now and to provide an impetus for other young people to work toward racial understanding in the future — and an activity truly ‘in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations.’ ”
In our almost 12 years of alumni activity to identify and recognize high school students working to improve race relations, we find that answering the question asked in the From the Editor letter, “How close are we to the dream?,” is complex. While some conflicts are the same, some are retreads of old issues in different forms, and some are completely new. We have observed from the students we honor that steps toward reaching the beloved community of which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed can take many forms — from sustained after-school discussions on race, to fashion/culture shows, to poetry slams, to the use of music and art to unite diverse student and community populations. The students who are given Princeton Prize recognition consistently teach us that for good people to do nothing is not an option. Each must do what he or she can when the opportunity arises. Our students have been prompted to act by many circumstances, such as bullying, school Race Awareness Days that were more form than substance, obliviousness to white privilege, race-related violence, ignorance of the background/heritage of ethnic and racial minorities, and sometimes merely a desire to live in a better world.
The Princeton Prize in Race Relations has recognized almost 900 students over the course of its history. We estimate that approximately 200 alumni and community leaders are involved in our 25 regions. Whether or not you as alumni choose to engage with the Princeton Prize and help us in this small way to improve race relations, it is our hope that you will work in the nation’s service to improve race relations in the way that best suits you.