Building Unity From the Ground Up: Reflections From a Community Engagement Intern
By Laurie Chan
With the sweltering heat beating down on us, people all around me were running to deliver water bottles to the crowds on the National Mall during the first-ever Asian-American led march. Despite the unpredictable weather conditions, people showed up for each other. At that moment, I felt proud to be in a community with so many Asian Americans and allies from across the country. Getting to be a summer intern at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC was an incredible experience, allowing me to work alongside strong advocates who each bring forth their own unique creativity and passion into the work they do.
During my first week at Advancing Justice | AAJC, I was immediately presented with the opportunity to be involved with organizing the Unity March, the first Asian-American led march on the National Mall. Being able to attend planning meetings gave me the opening to meet with partner organizations and gain valuable insight into how a large-scale, multicultural mobilization like the Unity March is planned.
As an intern, it was empowering to be given the freedom and autonomy to devise plans, including the designing and implementing of a college student outreach strategy. Alongside interns from other National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA) organizations, we quickly formed a “Youth Subcommittee” and compiled a list of 700+ student organizations. This database included mainly Asian American-focused clubs, student associations, and cultural centers at colleges and universities around the U.S. While this project started out as an initiative for Unity March outreach, it can now be a useful resource for the Community Engagement team to further connect and build relationships with youth from across the country.
Attending the Unity March itself was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had during my time at the organization. While we all showed up to attend the march itself, it was so much more than just the physical movement of marching. It was about the community that was formed there under the blazing heat that day. Some were from the DMV area, while others flew in from elsewhere, such as California, Texas, and Florida. People of all generations and all walks of life came together and mingled amongst one another, all with this common desire to increase our visibility and fight for the civil rights of Asian Americans and all communities of color. Equally important, there was the shared understanding that the first step is showing up for one another.
Another highlight of my internship experience was the opportunity to get to know and interact closely with staff and interns at Advancing Justice — AAJC. Each person has a reason for why and how they ended up at the organization, and every one of them continues to inspire me as I learn more about Asian American advocacy. This has been pivotal for me as a young Asian American, who has thought about and struggled with the diverse range of issues that face our communities, from immigration to voting rights to daily fears of anti-Asian violence. Whoever we identify as, I learned that it is important for all of us to be engaged in these issues, whether they affect us personally or impact those around us, as we work to build a more just America for everyone. “But how do we get involved?” many may ask. Advocacy can be carried out in many different ways. It can be done through formal activities such as an internship or volunteering, but it can also be done informally through being intentional in having those difficult conversations with those closest to us.
No matter how small you think your contribution may be, never underestimate the impact that it can have on those around us, our community, and the work that we do. We have generations of people who have laid the groundwork for us to access more opportunities and have passed on the torch for us to continue paving those pathways for the people that will come after us. I believe it is essential for youth to get involved in particular, because we are all multifaceted people who play so many roles in our lives and have the ability to influence those around us. When you get fired up about the Asian American cause and bring it into everything you do, it shifts the narrative towards creating a future that is more accessible, safe, and hopeful for us all.
How to get involved:
Laurie Chan was the 2022 Summer Community Engagement intern at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC.