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3.25.2010

south philly high student leader awarded princeton prize

Remember Wei Chen? He's the student leader who became recognized for courageously speaking out and demanding action about the ongoing violence against Asian students at South Philadelphia High School. The outspoken young man has been awarded the Princeton Prize in Race Relations from Princeton University: From turmoil, a S. Phila. High honor.

The prize, created by college alumni in 2003, honors high school students who perform exceptional work to improve race relations in their communities. It is given annually to one or two students in each of 23 regions around the country and and carries a $1,000 award.

Chen was awarded the prize for "exceptional and sustained leadership" that encouraged ethnic understanding and explored solutions to tensions within the school. As president of the Chinese-American Student Association, "he worked to bring media attention to issues of student violence in general and against Asian immigrant students in particular":
On Dec. 3, Asian students at South Philadelphia High suffered a daylong assault by groups of mostly African American classmates. The attacks sent seven students to hospitals and sparked a contentious, weeklong boycott by about 50 Asian students.

Throughout, Chen was the most visible of student leaders. He pointed out that many black and Asian youths were friends, saying it was school supervisors who had failed. He pushed the school district to address long-standing problems of violence.

"A new immigrant, who took America at its words: Democracy, freedom, access to education," said Dora Lee, cochair of the Philadelphia regional selection committee. "He kind of reminded us of all our responsibilities to the young of this country." Lee noted that Chen had organized students and worked within the school before stepping into the spotlight after Dec. 3.
Chen was nominated by Helen Gym, a board member of Asian Americans United, friend to this blog, and a former Angry Reader of the Week. This is fantastic news, and really wonderful to see a guy like Wei Chen recognized amidst all the crap that they've had to deal with at South Philly High.