The literary and free expression organization PEN America announced today that Darnella Frazier, the quick-thinking and courageous young woman who filmed the murder of George Floyd, will receive the 2020 PEN/Benenson Courage Award. PEN America will bestow the award on the 17-year-old Frazier at its virtual gala celebration on December 8.
“With nothing more than a cell phone and sheer guts, Darnella changed the course of history in this country, sparking a bold movement demanding an end to systemic anti-Black racism and violence at the hands of police,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel, author of Dare to Speak: Defending Free Speech for All.
“With remarkable steadiness, Darnella carried out the expressive act of bearing witness, and allowing hundreds of millions around the world to see what she saw. Without Darnella’s presence of mind and readiness to risk her own safety and wellbeing, we may never have known the truth about George Floyd’s murder. We are proud to recognize her exceptional courage with this award.”
Frazier documented the death of the 46-year-old Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, one of whom—Derek Chauvin—pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck, well after Floyd lost consciousness. Frazier’s video quickly spread across social media and led to a wave of community outrage, a major investigation, and Chauvin’s arrest, as well as the dismissal of the three other officers.
Floyd’s killing, along with the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Dion Johnson, and others, drove a wave of activism across the country crying out for racial and economic justice.
Frazier will receive the award at the 2020 PEN America Gala, this year being held virtually on December 8 and, for the first time, combining the annual Los Angeles and New York Galas, streamed to supporters around the world. The all-virtual gala will include special guests, performances, readings, and the presentation of multiple PEN America honors.
“With courage and clear-eyed resolve, Darnella bore witness to a critical truth at great personal and emotional cost—and our country is in her debt,” said Jennifer Egan, author and president of PEN America’s Board of Trustees. “We would all do well to emulate Darnella’s grit in standing up to those with a monopoly on force and violence as we push for a stronger democracy, a more equal society, and a more just world. Her truth-telling epitomizes the kind of brave action that PEN America exists to celebrate and defend.”
Prior Courage Award honorees include Anita Hill; student activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Cameron Kasky, Samantha Fuentes, and Zion Kelly; the Women’s March; Flint, Michigan contaminated water whistleblowers Lee-Anne Walters and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha; and the surviving staff of the French publication Charlie Hebdo, honored in the wake of the murders of 12 of their colleagues.
Previously announced 2020 honorees include Xu Zhiyong, a Chinese writer and dissident currently detained in China, recipient of the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award; Corporate Honoree Frank A. Bennack, Jr., executive vice chairman and former CEO of Hearst. The organization also previously announced that former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch will also receive the 2020 PEN/Benenson Courage Award.
PEN America will continue to name special guests and honorees in the coming days. Registration for the virtual celebration on December 8 is now open to the public.
Darnella Frazier is a senior in high school in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Born and raised in St. Paul, Frazier enjoys sports and has played junior varsity and varsity volleyball and basketball. She also enjoys singing, fashion, and debate. She started working at 16 years old at a local pretzel shop where she was promoted to manager. Frazier is currently focused on school and looks forward to attending college.
ABOUT PEN America
Founded in 1922, PEN America is the largest of the more than 100 centers worldwide that make up the PEN International network. PEN America works to ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to create literature, to convey information and ideas, to express their views, and to access the views, ideas, and literatures of others. Our strength is our Membership—a nationwide community of more than 7,200 novelists, journalists, nonfiction writers, editors, poets, essayists, playwrights, publishers, translators, agents, and other writing professionals, as well as devoted readers and supporters who join with them to carry out PEN America’s mission.