The Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity and Transnational Migration (RITM) recognized 15 high school students on Friday for their exceptional work in community engagement — including gun violence activism and minority voter registration.

The annual award, now in its third year, honors the legacy of Ebenezer Bassett who went on to become the first African American and first Native American ambassador to a foreign nation. This year’s recipients — hailing from 12 states and the District of Columbia — gathered at the Afro-American Cultural Center on Friday to receive the Yale Bassett Award for Community Engagement. Winners were selected in April from a pool of over 1,000 candidates who applied during their junior year of high school.

“I want to thank you all, really, legitimately, for shining your light, for helping others in our communities and in your communities to feel more safe, to feel more secure, to feel more powerful, to feel more connected,” said history professor Stephen Pitti — founding director of RITM and head of Ezra Stiles College — in his opening remarks at the event.

A committee of Yale faculty members, staff and students selected the winners based on academic distinction, public service and engagement with various societal issues. While many of the 2019 honorees’ projects tackled issues of race and nationality, their work also addressed other topics like partner violence and ethanol oxide emissions. To address these problems, students collaborated with their elected representatives and local non-profits, or founded groups of their own.

After his remarks, Pitti introduced Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun, who spoke about the importance of RITM to Yale’s intellectual mission. Chun called the center, which was founded in 2016, “a real hub for interdisciplinary research.”

“This generation gives us hope. You are our future. You are also our present,” Chun said to the winners. “As we hear the citations for these students, you’re going to be inspired by each other, just as the selection committee was inspired by your nominations.”

After Chun’s speech, Pitti delivered the citations for each awardee. Following his comments, each student received a signed copy of Pulitzer-winning book “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom,” written by Sterling professor of American history David Blight.

Makayla Hieb, an honoree from Albuquerque, runs an organization that leads creative writing workshops to help students at underfunded schools process trauma. Hieb said her work aims to end cycles of trauma and abuse within her community, which faces pervasive poverty, drug addiction and partner violence. She hopes to implement a curriculum to teach students the signs of abusive relationships, Hieb added.

“I’ve sat on the floor with so many kids and heard them cry and feel like nobody was listening,” Hieb said. “Winning the award meant that one of the top universities in the country was listening.”

After the ceremony, the awardees ate dinner and enjoyed a performance by Shades of Yale. Joining them were six of last year’s winners, who are now members of the Yale class of 2023.

“There’s a great sense of morale amongst our cohort,” said Iman Dancy ’23, one of last year’s honorees. “I’m very grateful to go to a school that has these institutions within it that make a space for dialogue about complex but critical issues like race and migration and indigeneity and identity and all these other things that the Center for RITM grapples with.”

According to the center’s website, RITM covered travel and hotel expenses for awardees as well as expenses for one parent or designated guardian.

 

Ako Ndefo-Haven | ako.ndefo-haven@yale.edu

Olivia Tucker | olivia.tucker@yale.edu