Our Voices

Cost of racism dominates Robert F. Kennedy Annual Book and Journalism Awards

Two years after America’s great racial reckoning, the societal cost of racism and the decline of democracy continued to dominate the themes of winning entries of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ annual Book and Journalism Awards.

“We are living in a time that would in many ways make Robert F. Kennedy shudder,” emcee Michael Beschloss said, detailing the war against Ukraine, rising injustice in our own country, and even the question of whether American democracy is going to survive. “In RFK’s absence, we have his memory, and we have his values.”

For the Book Award, Heather McGhee’s “The Sum of Us” analyzes how racism in our politics and policymaking has shaped the American economy and failed the American public —and offers a new vision for our future. Elizabeth Hinton’s “America on Fire” presents a new framework for understanding our nation’s broken criminal legal system, tracing the untold history of police violence and Black rebellion since the 1960s.

Hillcrest High School won the High School Broadcast Award for The Talk, an unscripted and honest conversation about Black teenagers’ perceptions of society. In the conversation, teens discuss the profound impact of the death of George Floyd, and the sadly regular reminders they received about potential run-ins with law enforcement while growing up in Springfield, Missouri.

Reveal from the Center for Investigative Journalism & PRX won the Radio Award for Mississippi Goddamn: The Ballad of Billey Joe.

In it, journalists Al Reston, Jonathan Jones, Kevin Sullivan, Michael Schiller, Jim Briggs III, Fernando Arruda, and Steven Rascón explored how Johnson’s family Billey Joe Johnson’s family has lived with suspicion and doubt since authorities first told them the teen died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound during a traffic stop with a white sheriff’s deputy. They never believed law enforcement thoroughly investigated what happened. While on a reporting trip 10 years ago, Reveal host Al Letson made a promise: to investigate his death and pursue the Johnsons’ unanswered questions.

“Justice was a lesson you saw in theory but never in practice,” Leston said during the ceremony.

The New Yorker won the International Print Award for Ghost Walls, a chilling picture of not just oppressive state authority but of the way the state’s actions can warp a society and target a minority for abuse and erasure based on little more than prejudice and half-baked fears.

Meanwhile, the New York Times won this year’s New Media Award, as well as the John Seigenthaler Prize, for courage in reporting. The award is named after the longtime journalist, trusted adviser, and former aide to the late senator.

Along with remarks by Beschloss and RFK Human Rights President Kerry Kennedy, the ceremony featured guest presenters Kimberly Adams, Dan Blackburn, Doug Brinkley, Margaret Engel, Annette Gordon-Reed, John Harwood, Van Jones, Rory Kennedy, Michael Lewis, Jane Mayer, Ari Melber, Craig Melvin, Soledad O’Brien, Symone D. Sanders, and John Seigenthaler.

Launched in 1969 by the journalists who covered Kennedy’s presidential campaign, the prestigious RFK Journalism Awards celebrates media professionals whose work explores issues of human rights, social justice, and the power of individual action. The Book Award was founded in 1980 with the proceeds from Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s bestselling book, “Robert F. Kennedy and His Times.”

See a full recap of the ceremony and a list of winners here.