By Mike Dunn and Steve Patterson
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A former student at South Philadelphia High School who tried to defuse racial violence there in 2008 and 2009 is now one of ten winners nationwide of a new prize called “Peace First.”
After violence between blacks and Asians erupted at South Philly High, Wei Chen organized a Chinese-American Student Association at the school, and led peaceful walkouts to draw attention to racial violence there (see related story).
“I was a victim. A lot of students got beat up. My cousin got beat up, my friend got beat up. I’m angry because it kept happening to Asian American students,” Chen said.
Now, a national group called “Peace First” has named Chen as one of ten young winners of its inaugural prize.
“Wei’s insight was that it actually wasn’t the fault of the kids who hurt him and were picking on him, but that there was a culture that needed to change,” says Eric Dawson (at left in photo), the group’s co-founder. “There’s a culture that allows that kind of behavior to happen, that supports that kind of violence. And it’s subtle and it’s pervasive.”
“You’re role models. We need you to change the school system. We need to have a safe environment to study and to understand each other,” Chen said.
Wei is currently a student at Community College of Philadelphia. He said he intends to use the $50,000 prize money to support himself, to give him time away from his studies to continuing his peacemaking efforts.
“We are going to transform from a youth program to a long-term campaign youth program. We are going to do something with real action, and with more leadership. I am going to spend time to plan the youth program, to meet with students, and to recruit more students in the different schools, especially public schools,” Chen (second from left) said.
Presiding at the award ceremony was Mayor Michael Nutter, who praised Chen’s persistence:
“We need more individuals like Wei to push the adults in our city to pay attention to these very serious issues,” the mayor said.
“What I’m doing now is to not let history repeat again,” Chen said. “Don’t let history happen again. Don’t let this kind of issue happen to school again.”
More information at peacefirst.org.