Harris County, Texas Judge Lina Hidalgo and Data for Black Lives Founder Yeshi Milner to Receive John F. Kennedy New Frontier Awards

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Matt Porter, JFK Library Foundation
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Morgan Burke, Institute of Politics 
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Harris County, Texas Judge Lina Hidalgo and Data for Black Lives Founder Yeshi Milner to Receive John F. Kennedy New Frontier Awards

Boston, MA – Harris County, Texas Judge Lina Hidalgo will receive the John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award for her early and swift response to the COVID-19 pandemic to protect the nearly 5 million residents in Harris County, Texas. Hidalgo also expanded protections for the LGBTQ+ community, reformed the cash bail system, and organized new flood control policies in the wake of climate change increasing flood risks. Data for Black Lives (D4BL) founder Yeshimabeit Milner will also be honored with the New Frontier Award for her tireless efforts using data analysis to expose systematic racism faced by Black Americans in their daily lives. The awards were announced via video by President Kennedy’s grandson, Jack Schlossberg, who serves as chair of the New Frontier Awards Committee.

“My grandfather understood the power of young leaders to change the world. Sixty years later, Judge Lina Hidalgo and Yeshi Milner are carrying on that legacy,” said Schlossberg. “In one of the largest counties in America, Judge Hidalgo has already brought change and progress, boldly leading through the COVID-19 pandemic by implementing important health measures before they were popular, or even acceptable. Yeshi Milner’s lifelong commitment to social change is bringing political organizing into the 21st century, using technology and data to fight racial bias and discrimination.”

Created by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School, the New Frontier Awards honor Americans under the age of 40 who are changing their communities and the country with their commitment to public service. The awards are presented annually to two exceptional individuals whose contributions in elective office, community service, or advocacy demonstrate the impact and the value of public service in the spirit of John F. Kennedy.

“It’s an honor to join the company of so many leaders I admire from all walks of public service,” said Hidalgo. “I ran for office because I believed in the same ideals of President Kennedy’s vision for America--the audacity to believe in and advocate for a government that is smarter and more compassionate than people ever thought possible. That’s the kind of ethos we should aspire to as a nation, and what I’ll work to continue bringing to Harris County as we build a community that is stronger, more prosperous, and a place where everyone can thrive.”

“Thank you for supporting me and Data for Black Lives in doing not what is easy but in choosing to do what is hard in this moment,” said Milner. “Working to make data a tool for social change instead a weapon of political oppression. Working to dissolve the silos between science and activism; to create community and build bridges in order to build a multi-racial, intergenerational and interdisciplinary movement.”

For more information visit the Kennedy Presidential Library’s website at www.jfklibrary.org or the Institute of Politics’ website at www.iop.harvard.edu.

Lina Hidalgo

Judge, Harris County, Texas

Judge Lina Hidalgo’s family fled their home country of Colombia as gang violence ravaged the country. Her parents had two goals: to make sure she had a good education and to get the family to a safer place to live. After living in Peru and Mexico for a time, they arrived in the United States in 2005 when she was 14. She went on to study political science at Stanford University and was the first in her family to attend college. She became a United States citizen in the same year she earned her degree.

After the 2016 elections, Hidalgo decided that she could not sit back and wait for the changes she wanted to see, so she decided to run for election in her home county. Harris County is the third largest county in our nation with a population of nearly 5 million people. Judge Lina Hidalgo is the head of Harris County’s governing body. She is the first woman to be elected County Judge and only the second to be elected to the Commissioners Court.

She has focused her time on serving Harris County’s most vulnerable communities — from working at the Texas Civil Rights Project, to serving as a Spanish-English medical interpreter at the Texas Medical Center and supporting immigrants in search of lost loved ones. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she listened to health experts and scientists to provide the best policies to save lives and prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Harris County. Despite facing significant opposition from the largely Republican county, Hidalgo called for closings and mask mandates early on in the pandemic. Hidalgo was questioned and harassed over her decisions to put the safety of the residents first.

Judge Hidalgo plays an important advocacy role for the County. Judge Hidalgo works to ensure her region remains competitive only through proactive and creative leadership on issues like flood control, transportation, criminal justice reform, and education. She is committed to ensuring that the Harris County government is transparent, accessible, and accountable to every resident. She wants Harris County to be a place where everyone can attain the American Dream.

Yeshimabeit Milner

Founder, Data4Black Lives (D4BL)

Yeshimabeit Milner was raised by an immigrant mother in predominately Black neighborhoods in Miami and experienced systematic racism throughout her childhood. After witnessing a principal put a 14-year-old into a chokehold, Milner and several friends organized a peaceful protest. In response, SWAT units swept through the crowd and beat more than 30 students. That event sparked Milner to dedicate her life to researching statistics about Black lives, beginning with the suspension statistics for Black children in her community. She found Black children were four times more likely than white children to be suspended.

At 22, Milner returned to Miami from Brown University and started collecting data about infant mortality rates. Her goal was to help improve healthcare at local hospitals. In 2017, Milner took her passion for data science and social activism one step further and founded D4BL. D4BL seeks to compile data that states and universities do not collect, such as COVID infection rates in marginalized communities across the United States. Milner also uses her platform to host conferences around the country, including places like the MIT Media Lab, to further spread her message and data. Her overarching goal is to use her findings to permanently change the conversation around data and technology access for the benefit of Black lives.

Joined by co-founder Lucas Mason-Brown and three other executive team members at D4BL, Milner looks to expose issues of systemic racism by using concrete data from areas like statistical modeling and data visualization to advocate for Black people addressing the historic and current ways data has been used to discriminate. Some recent examples of the latter include predatory lending, risk-based sentencing and predictive policing. D4BL has raised over $2 million for various projects and organizations and it connects a growing team of more than 4,000 members across the country.

About the New Frontier Awards

At the New Frontier Awards ceremony, Jack Schlossberg will present Judge Lina Hidalgo, Yeshi Milner with a ship’s navigational compass in a wooden box bearing the inscription: “We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier….I believe the times demand new invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I am asking each of you to be pioneers on that New Frontier.”  – John F. Kennedy.

The New Frontier Awards are named after President Kennedy's bold challenge to Americans given in his acceptance speech to the Democratic National Convention on July 15, 1960:

We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier…a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils -- a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats. The New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises -- it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride, not to their pocketbook -- it holds out the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security…. Beyond that frontier are the uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus. It would be easier to shrink back from that frontier, to look to the safe mediocrity of the past, to be lulled by good intentions and high rhetoric…but I believe the times demand new invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I am asking each of you to be pioneers on that New Frontier.

Past recipients of the New Frontier Awards include Cyrus Habib, former Lieutenant Governor, Washington State, Christina Fialho and Christina Mansfield, founders of Freedom for Immigrants, Michael Tubbs, the former Mayor of Stockton, California, Pete Buttigieg, the former Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Nina Dudnik, Founder and CEO, Seeding Labs; Charles Best, founder and CEO of DonorsChoose.org; Stacey Abrams, House Minority Leader for the Georgia General Assembly and State Representative for the 89th House District; Cory A. Booker, U.S. Senator and former Mayor of Newark, New Jersey; Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles; Wendy Kopp, Founder and CEO of Teach for America; and Zainab Salbi, Founder and CEO of Women for Women International.

A distinguished bipartisan committee of political and community leaders selected Habib, Mansfield, and Fialho based on their contributions to the public and their embodiment of the forward-looking public idealism to which President Kennedy hoped young Americans would aspire. The John F. Kennedy New Frontier Awards Committee is chaired by Jack Schlossberg, grandson of President John F. Kennedy. Rachel Flor, Executive Director, John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, and Mark Gearan, Director, Institute of Politics, Harvard Kennedy School act as vice-chairs. Committee members are: Terence Burke, John F. Kennedy Library Foundation’s New Frontier Network; Carolyn Casey, Founder and Executive Director, Project 351; Samson Cohen, J.D. Candidate, Harvard Law School, and US Navy Veteran; Ranny Cooper, Senior Consultant, Weber Shandwick Public Affairs, and former Chief of Staff for Senator Edward M. Kennedy; Doug Heye, contributor to CNN and the Wall Street Journal, Fall 2015 Institute of Politics fellow, and former Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor; The Honorable Rachel Kaprielian, U.S. Government Relations at McDonald’s Corporation, former MA Secretary of Labor & Workforce Development, former MA state legislator, and 1999 New Frontier Award recipient; Sandy Koening, Harvard University class of 2021, chair Harvard Institute of Politics Political Union; Vivien Li, Commissioner, Boston Municipal Lobbying Compliance Commission; Carly Lindgren, MBA candidate at Harvard Business School, and policy advisor at the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs; Cassandra Marando, Harvard University class of 2021; The Honorable Svante Myrick, Mayor, Ithaca, New York, and 2014 New Frontier Award Winner; The Honorable Doug Palmer, Former Mayor, Trenton, New Jersey; Aneesh Raman, Senior Advisor on Economic Strategy and External Affairs to California Governor Gavin Newsom.

The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics both have their origins in the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Inc., a non-profit corporation that was chartered in Massachusetts on December 5, 1963, to construct and equip the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Massachusetts.

About the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation

The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation is a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization founded in 1984 to provide financial support, staffing, and creative resources for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration. The Kennedy Presidential Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through educational and community programs, a greater appreciation and understanding of American politics, history, and culture, the process of governing and the importance of public service.

About the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School

The Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School was established in 1966 as a living memorial to President John F. Kennedy. The Institute’s mission is to unite and engage students, particularly undergraduates, with academics, politicians, activists, and policymakers on a non-partisan basis to inspire them to pursue pathways in politics and public service. The Institute blends the academy with practical politics and offers students the opportunity to engage on current events and to acquire skills and perspective that will assist in their postgraduate pathways.