New Frontier Award® 2016 Recipients

Aja Brown and Max Kenner

Aja Brown, the Mayor of Compton, CA, and Max Kenner, founder of the Bard Prison Initiative, an organization dedicated to helping incarcerated individuals earn college degrees while in prison, have been named this year’s recipients of the John F. Kennedy New Frontier Awards. The awards will be presented by Jack Schlossberg during a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum on December 13, 2016.

Aja Brown

At the age of 31, Aja Brown became the youngest mayor in the history of Compton, California. Elected in 2013, Brown previously served over 10 years as an urban planner in municipalities across Southern California. She was elected to office on her 12 point plan, “Vision For Compton,” that focused on gang violence and bringing new jobs into the city.

Brown mediated talks between gang organizations to significantly reduce violence and crime. After doing so, Brown secured federal support for Compton through a new United States Department of Justice violence prevention program, the Violence Reduction Network.

In 2014, Brown instituted a Local Hiring Ordinance that requires all city assisted development projects to guarantee a 35% local hiring preference and community benefits agreement to further enrich the City of Compton. Over the past three years, Brown has been integral in bringing major redevelopment projects and jobs to the City of Compton, including UPS, Walmart, Smart & Final, and infrastructure improvement projects that have created hundreds of local jobs for residents. 

Brown holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Policy, Urban Planning and Development, along with a Master’s degree in Urban Planning with a concentration in Economic Development from the University of Southern California. She was awarded the prestigious University of Southern California Young Alumni Merit Award in 2014. She lives in Compton with her husband Van.

Max Kenner

As the founder and executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI), Max Kenner has devoted his career to providing access to higher education and effective solutions to the criminal justice system. The leading program of its kind in the country, BPI enrolls more than 300 students across six prisons in New York State and has awarded nearly 400 Bard College degrees. The outcomes are impressive, with less than 2.5 percent of graduates returning to prison; 83 percent of alumni employed in a variety of positions in the public and private sector; and many others continuing their studies and completing graduate degrees at universities including Yale, NYU, Columbia, and across the CUNY system.

Through its Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison, BPI also engages colleges and universities across the United States to create programs based on its model. Currently, BPI is active in fifteen states, with partnerships that include the University of Notre Dame and Washington University. Building on BPI’s record of innovation and creative college opportunity, Kenner launched the Bard Microcollege, which brings ambitious, tuition-free college to the most isolated urban communities. The pilot Microcollege launched this year in Holyoke, MA, and will expand to New York City next year.

Kenner serves as Vice President for Institutional Initiatives and an Advisor to the President on Public Policy & College Affairs at Bard College. In 2014, he was appointed to serve on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s New York State Council on Community Re-entry and Reintegration. He is the recipient of numerous awards and speaks frequently on the topics of higher education and criminal justice issues.

About the Award

The John F. Kennedy New Frontier Awards® were created by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and The Institute of Politics at Harvard University to 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 as full-time public servants in elective office, community service, or advocacy demonstrate the impact and the value of public service in the spirit of John F. Kennedy.

Honoring Public Service

One award honors an elected official whose work in politics has brought significant, tangible results in response to a public challenge. This award is named for Dan Fenn, the Library's first director.

The other New Frontier Award® honors an individual whose contributions in the realm of community service, advocacy or grassroots activism have had a positive impact on a broad public policy issue or challenge.

Inspiration Behind the New Frontier Award®

The New Frontier Award® is inspired by President Kennedy's bold challenge to Americans given in his acceptance speech to the Democratic National Convention on July 15, 1960:

Quotation from John F. Kennedy's speech at the Democratic National Convention 1960.

Past Recipients

Past recipients of the New Frontier Award® include Tulsi Gabbard, U.S. Representative (D-Hawaii); Charles Best, founder of DonorsChoose.orgCory 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; Lisa Madigan, Illinois Attorney General; Rebecca Onie, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Health Leads; and Zainab Salbi, Founder and CEO of Women for Women International. Learn more >>

Criteria and Eligibility

Recipients of the New Frontier Award® should demonstrate the ideals and political values of John F. Kennedy and the qualities he most admired in public servants: civic-mindedness, vision, pragmatism and tenacity in identifying and addressing public challenges. Learn more >>

How to Submit a Nomination

Eligible individuals may be nominated by peers, colleagues, friends, or members of the public. Please consider the award criteria and determine whether the person you wish to nominate would be an appropriate recipient of the New Frontier Award®. Learn more and access the online nomination form>>

New Frontier Award Committee

A distinguished bipartisan committee of political and community leaders annually selects the New Frontier Award® recipients 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. Learn more >>

Learn About Past Recipients

Jack Schlossberg with 2013 New Frontier Award Honorees, Charles Best and Tulsi Gabbard

Pictured with Jack Schlossberg are 2013 New Frontier Award® honorees Charles Best, Founder and CEO of, and Congresswomen Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), one of the first two female combat veterans to serve in the US Congress. Learn more about all of our prior winners.

New Frontier Award® Coverage at IOP

Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics

See more New Frontier Award® information on the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics website.