Montclair High senior wins Princeton race relations award
BY LINDA MOSS
A Montclair High School student who organized a protest over the Michael Brown shooting incident has won an award from Princeton University for her role in trying to improve race relations.
Talia Evans Farkas, 18, is one of 12 students who were recognized this year by the Princeton Prize in Race Relations of Northern New Jersey. There was one first-prize winner, Yu Jin Choi of Blair Academy in Blairstown, and 11 certificate winners, including Farkas. The Princeton Prize was established in 2003 to recognize high school students for their work in their communities or school to promote race relations. This year the prizes were bestowed in 27 regions, including North Jersey. The program is run through the university and administered by regional alumni committees. The winners received their awards at a ceremony Tuesday night in Newark, and this Friday and Saturday, April 28-29, they will get to attend a symposium on race at Princeton University.
Farkas said she was “humbled” to be receiving the certificate, an honor that Montclair High School faculty nominated her for. She said she is indebted to her teachers and to the school’s Center for Social Justice, and credits them with making her the activist she is.
In 2014 there were conversations online and on Facebook about the Brown shooting incident, which Farkas said prompted her and a handful of fellow students to action. The fatal shooting of Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed black youth by a white police officer in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, caused a firestorm and debate about race relations.
“We decided that we could show the community that we were here, we understood what was happening and it affected us as well,” she said. “A lot of times things happen and adults think, ‘Oh, the kids don’t care.’ Seeing someone so close to our age being targeted because of race, that really hit home for some of us. We wanted to put something together to show the community that we are here and we see these things that are happening and we are not OK with it.”
So in December 2014 Farkas led a group that planned a demonstration that was held in the high school’s amphitheater. Just under 200 students circled volunteer black men who had their arms in a “Hands up, don’t shoot” stance. At the same time, students read statistics about people of color being targeted by police.
“A lot of people thought it was a great idea,” Farkas said. “People were very supportive of it. … I think we created a safe space for a dialogue because a lot of times when talking about race and racial issues a lot of people get uncomfortable. People are afraid to say things, afraid to not say things, so this definitely created an environment where people felt comfortable to talk about things they were worried about, that affected them.”
After that protest, Farkas formed a club called Students Engaged in Racial Matters to keep the conversation going and take action against racial and religious intolerance. Farkas, who graduates in June, plans to attend the University of Miami this fall and study legal psychology, eventually doing work in the criminal justice field.
Patricia Perlmutter, a Montclair resident and Princeton alumna, was one of the judges for the northern New Jersey awards. Farkas is the second student from Montclair to be honored and get one of the awards, she said.