New Yale award honors 20 high school juniors nationwide for community engagement

Twenty high school juniors have been honored as the first recipients of the Yale Bassett Award for Community Engagement. The award honors emerging leaders who have distinguished themselves through a record of creative leadership and public service, academic distinction, interdisciplinary problem solving, and experience addressing societal issues.

Ebenezer Bassett

The faculty in Yale’s Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration (RITM) established the award to honor young leaders who, like Ebenezer Bassett in the 19th century, bring under-recognized perspectives to the public sphere, think deeply about our collective futures, and exemplify intelligence and courage as they work on behalf of others.

The award committee received more than 800 applications from 46 states, the District of Columbia, and military dependents. From this group, the committee identified 20 winners (listed below) and 40 semi-finalists.

The 20 inaugural winners of the Bassett Award hail from 14 states, and have earned distinction as students and scholars while providing service and intellectual leadership, and excelling in athletics, the arts, and other areas.

The 2017 winners demonstrate wide-ranging areas of commitment. They have advocated for the conservation of endangered species, clean water, interfaith understanding, tribal food sovereignty, and awareness of diseases like hepatitis B and liver cancer. They have volunteered at the American Museum of Natural History, on a state board of the Girl Scouts, and for voter registration efforts. Winners have established Amnesty International and Black Student Union chapters and have developed resources for youth whose parents or caregivers suffer from addiction. In addition to contributions to their own communities, many of the students have volunteered on projects overseas.

“Along with other members of our faculty committee, I was deeply impressed by the high school students from around the country whom we considered for the Yale Bassett Award,” said Professor Stephen Pitti, director of the Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration.

“It was moving to learn about their dedication to public service and leadership, their commitment to social change, and their accomplishments as scholars. This year’s Yale Bassett Award winners already play key roles in their communities, and we are thrilled to imagine all that they will do in the years to come.”

Winners will receive a book signed by the dean of Yale College and will be invited to a gathering Oct. 14-15, during their senior year, hosted by the RITM Center. While on campus, the students will be able to participate in the Multicultural Open House sponsored by Yale’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

About Ebenezer Bassett

The new award honors the legacy of influential educator, abolitionist, and public servant Ebenezer Bassett (1833-1908), the United States’ first African American diplomat.

Born into a Native American (Schaghticoke) and African American family nearly 200 years ago, Bassett was the first black student admitted to the Connecticut Normal School (now Central Connecticut State University). He excelled there and at Yale, where he pursued courses in mathematics and classics in the 1850s.

Bassett was a friend and supporter of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and served as principal of the Philadelphia Institute for Colored Youth (now Cheney University). He was named “Minister Resident” (equivalent to an ambassador) and as chargé d’affaires to the Dominican Republic, gaining a hemispheric understanding of racial politics. He also served as Haiti’s consul in New York City.

The 2017 Winners

Erik Barraza Cordova of North High School, Phoenix, AZ

Hadassah Betapudi of Evangelical Christian School, Collierville, TN

Estee Dechtman of Denver School of the Arts, Denver, CO

James Dennis of T.M. Landry College Prep, New Iberia, LA

Hawraa Faisal of Glenbard West High School, Glendale Heights, IL

Abbi Fitzpatrick of Cut Bank High School, Cut Bank, MT

Rhea Grant of Jonathan Law High School, Milford, CT

Chase Kinzly of James Hillhouse High School, New Haven, CT

Luis Leon of Bellaire Senior High School, Houston, TX

Domonique Malcolm of Carthage Central High School, Carthage, NY

Alejandro Ortega of Miami Beach Senior High School, Miami, FL

Jonah Perrin of Carrboro High School, Chapel Hill, NC

Iesha-LaShay Phillips of Jenks High School, Jenks, OK

Dennis Portillo of Alexander Hamilton High School, Los Angeles, CA

Sana Shareef of Saint Edwards School, Port St Lucie, FL

Cassidy Tshimbalanga of Carondelet High School, Alamo, CA

Dominic Velasquez of Western Reserve Local High School, Canfield, OH

Octavia Washington of School of the Future, Brooklyn, NY

Tyler White of De La Salle North Catholic High School, Portland, OR

Peter Za of Cleveland High School, Portland, OR

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