Rising Young Leaders Around the Country Come Together

Next week, Asian Americans Advancing Justice — AAJC will host its signature Youth Leadership Summit (YLS). Since 2014, Advancing Justice — AAJC has convened prominent college students for its multi-day leadership development program that focuses on advocacy, communications, and civic engagement around policy issues impacting our communities from college campuses to Capitol Hill. We are proud to host students from around the country with ancestry in Tibet, Laos, Nepal, Japan, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

Through interactive workshops, hands-on trainings, and discussions with leaders on Capitol Hill, participants build advocacy and communication skills while gaining a deeper understanding of how they can impact policy decisions.

Over the years, we have had the privilege of convening exemplary young advocates from diverse communities and spanning all regions of the country. We are thrilled to announce our 10th Youth Leadership Summit cohort.

Akeela (Somprathana) Kongdara (She/Her) — Senior, University of Texas at Austin

Somprathana Akeela Kongdara is a graduating senior at the University of Texas at Austin. She will receive a Bachelor of Science in Political Communication Studies and a Bachelor of Arts in Asian American Studies. Born and raised in Amarillo, TX, and a proud member of the Lao Community, Akeela is passionate about her culture, critical refugee and diaspora studies, education policy, and the American Dream. She enjoys writing and recording oral histories. She wears many hats including as the Executive Risk Management Officer for the Alpha Gamma Chapter of Kappa Phi Lambda Sorority, Inc. — where she had previously served as the Cultural Education Chair and Vice President.

Akeela serves as the Resource Director for Burnt Rice Bunch, an AAPI youth advocacy group that works to educate the world about the history, issues, and diversity of the AAPI community. She previously worked for Asian Texans for Justice as a Youth Organizer and currently works for the Office of Admission as a Texas Student Recruiter, where she recruits students from historically marginalized backgrounds. Akeela intends to continue working in higher education and attend graduate school in the future. In her free time, she enjoys kayaking with friends, watching basketball, supporting small businesses, and spending time with her dog, Shaka Zulu.

Anusha Karki (She/Her) — Sophomore, Hamilton College

A rising junior at Hamilton College studying Sociology and Women’s & Gender Studies, Anusha hails from New York, NY. Throughout her high school and college career, she has engaged in volunteering and service-learning opportunities with several community centers that seek to alleviate critical social issues such as homelessness, domestic violence, healthcare access, and immigrant and refugee resettlement. Her service experiences sparked her desire to get immersed in interactive community involvement, transformational leadership, and social skills for creating personal and societal change. She is passionate about understanding how significant legislative changes impact the resettlement of Asian immigrants and refugee populations in the United States.

Among other leadership roles on campus, her current involvement with the Asian American community involves being a leader for a youth program at Adhikaar. Adhikaar is a New York-based nonprofit committed to ensuring that the Nepali-speaking community has their voices heard in the social justice movement. As a youth leader, she collaborates with fellow youth leaders to plan and execute annual cultural celebrations, identity panels, college application workshops, and community outreach. The youth program at Adhikaar has encouraged community service and ensured higher educational opportunities for Nepali-speaking first-generation and immigrant students. She aspires to pursue a public health law degree to better understand the social determinants of health and to advocate for public policies that can positively impact minority communities.

Faith Nishimura (She/Her) — Junior, Loyola Marymount University

Faith Nishimura is a junior Marketing major with a double minor in Asian Pacific American Studies and Asian and Pacific Studies at Loyola Marymount University (LMU). She is passionate about leveraging the power of business and critical empathy to enact positive change. This past summer, Faith was a member of the UCLA Dream Summer Fellowship, engaging in discourse with immigrant youth and allies, while also working at the national branch of Service Employees International Union. On the digital communications team for Justice for Janitors, Faith managed social media platforms and devised strategies to grow follower engagement.

At LMU, Faith is the External Vice President of Nikkei Student Union and Vice President of Professionalism of Alpha Kappa Psi, a co-ed business fraternity. As the Team Captain of the Communication Arts and Advocacy Program (Debate), she has the privilege of traveling across the country to debate pressing social justice issues like reparations for descendants of slaves and desegregation policies in K-12 public schools. Faith is currently writing a joint thesis examining Chinese American opposition to affirmative action in higher education. This summer, she will be working at the intersection of technology and storytelling as a Marketing Communications Specialist Intern at NVIDIA.

Hannah Oh (She/Her) — Sophomore, University of Georgia

Hannah Oh is a sophomore at the University of Georgia studying Political Science and Public Policy and Management. Born in Jakarta and raised in Seoul, she is passionate about the long-term political participation of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community and fighting for their civil rights through legislative and legal advocacy. Her experience interning with APIAVote and the Georgia State Senate has allowed her to realize the interconnected dynamic between voter mobilization and policy advocacy and the importance of fostering both for political empowerment of the AAPI community.

On-campus, Hannah serves as the outreach director for UGA Votes, a non-partisan civic engagement organization; a member of the Homelessness Team at Roosevelt Institute @ UGA; and a staff writer for Georgia Political Review (GPR). Currently, she’s preparing to launch an Asian American political alliance at her campus that advocates for voting rights, anti-Asian hate, and other salient policies for the community. After college, she dreams of continuing to fight for the civil rights of AAPI as a lawyer.

Lady Dorothy Elli (She/Her) — Junior, University of Arizona

Lady Elli is a first-generation college student at the University of Arizona and a first-generation immigrant from the Philippines. She is a third-year undergraduate student studying Public Health with an emphasis in Global Health and Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences. Lady Elli is known for her involvement in numerous organizations that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. During her term as the vice president of the Filipino American Student Association she introduced and promoted workshops such as the Black and Asian American Allyship conversation and #StopAsianHate talk. Because of her work, she was awarded the Emerging Student Leader Award by the Asian Pacific American Student Affairs Cultural Center during her second year at college.

Currently, she serves as the president of the Pan Asian Council, the first officially recognized Asian Pacific American and Desi American (APIDA) coalition at her campus. During her term, she has advocated for more support towards cultural and resource centers on campus by serving as one of the lead authors of the “Nugent Tabling Ban Letter.” She also spearheaded the APIDA Heritage Week Celebration, a week-long celebration of APIDA identity and culture. During her term as a Senator-At-Large from 2020–2022, she was able to create resolutions regarding anti-sexual harassment trainings and initiatives as well as promote land acknowledgment within club constitutions. She is an Access, Wellness and Relational Determinants of Student Success research fellow at the University of Arizona and her research revolves around cultural centers, student retention rates, and more funding for multicultural programs.

Mai Vo (She/Her) — Senior, Trinity University

Mai Vo is a native of Hanoi, Vietnam and spent part of her childhood in Bangladesh, Dhaka. She is a graduating senior at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, where she majors in Piano Performance and Communication, minoring in Film Studies. Upon graduation, Mai will pursue a Masters in Global Entertainment and Music Business at Berklee College of Music in Valencia, Spain. She is the director of “Live To Tell”, a documentary about Vietnamese youth and recreating history through music; the voice behind San Antonio’s Jazz Calendars; and the executive producer of No Borders 2.0 at KRTU 91.7 FM, a show that highlights indie, jazz, and alternative artists.

Mai is passionate about storytelling and representation of marginalized groups, focusing on intergenerational trauma, intersectional Asian identities, and music. In addition, she is passionate about the preservation of traditional art forms and music education for youth and she wants to start a project focusing on these matters in Southeast Asia. She currently volunteers with Sunflower Mission to fundraise for schools in Southern Vietnam and mentoring college students. She wants to work closely with creatives, especially Asian and Asian American artists, to help them explore and navigate their musical journey.

Norynne Caleja (She/They/Siya) — Senior, University of Central Florida

Norynne Caleja is a first-generation Filipina-American pursuing dual degrees at the University of Central Florida in Legal Studies and Political Science, with a concentration in Comparative Politics. An unapologetic Filipina, Norynne is dedicated to civil rights work in criminal justice and grassroots community organizing for racial and socio-economic liberation in the United States and abroad. On campus, Norynne is the Policy and Outreach intern for the Florida Prison Education Project, where she serves on the advocacy board to make public policy recommendations based on research relating to prison education, recidivism, and mass incarceration. She is currently conducting research on the enrollment barriers of criminal history background questions on college applications.

In addition, Norynne has worked tirelessly on advocating for the collegiate Asian Pacific American and Desi American community. She established the first Asian Pacific/Islander American Caucus within the Student Government Senate and served as an executive member for the Asian Pacific American Coalition, an advocacy and political student-led organization. Outside of academia, Norynne works as a full-time legal clerk for the Office of the Public Defender, Ninth Judicial Circuit of Florida. She is also a local grassroots community organizer for the Central Florida National Lawyers Guild, Florida Chapter of Malaya Movement USA, and the AAPI Taskforce for the NAACP, Orange County, FL branch. In the past, she was a civic engagement intern for the National Federation of Filipino American Associations and a legislative intern for Florida House Representative Anna V. Eskamani, District 47.

Peter Pham (He/Him) — Junior, University of California, Berkeley

Peter Pham is a senior at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the son of working class immigrants and learned the value of hard work and community throughout his life. His immigrant family experiences shape his motivations to serve his community. As a student, he researches Long COVID. He previously conducted a regional surveillance study of COVID-19, and the data was shared with public health departments to inform the public health response to the pandemic’s evolving conditions. He has also worked on Pfizer’s pediatric vaccine trial, which contributed to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to grant Emergency Use Authorization for children 5 to 11 years of age.

Outside of medicine, Peter has served as a redistricting commissioner for his county, drawing new electoral boundaries for one of the most populous and most diverse counties in the country. He engages in the youth climate movement to pass climate action at the municipal, county, and state levels, and is a board member of a youth-led nonprofit focused on empowering and organizing young people to fight climate change. In his free time, Peter enjoys baking with new recipes, going down rabbit holes on Wikipedia, and learning languages.

Phong Nguyen (He/Him) — Freshman, Stanford University

Phong Nguyen is a freshman at Stanford University studying Asian American Studies and Sociology. He is a first-generation Vietnamese-American immigrant from Chicago. As a passionate humanitarian, Phong has garnered extensive experience in government policy and human rights advocacy. Before college, Phong worked with Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Chicago and HANA Center, a Chicago organization working to meet the critical needs of Asian American and multi-ethnic immigrant communities. Through his work, Phong advocated for and successfully helped pass the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History (TEAACH) Act, making Illinois the first state to require the teaching of Asian American history.

On-campus, he serves as an intern for the Asian American Student Association, editor for the Stanford Journal of Asian American Studies, and performing artist at the Asian American Theater Project. Off-campus, Phong works with College Students Organizing for Radical Leadership, a committee of college students dedicated to building solidarity, leadership, and political education for students in the Chicagoland area. Post-college, he plans to attend law school. As an aspiring human rights attorney, Phong hopes to build power in Asian communities and support a well-rounded global society filled with social equity.

William Li (He/Him) — Sophomore, Swarthmore College

William Li is a sophomore at Swarthmore College where he studies Economics and Political Science. Born and raised around the Baltimore, Maryland area, he is the son of Chinese immigrants. William has experience working on political campaigns for minority candidates, serving as an intern at his city’s Office of Human Rights and Equity, and mentoring student activists through the Maryland Student Political Activism Initiative, an organization he helped found in the interest of promoting student civic engagement and preparing the next generation of activists in his community.

William is dedicated towards advancing political participation in AAPI communities, for which he has organized voter registration and education drives. In his coursework, he has focused on legislative processes and public opinion, and has also published research on data disaggregation for AAPI communities in the context of voting behavior and political data analysis. Most recently, he has worked with advocacy groups at home in efforts to make Maryland the third state to require the inclusion of AAPI history in public school curricula. William hopes to continue fighting for equal rights and AAPI representation through a career in the field of law.

Zenden Nhangkar (She/Her) — Junior, Western Washington University

Zenden Nhangkar is a third-year student at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA pursuing degrees in Design and Communication Studies . Zenden is a first-generation Tibetan-American born and raised in Washington state. As a micro-minority, she is passionate about her heritage and projecting Asian voices. She is an alumnus of the Tibetan Association of Washington’s Tibetan Language and Culture School and participated in the International Campaign for Tibet’s 2021 Tibetan Youth Leadership Program.

Zenden is an active member, volunteer, and lobbyist within her local Tibetan community in Seattle. In 2020, she interned for a local Asian-American non-profit group, Asian Pacific Islander Americans for Civic Empowerment. There, she created a podcast highlighting Asian women’s voices and wrote an Op-Ed for the oldest and largest nonprofit, pan-Asian Pacific American publication in the Northwest, the International Examiner. She is currently a member of the ACRS Youth Organizing Cohort where she helps with social media. Zenden also works at her university’s independent student newspaper, the Western Front, as their graphic designer. In her spare time, she enjoys running, styling, rock climbing, and doodling.

This Youth Leadership Summit is made possible through the support of State Farm and FedEx.

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Working to empower Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to participate in our democracy and fighting for civil and human rights for all.

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