Princeton high schooler exposes social injustice through journalism — NewsWorks

In some ways, Jamaica Ponder seems like a typical teenager.

Her social media is packed with pictures of her goofing around with friends, playing field hockey and basketball, and otherwise mugging for the camera. She brims with an exuberance untainted by the cynicism that can come with age or experience.

And she is so over homework.

“I’m a second-semester senior. I don’t do homework!” the 18-year-old joked.

But then she writes.

In blistering blog posts that belie her age, Ponder has exposed racial tensions at Princeton High School, a predominantly white school just a few blocks from the Ivy League university that shares its name. And in an increasingly competitive media market, Ponder can claim scoops that prompted even journalistic giants like The New York Times and The Washington Post to follow her lead. Her work has made her, in her own words, “a little bit famous.”

In March, she wrote about a white student who posted a racial slur on SnapChat. In May, she chronicled how a white student falsely accused a black classmate of giving him marijuana-laced brownies.

In April 2016, someone sent her a photo of classmates playing “Jews v. Nazis” beer pong at a party. “This is indefensible,” she wrote in a blog post that made headlines as far away as Israel. “You can’t make excuses for stuff like this, just like you can’t make excuses for the KKK or 9/11 or the slaughter of 6 million people. Some things are just bad, and this is one of them. Maybe you think I’m overreacting, or that I don’t know how to take a joke. If this is the joke, if this is supposed to be funny — well then you’ll have to excuse me, because I simply cannot drink to that.”

All three incidents prompted school investigations, mainstream media coverage, and growing concern in a cosmopolitan community many felt was post-racial.

Princeton High School (Alan Tu/WHYY)

“My question to my fellow Princetonians is what is going on?” resident Kelly Ryan wrote this month on the local news site Planet Princeton.

Ryan, a 1989 Princeton High graduate whose daughter also graduated there last year, said she’s “not at all happy about town right now.”

“In a town of over 30,000 people, with a median household income of $114,645, where 78 percent are college graduates and 37 percent work in education, a town where we have always prided ourselves on and welcomed a very eclectic mix,” she wrote, “where exactly have we lost our way?”

‘Fearless’ and focused

Ask almost any graduating high-schooler what they want to do for a living, and you’re likely to hear a forlorn “I don’t know.”

Ponder has no such uncertainty.

“I really want to be Secretary of State,” she said, like it’s no big deal. “I’m really passionate about international diplomacy, and I think public service is extremely important. But that’s, like, long, long term. Short term, I want to be a foreign correspondent.”

Those are notable ambitions at a time when…

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