By Wendy Greenberg
The racial justice group Not In Our Town Princeton (NIOT) has recognized nine middle school and high school students with Unity Awards for their anti-racism work that ranged from hosting a “Day of Dialogue,” to creating a series of podcasts featuring interviews with African American staff at Princeton High School (PHS).
In its 25th year, the Unity Awards honored six juniors and one senior from PHS and one eighth-grader each from Princeton Middle School (PMS) and Princeton Charter School, in June at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Princeton. Also recognized were PHS teachers Joy Barnes-Johnson and Patricia Manhart for creating the Racial Literacy and Justice course at PHS.
The group also honored Shirley Satterfield, a former guidance counselor at PHS, who has a long history with the awards. A Princeton historian, Satterfield recalled that the awards were begun at three area churches, and she got involved because of her work with Pride, Unity, Leadership, Sisterhood and Esteem (PULSE) at PHS, which involved young women in academic enrichment programs.
Satterfield selected the first recipient, Alison Welski, in 1998, who now is a public health professional, and she was happily surprised by Welski’s appearance at the recent awards ceremony.
The awards have evolved and expanded over the years, she said. A selection committee carefully goes over applications and recommendations.
NIOT is a multi-racial, multi-faith group of individuals “who stand together for racial justice and inclusive communities, focused on promoting the equitable treatment of all, and uncovering and confronting white supremacy — the system that facilitates the preference, privilege, and power of white people at the expense of non-white people and pits racial and ethnic groups against each other by upholding hierarchies based on proximity to whiteness,” according to the organization.
A well-known NIOT event is Continuing Conversations. In 2009, said Board Member Linda Oppenheim, 90 people participated in “Engaging Together to Explore White Privilege,” a four-session consciousness-raising series on the topic of white privilege and racism. Acknowledging requests for further meetings, the first meeting of “Continuing Conversations on Race and White Privilege,” was held November, 2009, and continues to the present, the first non-holiday Monday of every month, in partnership with the Princeton Public Library (currently on Zoom).
COMBATING RACISM: Nine students (eight pictured) received 2022 Unity Awards from Not In Our Town Princeton for their work toward racial justice. Two Princeton High School teachers were recognized, as was Shirley Satterfield for her history with the awards program.
Students who won the Unity Awards are as follows:
Vihaan Jain, a recent eighth-grader at PMS, is a student leader for the Asian American Pacific islander (AAPI) Club at PMS, which he founded and helped develop. The group discussed various issues affecting Asian Americans, and promoted social justice issues and inclusivity at the middle school.
Ngan Le, a rising senior at PHS, is the co-leader of an international organization, the Asian Youth Act, a student organization that seeks to empower and educate students of Asian American heritage. As part of her activities for that group, she organized a social media campaign that drew more than 12.5 million views and 12,000 followers. She collaborated with Make Us Visible on the recent successful campaign for a New Jersey Asian American Pacific Islander curriculum. She created the SHELL program at PHS, in which students lead study groups for English language learners. Ngan has been an advocate for the ESL program at PHS where she has advocated for ESL students to receive counseling and tutoring in their own languages.
Han Li, a rising senior at PHS, is the founder of the Princeton Civics Project, an online platform for civic engagement and community participation that promotes events and programs aimed at racial justice. Han writes blog posts for the website and is one of two students who maintain it. He is also a leader of the New Jersey Civics Coalition. He has encouraged friends from his church and PHS to become more involved in community groups through this group and advocated for the New Jersey State Legislature’s successful passage of the AAPI curriculum in New Jersey schools.
Benjamin (Jamin) Nuland, a rising PHS senior, has pursued several anti-racist initiatives with various PHS groups. He has been active in Latinos Unidos and helped organize the Hispanic Heritage Month Assembly and served as emcee for the Hispanic Heritage Month program. He also began a campaign for a social justice award for athletes on PHS sports teams, and was active in organizing the Day of Dialogue at PHS and was active in an effort to bring together all the social justice organizations at PHS. He has served as an advocate for ESL students at PHS and in the community.
Jealyn Vega-Ramos, a rising PHS senior, is involved in numerous anti-racism projects. She is a leader of both Latinos Unidos, where she is the president, and the Princeton Girl Up Generation 1 (Gen1) Club, for which she received a grant to educate the Princeton Latino community about COVID-19 and vaccinations. She also helped organize the Latinos Unidos Hispanic Heritage Month activities at PHS, which included a school-wide assembly in which she helped showcase Latino videos, music, and dance highlighting Latino culture.
Simran (Simi) Rath, who recently graduated from Princeton Charter School, was a peer leader who addressed issues of racial justice and equity through her interactions with younger children. She helped educate students through a school-wide presentation, “Be Kind Online,” for the school’s Week of Respect.
Ida Sidik, a rising senior at PHS, is a member of the Black Student Union and the Black History 365 Committee, which seeks to incorporate programming at the high school regarding the history and contributions of Black and African Americans to American history. As part of that committee, Ida co-hosted a podcast that featured interviews of Black PHS staff members.”
Eli Tenenbaum, a 2022 graduate of PHS, was co-organizer of the Day of Dialogue, a day-long event at PHS in which students from various minority cultures, ethnic groups, and others staffed booths to educate their fellow students on equity, diversity, and inclusion topics, including topics in the news such as Muslim misrepresentation in American media, bias and stereotypes of the Hispanic community, racial profiling experienced by African Americans at the hands of police, LGBTQ+ labels, and the meaning and events of Ramadan, and Latino and Indian dancing.
Sarah Villamil, a rising senior, is also a leader of the Latinos Unidas Club at PHS. She helped organize the first Hispanic Heritage Assembly for the school and collaborated with Latino and ESL students, as well as the PHS Band on that event. She and her co-leaders helped organize Latino Unidos activities for the Day of Dialogue. She is a member of the Gen1 Club, which recently won a grant from Poder en Salud, an organization supported by the CDC to support organizations that provide information and resources on COVID-19 and vaccinations to the Latino community. She and her co-leaders are planning an in-person event with that goal in mind.
More information on Not In Our Town Princeton can be found at niotprinceton.org.