by John C. Yang, President and Executive Director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC
In September, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC is convening 20 young leaders from across the country for our 6th annual Youth Leadership Summit in Washington, DC. Since 2014, Advancing Justice | AAJC has convened college students for its signature youth program, a three-day leadership development program for young advocates that is focused on advocacy, communications, and civic engagement around policy issues impacting AAPI communities. Through this annual convening, we provide a unique opportunity for young advocates from across the country to learn from and network with policy advocates and national leaders. In addition, students are able to build and strengthen their own networks of student leaders across the country. Through interactive workshops, hands-on trainings, and discussions on Capitol Hill, participants build advocacy and communications skills and gain a deeper understanding of how they can impact policy decisions.
Over the years, we have had the privilege of convening exemplary young advocates from a myriad of diverse AAPI communities and spanning all regions across the country. This year’s Summit will take place September 19–21 in Washington, DC. We’re pleased to announce the 20 finalists who will be joining us next month.
*Advancing Justice | AAJC uses AAPI when referring to our collective communities. The following terminology is also used by our students below: Asian Pacific Islander (API), Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA), and Asian Pacific Islander/American (API/A).
Angie Huynh currently attends the University of California, Santa Barbara as an Asian American Studies major. Her passion for higher education and destigmatizing mental health has enabled her to become an advocate for the Southeast Asian American (SEAA) community. During her time at UCSB, she has been a part of the Southeast Asian Union (SEA-U), Vietnamese Student Association, and an Asian American interest sorority, Chi Delta Theta. As a member of SEA-U, she has held the positions of Visuals Chair, Treasurer, and President. During her involvement, she implemented an on-campus community building program which provided SEAA students with a safe space to network, socialize, and strengthen peer relations. She has hosted various workshops and events on personal narratives, intergenerational trauma, Black April, and cultural identity. She also planned and coordinated a two-day, one-night youth conference targeted to empower and educate SEAA high school students about higher education, mental health, and social issues within the community. In addition, she has served as a mentor in previous youth conferences for three years. After college, she hopes to continue advocating for the SEAA community and promote change.
Following in the footsteps of her role model and hero Mimi Khúc, Anjali Kapoor likes to think of herself as a writer and student of things unwell. As a queer desi womxn, she has found meaning in learning how to transform her personal pain into collective power and loves to share this passion through writing and community organizing. No matter the political work she engages in, she believes that relationships form the backbone of movements, and is always looking for ways to deepen that community. When she isn’t daydreaming about Chipotle or falling in love, she enjoys wrestling with questions of pleasure activism, Black-Asian solidarity, and changing the world through changing the self. Outside of community organizing, you might find her taking photos, playing guitar or piano, or dabbling in web development.
Anusheh Siddique is a rising junior at the University of Houston. She is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a minor in Middle Eastern Studies. She was born and raised in Pakistan and immigrated to the U.S. for her education and opportunity. She is passionate about promoting civic advocacy in the AAPI community and does this through working on local campaigns and organizing voter registration efforts, especially in marginalized communities. Teaching is another passion of hers, and she currently spends her summers in Washington, DC, facilitating a program to introduce students to opportunities and career fields in National Defense, Intelligence, and Diplomacy. Through this program, she develops and administers curriculum that makes government work more accessible and relevant to students. On campus, Anusheh worked for the campus newspaper as the opinion editor. She has helped to create an organization for refugee advocacy and awareness that has worked on projects from hygiene kits to awareness campaigns to letter writing for public policy. She has worked to bring several local and state politicians to her campus. She helped create and works for the university’s first poetry organization which became nationally ranked this year, where she performs pieces about understanding the intersectionality and duality of her identity. In her free time, Anusheh loves hiking, travel, combatting day to day inequality, and writing.
Haley Wint is a senior studying Arabic and American Studies at Georgetown University. Haley’s academic course load has offered her a diverse, well-rounded liberal arts education which has afforded her the opportunity to hone her historical analysis, academic research, and writing skills. Her favorite courses have been Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies, Women and Gender in Islam, and Introduction to Asian American Studies. A fifth-generation Chinese American and daughter of a Jamaican immigrant, she co-founded Mosaic, Georgetown’s only multiracial and multiethnic student organization. She has served as the social media manager, treasurer, and most recently, president. In addition to Mosaic, Haley has extensive philanthropic experience. As a supervisor at Georgetown Phonathon, the university’s fundraising center, Haley mentors and coaches as many as twenty-five fundraisers per shift. She also solicits gifts from alumni; Haley had the sixth-highest pledge amount out of eighty fundraisers this past fiscal year. Being a part of Mosaic and studying Asian American studies has ignited her interest in advocacy, civil rights, and law. She hopes to pursue a job in these fields after graduation in May 2020.
Hillary Shah is a proud Indian American and sophomore at the University of North Texas studying Political Science and Economics. At 17 years old, she and her peers organized the Frisco ISD Walkout Against Gun Violence, which included 9 schools and over 2500 students. From there, Hillary co-founded the Frisco Student Activist Union to mobilize students to get involved in local politics concerning issues such as voting rights, gun violence, and education. Moreover, in her first semester in college, Hillary was instrumental in voter registration efforts in her county and university. At 18, she was elected as the youngest Student Body Vice President in her university’s history on the first all-women of color ticket. She now serves over 31,000 undergraduate students advocating for worker rights, interpersonal violence prevention, and first-generation student investment. She additionally presides over the 45-person Student Senate to mobilize Senators to better serve the student body via legislation and outreach. This summer, she interned at the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, DC, working on Electoral Issues for the National Political Advocacy Department. Hillary is a recipient of the Diana Award, which is awarded in Princess Diana’s memory and legacy, and after graduation, plans to attend law school in hopes of working in law and politics.
Jamelah Jacob is a junior at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, majoring in Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) Studies and Public Policy. Growing up in predominantly white spaces, she knew nothing about Asian American identity and issues. Funnily enough, she found her niche in another predominantly white institution, at William & Mary, within the school’s APIA program. Since then, she has nurtured her academic interests in APIA studies and fostered her passion working for the APIA community. On campus, Jamelah currently serves as the APIA chair for William & Mary’s Asian American Student Initiative, where she advocates for the program’s growth at the school, as well as the Culture Chair for the Filipino American Student Association. She also works for the Center for Student Diversity, where she takes on initiatives that support students of color on campus. This past summer, she had the wonderful opportunity to intern in Washington, DC, for two APIA nonprofit organizations. She hopes to continue advocating for APIA studies programs at other universities in Virginia, knowing full well how studying APIA Studies has monumentally impacted her life. In her free time, Jamelah enjoys writing poetry, going on solo trips, and drinking bubble tea.
Jason Suh is a student at The New School in New York City, majoring in Global Studies with interests in data science, education policy, and human rights. His work in the nonprofit and think tank spaces has pushed him to think more broadly about the roles of storytelling and data in policy innovation and their potential to be advocacy tools in addressing disparities across the health and education sectors. He is on the advocacy team of the East Coast Asian American Student Union and was involved in Georgetown University’s North Korean human rights work while a student there. He hopes to practice medicine with a focus on social determinants of health and with the desire to make healthcare more accessible for marginalized communities. In his free time, Jason can be found biking, animating, boxing, or looking for new book recommendations.
JingJing Zeng is an undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania studying Systems Engineering. Originally from Guangdong, China, her family emigrated to Philadelphia when she was five years old. As a first-generation, low-income (FGLI) college student and proud Asian American, she found difficulty looking for a space that encompassed both her identities, which eventually led her to co-create that space to empower fellow API FGLI students like her. She is extremely dedicated to supporting FGLI API students especially as someone who experienced Philly’s severely underfunded public-school system. On campus, she currently serves as Vice Chair of the Asian Pacific Student Coalition, a minority coalition that represents over twenty API groups, advocates for better resources, and voices their concerns to administration. She also found a home within Penn’s Chinese Students’ Association where she previously served as President, and as a community member within the Pan-Asian American Community House, one of Penn’s cultural resource centers. As a student activist with a STEM background, JingJing hopes to go into the civic tech field and utilize technology to push forward progressive policy and social change as well as enable a better connection between government and people.
Kent Chen is an honors candidate majoring in Anthropology and Biology at Swarthmore College. Recognized by OCA (Organization of Chinese Americans) as a 2018 OCA-UPS Gold Mountain Scholar, he works to be a leader who empowers API/A-identifying individuals in his community to engage in race, identity, and culture related dialogue. Born and raised in New York’s Chinatown, Kent saw first-hand the sad realities of gentrification and urban displacement — especially among the low-income elderly immigrant tenants who must overcome language and cultural barriers. This drove him to serve on the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council for NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio where he brought media attention to mass evictions, advocated for the need for policies that protect tenants, and actively acknowledged the importance of breaking down language barriers through visual communication. Furthering his passion for advocacy in the public sphere, Kent serves as a board member of Organizing to Redefine Asian Activism (ORAA) at Swarthmore, an organizer of the very first Tri-College Asian Student Conference (Tri-CASC) within the Quaker Consortium, and the Executive Secretary for the East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU). With goals of ultimately becoming a physician, Kent hopes to incorporate the knowledge he gains as a social activist into his medical practice to better support the communities he will work with.
Lillian Hua was born and raised in Chicago, and her family calls Shanghai their 老家, or “old home.” A junior at Yale College, she is double majoring in Ethnicity, Race, & Migration and Economics, with interests in post/neocolonial Asia, diaspora, and economic development. On campus, she has the privilege of being a Co-Moderator of the Asian American Students Alliance and a Civic and Political Engagement staffer at the Asian American Cultural Center. She considers her years of Asian American engagement her gateway commitment, as it led her to politics, her major, a never-ending road of extraordinary people, and a critical reevaluation of power in and outside of the U.S. She is grateful to have had brilliant parents, peers, older Asian Americans, and history as her most valuable mentors. She is also involved with immigration advocacy and spoken word, has interned at Pamir Law Group and Global Partners for Development, and has done research on racial labor economics and agricultural economics. When she grows up, she really might like to be a civil rights attorney.
Michael Messina is an Asian American adoptee, a Korean with an Italian family and name. Once he arrived at Binghamton University, Michael made it a point to explore his AAPI roots through the on-campus cultural community. He believes identity to be a crucial aspect of one’s life and looks to help any and all people explore their heritage and sense of self. Currently serving as President of Binghamton’s Asian Student Union as well as Professional Chair of Binghamton’s Society of Asian Scientists & Engineers, he is looking to give back to the family that has given him so much. He has also served as President and Editor-in-Chief of Asian Outlook Magazine & Media, helping modernize the media outlet in order to educate content consumers and encourage community discourse on a myriad of topics across all platforms. Michael is a third year Physics student, aiming to help solve the world’s looming energy crisis through both scientific research and energy legislation. When not studying or organizing clubs, he is training in martial arts, writing screenplays, and listening to NPR. He believes events and organizations such as Advancing Justice | AAJC are crucial to trading ideas and solving problems, and he can’t wait to meet everyone!
Natalie Nguyen is a rising senior studying molecular biology at the University of Washington. Raised in White Center, Washington, she is proud to be the daughter of hardworking Vietnamese immigrants who run a phở restaurant. As a first-generation college student, she understands the privilege of her education and does her best to give back to her community. Natalie teaches Vietnamese to elementary students, served immigrant communities at her local health clinic, and volunteered with the Viet Nam Scholarship Foundation to help impoverished students in rural Vietnam. Last summer, she canvassed for Senator Joe Nguyen, one of Washington state’s first Vietnamese American legislators. This year, she is excited to be involved with the Arts and Sciences Advisory Council for Students at UW and the Health Fair Committee for Tet in Seattle. Natalie is passionate about issues of diversity and equity, especially in addressing the impact of racism within our education and healthcare systems. She plans to work in the medical field to care for underserved populations and advocate for healthcare reform. In her free time, she enjoys watching C-SPAN and anime while on the treadmill at the gym, obsessing over K-pop groups, and strolling around grocery stores.
Ngoc Nguyen is a rising fourth-year student at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is currently pursuing double majors in International Development Studies and Sociology with a minor in Asian American Studies. As a first-generation Vietnamese college student, Ngoc is committed to increasing representation of communities of color in higher education through grassroots organizing. Her previous advocacy work includes serving as an Undergraduate appointment on the Students Initiated Outreach Committee at UCLA. She has also worked to promote equal access in the court as a Justice Corps member at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse. Ngoc recently finished her term as the President of the Vietnamese Student Union (VSU) where she worked with other leaders in her community to organize a campaign against Southeast Asian deportation and created a class at UCLA focusing on the experiences of Southeast Asian refugees. This year, Ngoc hopes to successfully organize the 1st Annual Southeast Asian Student OrgaNizing (SEASON) Conference at UCLA. Given the opportunity to attend this year’s Youth Leadership Summit, Ngoc is excited to gain a deeper understanding of policy decisions and to work with other community leaders to address issues impacting communities of color in the U.S.
Rajan Nathaniel is an incoming sophomore at San Joaquin Delta College. On campus, he serves as an Accreditation Representative and Political Science Teaching Assistant. His commitment to public service began with his election to the Lodi Unified School District Board. This experience exposed him to educational and communal disparities affecting AAPI minority groups. Outside of campus, Rajan serves as a Trauma Research and Policy Intern with Public Health Advocates. His current research assesses the Stocktonian AAPI disequilibria in civil society. Additionally, Rajan is working to develop Kaiser Trauma Treatment Partnerships with Stockton school sites. His experience with systematic AAPI health deficits provided him with innovative behavioral insight, catalyzing his interest in local traumatic repercussions. As a first generation American Pacific Islander, Rajan believes that his civic responsibility is to advance social justice and healthcare access for minority groups in Stockton. He chose to attend a local community college to facilitate this local change and destigmatize the junior college system. Rajan intends to enroll at a 4-year institution next year to study Political Science and Biology. After undergrad, he aspires to obtain an MD/Ph.D in Health Policy. Rajan is also a Boys’ State Alumni and Game Theory researcher.
Sandeep Kaur is a senior at Colby College studying Psychology and Global Studies, with a minor in Anthropology. Born and raised in Jackson Heights, Queens, she is the daughter of two Punjabi immigrants from India. Growing up in one of the country’s most diverse neighborhoods, she never questioned her identity and its significance politically, socially, and economically — everything seemed quite normal to her. When she arrived at Colby, she found comfort in the AAPI community that challenged her to grow mentally and emotionally and has been involved in AAPI advocacy since then. At Colby, Sandeep is the Communications Chair for the Asian Student Association, where she hopes to support and empower Asian-identifying students through civic engagement and community organizing. In addition to her involvement with Colby’s AAPI community, she is a founding member of the South Asian Society, a mentor for Colby’s First-Generation-to-College Program, a facilitator for Colby’s Campus Conversations on Race program, and a peer educator for Colby’s Student Health on Campus and Sexual Violence Prevention programs. Sandeep’s personal and professional experiences have imbued her with a passion for mental and public health advocacy, a field she believes has been widely overlooked with regard to caring for marginalized communities.
Sarah Lee is a senior majoring in Philosophy at Emory University. She is particularly interested in philosophical questions related to race, gender, inequality, and politics. She has done a number of research projects related to these topics, including one with an Emory Law professor about two contemporary court cases related to the Fourteenth Amendment — Gill v. Whitford and Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. She is also currently working on founding a new research publication at her university, the Emory Undergraduate Journal of Society, Politics, and Ethics. She is invested in Asian American community-building and civic engagement; to that end, she organized a panel discussion for her high school about immigrant identities, canvassed for Stacey Abrams by targeting Asian American households with the nonprofit Asians for Abrams, and is currently developing a digital story-telling project about Asian American experiences. This past summer, she was a legal intern in Washington, DC, for the nonprofit Mil Mujeres, where she processed visa applications for undocumented immigrants who are survivors of violent crime.
Simran Chand is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania double-majoring in Biology and Gender, Sexuality, & Women’s Studies. She grew up in Newtown, Connecticut, and is the daughter of Indian immigrants. She is on the pre-medical track at Penn, and her involvements include a diverse range of interests and passions. In addition to serving on the Student Health Advisory Board, volunteering at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and conducting pediatric cardiology research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, she is also a part of Penn Democrats, Polybian Society, Abuse & Sexual Assault Prevention, and Penn Abroad Leaders. Her primary commitments on campus are her sorority, Chi Omega, and her South Asian fusion dance team, Penn Masti. Masti, the South Asia Society, and the Asian American Studies department have all been key figures in exposing Simran to Asian America and related politics and advocacy. She is currently an outspoken advocate for reproductive justice, LGBTQ rights, and gun violence; in particular, she is a student organizer for March for Our Lives and the National School Walkout at Penn. Simran is eager to learn about Asian American advocacy and become a more active participant in creating change for the community.
Tausoa “Soa” Mulitalo is a fourth-year student at the University of Utah pursuing a BSW degree and a minor in Political Science. She received the Larry H. Miller scholarship as a high school senior and has been blessed with an opportunity to represent her family and community at the UofU. While attending, Soa has been a board member of the Pacific Islander Student Association to help organize conferences and events that are tailored to the PI students on campus, and towards encouraging youth to pursue higher education. She has been a LEAP mentor to transitioning and new freshman on campus, and volunteers at the UofU hospital to underserved and low-income families. In addition, she was selected to be a Pasifika Ambassador to be placed with a team of leaders in Utah to plan and host a health conference for professionals from around the world to gather and discuss the latest research and practices to better the health and lives of PIs. Each of these organizations has helped her pursue her passion for serving others in her community. Soa is interested in incorporating indigenous knowledge and cultural practices to the health and education systems. She is excited for this summit to gain the advocacy skills necessary to build stronger, more culturally inclusive and aware communities.
Sydney Phu is a recent graduate of Oregon State University with a degree in Biology, minor in Chemistry, and a Medical Humanities Certificate. During her time at Oregon State University, Sydney served as a Student Leadership Liaison for the Asian & Pacific Cultural Center where she aided in designing programs and events aimed at filling the unique academic, social, and cultural needs of AAPI students on campus. She is proud of the social justice work she accomplished on campus along with her colleagues at the Department of Diversity and Cultural Engagement and hopes to share her passion for healthcare equity and social justice beyond the Oregon State University community. Sydney currently works as a medical scribe in Portland, Oregon, and is applying to medical school where she plans to continue serving the health care needs of AAPI in her community. Her other passions include biomedical ethics, travel and food, and supporting women and girls in STEM fields.
Tristan Quintanilla is a junior at the University of Guam dual majoring in Political Science and CHamoru[BC1] Studies. He is currently a member of two on-campus student organizations, the Political Science Students Association and the Mañelon Marianas (Siblings of the Marianas). Growing up on the American territory of Guam, from a young age Tristan was fascinated by the unequal nature of how territorial governments and citizens are managed by the federal government. Tristan is now an advocate for native land rights, cultural preservation, environmental preservation, historic preservation, and civil rights for territorial citizens; all of which are issues that are hindered by Guam’s current state of non-self-governance. As a member of the 32nd Guam Youth Congress, Tristan was appointed to the Government of Guam Commission on Decolonization as the youth representative due to his passion for the subject. Tristan aspires to become an expert on decolonization and pursue a career as a consultant on the topic serving the Government of Guam, the University of Guam, and representing Guam at the United Nations on matters pertaining to the subject of decolonization and self-determination.
The Youth Leadership Summit is made possible through the generous support of State Farm.