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m_castillo_1After class each day, Merilin Castillo (I) travels to the Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center in Boston where she works until 7 p.m. on the Racial Healing and Reconciliation (R&R) project. Merilin is a founding member of the project, and her work earned her the 2012 Princeton Prize in Race Relations from Boston. The R&R project offers to youth groups and community leaders training and workshops on racism awareness and the effects of racism on health. In recognition of her hard work and dedication, she will receive the award on May 14 when she attends the Princeton Prize Symposium on Race held on the university’s campus.

“I’m excited to go to the symposium where I’ll meet other people who do similar work,” says Merilin.  “It’s also a great opportunity to show what we do and raise awareness.”

With a strong interest in public health and community organizing, Merilin started working at the health center the summer after her Class IV year at Milton. The health center’s program manager used a grant to launch the R&R project and asked Merilin to help develop the curriculum and launch the project. Today, the project runs numerous programs and Merilin enthusiastically embraces the challenges.  In the fall, the focus is on training volunteers who then work with local schools and community groups in the spring.

“We recently held a big forum and conducted an inequity game, breaking up the room into four groups, and each group had a different set of life circumstances,” says Merilin. “Watch people adopt to their roles and seeing how racism and inequity can come easily to people, even to those who normally would be the target of such attitudes in their regular life, is amazing. It’s a real learning experience.”

The R&R project’s other programs include “SPEAK OUT!” a forum designed to enable young people to speak honestly in a supportive environment about their feelings on race. In addition, programs that advise city youth campaigns on issues such as sex education and jobs for youth, and provide input to local health organizations working to improve quality of health care are part of R&R.