UNITY AWARDS: Nobel Peace Prize nominee Victor Ochen (right) congratulates (from left) Unity Award winners Kimberly Rojas and Harvi Shergill, eighth graders at John Witherspoon Middle School, and Tatianna Sims, a graduating senior from Princeton High. (Photo by Roland Glover).
Victor Ochen, a 2015 Nobel Peace Prize nominee from Uganda, spoke at the Unity Awards ceremony for Not in Our Town Princeton (NiOT) on May 17. At this ceremony, held at Princeton University’s Carl A. Fields Center, NiOT presented awards to two eighth graders at John Witherspoon Middle School (Kimberly Rojas and Harvi Shergill) and a graduating senior at Princeton High School, Tatianna Sims.
Founded in 1998, NiOT is an interracial, interfaith social action group that aims to speak truth about ‘everyday racism’ and other forms of prejudice and discrimination. The Unity Awards honor students who are role models in their efforts to promote respect for diversity and to advance the cause of race relations. Linda Oppenheim and Larry Spruill, co-chairs of NiOT, gave each student a certificate and a cash prize. The students will also be honored at awards assemblies, scheduled for June 2 at PHS and June 11 at JWMS.
Ochen was a childhood victim of war in Uganda; he founded the African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET) to work for the healing of trauma and to promote youth leadership. American Friends Service nominated Ochen and AYINET for the Peace Prize.
Rojas was a student leader in working with other young women at JW to promote a positive self-image, confidence, and avoiding peer pressure. She is known as a peacemaker, intervening when it comes to conflict situations.
Shergill was a student leader in connecting with peers from diverse backgrounds; providing food for those who are hungry in our community, including helping to raise over 8,000 pounds of food through the JW “Do Something Club;” and as a mentor in the JW “Peer to Peer” program.
The recipient of Princeton University’s Princeton Prize in Race Relations, Sims focused her efforts on addressing the minority student achievement gap, including as writer, director, producer of a film, “The Quest–Equalizing Achievement” and also as president of the Minority Student Achievement Network at PHS.
The ceremony and reception was attended by supportive community friends, including Steve Cochrane, superintendent of schools; Gary Snyder and Jason Burr, PHS and JWMS principals; school board president Andrea Spalla ; school board member Fern Spruill (who is also on the NIOT board), Liz Lempert, Princeton’s mayor; Lance Liverman, Princeton councilman; former township mayor James Floyd; and Rev. Muriel Burrows, pastor of Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church.
Faith communities represented in Not in Our Town include the All Saints Episcopal Church, Jewish Center of Princeton, Nassau Christian Center, Princeton Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, Princeton United Methodist Church, Trinity Church, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Princeton, and Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church.
In cooperation with the Princeton Public Library, NIOT presents a monthly discussion series, Continuing Conversations on Race and White Privilege. It also sponsors book readings, workshops, film series, panels, and anti-racism demonstrations. Say Oppenheim and Spruill:”Our hope is that Princeton will continue to grow as a town in which the ideals of friendship, community and pride in diversity prevail.”