Young Leadership and Advocacy Across All Sectors

Welcoming our 2018 Youth Leadership Summit Participants

by John C. Yang, President and Executive Director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC

In September, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC is convening 19 young leaders from across the country for our 5th 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, civic engagement, and national policy areas impacting our communities. Through this annual convening, we provide a unique opportunity for advocates from campuses 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 advocacy networks of student leaders across the country. Through interactive workshops, hands-on activities, and a visit to Capitol Hill, participants build advocacy skills and gain a deeper understanding of how advocacy and activism affect policy decisions.

We are proud of the pipeline of young Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI)* leaders that we are helping to build through our Youth Leadership Summit. Over the years, we have had the privilege of convening some of our nation’s best and brightest young advocates from across our myriad diverse AAPI communities. Selecting this year’s class was tougher than ever, and we can confidently say our future is bright in the hands of such accomplished and passionate young leaders.

This year’s Summit will take place September 13–15 in Washington, DC. We’re pleased to announce the 19 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 Desi American (APIDA).

Cheyenne Cheng is a rising fourth-year at the University of Florida. She is pursuing a Bachelor’s in Psychology with minors in Sociology and Disabilities in Society. On campus, she currently serves as the president of Delta Alpha Pi, the disability honor society, and project coordinator for the Asian American History Project at the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program where she documents the experience of being Asian American in the South. She is a student activist within her community and has held the position of Advocacy Chair within the Asian American Student Union as well as APIA Ambassador within the Department of Multicultural & Diversity Affairs. Cheyenne has worked on projects with other activists ranging from getting free hygiene products on campus to advocating for more funding for ethnic studies. After graduating, Cheyenne plans to pursue a career in mental health counseling and advocacy work. In her free time, she likes to do photography, listen to music, and find new projects to tackle.

Cindy Nguyen is a junior at Colby College, studying Environmental Policy. Originally from the Seattle area, she is a proud Vietnamese American. After finding it difficult to adjust to an institution without many students of color, especially other AAPI students, she became involved in AAPI advocacy. Cindy is currently the Publicity Chair of Colby’s Asian Students Association, where she seeks to build a supportive, vocal community of Asian-identifying students on campus. As a first-generation, low-income student, she is a mentor for Colby’s First-Generation-to-College program. In addition, she is a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar, a program focused on creating a more diverse and inclusive conservation movement. Recently, she spent her summer in Arizona learning about restorative justice in indigenous communities and environmental justice, issues she is greatly passionate about. Her experience instilled a belief that environmental policy representative of and informed by people of color can empower these vulnerable populations. After graduation, she hopes to attend law school and work to protect the environmental and social rights of AAPI folks, especially low-income and immigrant communities. Outside of her work, Cindy serves as a Community Advisor for her dorm, enjoys playing the violin and acting, and is a corgi enthusiast.

Daniel Nguyen is a junior at Hofstra University and a writer and journalist. Originally from Sugar Land, Texas, they currently study journalism in New York and hope to pursue long-form creative nonfiction in the near future. Daniel is passionate about community engagement and social advocacy through creativity. Their writing focuses on minority experience.

Eric Wang is a third year at the University of Chicago studying history and economics with interests in modern economic history and Asian American history. He was born in Pennsylvania to two Chinese immigrants from Shanghai. His mother is a software developer, and his father is an information technology specialist. On campus, Eric leads MoneyThink, a nonprofit organization that mentors local high school students in the basics of personal finance. He also teaches English composition and history in the Chicago Public School system. Eric is committed to empowering others and believes in a more inclusive future. This summer, he was able to travel abroad with the help of the Pozen Center for Human Rights and intern at HELP for Domestic Workers in Hong Kong, where he served as a caseworker to the city’s foreign domestic workers. In terms of a career, Eric aspires to become a practicing lawyer as well as an educator.

Gargi Yogen Purohit is an undocumented immigrant. In 2005, she moved to New York City with her mother. Gargi grew up in Jackson Heights, one of the most diverse counties in the most diverse borough. Growing up, Gargi knew that she did not have her “papers” but did not understand what that meant and did not use the term “undocumented.” It wasn’t until her senior year when her drama teacher, Caitlin, and college-advisor, Lauren, explained to Gargi and her mom that her DACA card would not grant her federal financial aid. As she become more open about her status at the University of Notre Dame, Gargi realized that she was often the only non-Latinx undocumented immigrant in a heavily Latinx dominated movement. As she became more involved in Jackson Heights, a community known for its undocumented and South Asian population, Gargi realized that many undocumented South Asians still do not take advantage of resources like Know Your Rights Trainings. Perhaps it is because they, like Gargi, feel alone. She is excited to attend this Summit to learn and speak up about getting more undocumented Asian voices in the movement.

Javan Santos is a University of Guam junior in Political Science. Born and raised in the island Territory of Guam, he saw issues for his island as a colony and for his native Chamorros, which led him to study politics and work in government. Policy work with the Guam Youth Congress and Guam Legislature’s Senator Telena Nelson’s office has given him the opportunity to use policy to foster change locally. Education, plastic bag bans, and public safety are just a few of the issues he tackled. On a national level, the Conference of Asian Pacific American Leadership (CAPAL) gave him the opportunity to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights in Washington, DC. Coming from his native land as an API melting pot, CAPAL educated him on what issues APIs had in common. However, he did notice differences, as well as low Pacific Islander representation in API spaces. He used his unique voice, educating people about Guam, Chamorros, Pacific Islander issues, stereotypes, and the struggle of a colony. Familiar with the community, Javan hopes to be a passionate voice for Chamorros and Pacific Islanders, fostering important conversation at the Advancing Justice | AAJC Youth Leadership Summit.

Jessie Huang is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studying Sociology and minoring in Chinese and Education. As a 1.5 generation Chinese American immigrant who grew up in predominantly white spaces in the South, Jessie owes much of her understanding of what it means to politically identity as an “Asian American” and learning of the language to communicate her experiences as one after joining the Asian Students Association in college. Jessie has previously served as the President of her school’s now Asian American Students Association, as well as a part of the conference planning teams for the 2017 East Coast Asian American Student Union Conference and 2017 Triangle Area Asian American Student Conference. Jessie also works as a student instructor at her university’s outdoor program, and loves to go hiking, backpacking, and frolicking in national parks in her free time.

John Camara is a rising senior at Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS) in Geneva, New York. He is pursuing two majors in Economics and International Relations. In his first and second years of college, John dedicated himself to community service, serving as Philanthropy Chair of Sigma Chi fraternity and volunteering in service events such as Days of Service and alternative spring break. Committed to discussing critical on-campus issues, John now serves as President of Hobart Student Government. Born to two immigrants in Honolulu, Hawaii and raised in Los Angeles, California, John self-identifies as a second-generation immigrant and a Filipino American. Through his experiences, John has developed an interest for advocating on issues affecting the AAPI community. In the summer of 2017, he interned with the U.S. Forest Service and worked on a group project analyzing gentrification in Boston’s Chinatown with CAPAL. He also represented HWS Asian Student Union at the 2018 East Coast Asian American Students Union Conference. John has interned for nonprofits and public officials, and on his free time, he likes to run, hike, and watch movies. After college, John hopes to enter a public service career.

Karl Catarata is a Filipino American author and community organizer living in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is currently an undergraduate student at the University of Nevada Las Vegas studying for his Bachelor’s of Arts in Political Science with a minor focus in Leadership and Civic Engagement. He currently works as a community organizer with Organizing For Action Nevada and as a Communications Fellow with The Center for Community Change Action. In his time organizing in Nevada, Karl has helped organize key events around the topics of gun violence prevention, immigration, economic opportunity, education, civil rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and women’s rights. Currently, Karl is a student organizer with the following key organizations in 2018: Women’s March Nevada, March For Our Lives Las Vegas, The Las Vegas March For Science, The #NationalSchoolWalkOut, Everytown For Gun Safety, and with Tax March Las Vegas. Karl has also been a vocal advocate and fighter for a variety of social issues that face Asian Pacific Islander Americans living in Nevada. After graduating from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, Karl plans on continuing his academic research on grassroots activist movements and on voter mobilization in the U.S.

As a child of Hmong refugees, Lucy Thao feels strongly connected to advocating for legislative agendas affecting underrepresented communities. Her interest has further developed through her work experience in civic engagement for Asian Americans and academic interest in American government. She is a senior at the University of Minnesota majoring in political science. Previously, she has been involved in the UMN-Asian-American Student Union, as well as the Asian Associate Advocates, organizations which have allowed her to support APIA students in civic initiatives. Also, as a past APIAVote College Ambassador, Lucy implemented sustainable programming on campus to mobilize APIAs for the 2017 municipal elections through voter education, innovative voter engagement methods, and coalition building. Given the opportunity to attend the Advancing Justice | AAJC leadership summit, she is excited to learn how to create pathways to empower minoritized voices and experiences to establish a critical presence in shaping campus solutions along with informing the school administration and the campus community about the APIDA narrative. Advancing Justice | AAJC’s multi-faceted work makes essential the unity among diverse APIDA identities and experiences as well as other vulnerable communities. Furthermore, it inspires college communities to foster campus cultures and sustain all dimensions of students and their life experiences.

Originally from Northeast Ohio, Luke Kertcher is a senior studying international relations with a graduate certification in human rights and a minor in Asian American studies at the University of Pennsylvania. At Penn, Luke serves as co-chair of the Asian American Studies Undergraduate Advisory Board, advocating and organizing for increased resources, better representation, and expanded opportunities for ethnic studies programs. Luke is also an undergraduate representative on the University Council Committee on Diversity and Equity and a board member for the Penn Vietnamese Student Association. Luke is committed to advancing the Southeast Asian American community, previously serving as an intern for the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center and participating in their annual Leadership and Advocacy Training to advocate for data disaggregation. Luke is particularly interested in studying Vietnamese diaspora, Vietnamese representation in the U.S., and second generation human rights in Vietnam.

Mieko Kuramoto is a junior at Smith College double majoring in Spanish and American Studies. She was born in Los Angeles but grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and is interested in immigration policy, immigrant identity in the U.S., and the intersections between Asian and Latinx identity. On campus, she is a co-President of Pan Asians in Action (PAIA), an activism and advocacy group aimed at serving AAPI-identifying students. Through PAIA, she has helped to host summits on Asian American Feminism, organize an art exhibit for Asian/Asian American student artists, and is working to run a voter registration drive in the coming fall. Mieko is also on the Executive Board of the National Youth/Student Council of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), where she serves as the Eastern District Council Youth Representative. Through the JACL, she has had the opportunity to connect with other AAPI youth across the country, learn about family history, and explore the intersections of Asian American, queer, and political identity. Mieko hopes to pursue a career in immigration casework and further her involvement in Asian American political action. In her free time, she enjoys walking her dog, coaching softball, playing squash, and trying new coffee shops.

Mohammed Syed is a journalist and political science student based out of Rutgers-Newark in New Jersey. He hails from the sunny hillside of California and is of Pakistani descent. His work spans across various broadcast news outlets, ranging from a documentary studio in Pakistan where he was an intern last summer, to mainstream newsrooms in New York such as MSNBC and CBS News. He can mostly be found either in pursuit of the nearest cup of chai at a cabbie stop or hiking off the beaten path somewhere with his friends. His work aspires to uncover post-colonial narratives, study wealth inequality, war, and conflict, and tell stories of the mass human experience.

Nainika Ravichandran is a sophomore at the University of New Mexico currently on exchange at Texas State University studying Biology and International Studies. She has been involved in the AAPI community since she was 16 through New Mexico Asian Family Center, the only nonprofit in her community serving the needs of the Pan-Asian community. As an advocate, she has taught survival English to Chinese immigrants, increased civic engagement in the Asian community, facilitated mayoral forums as voice for the Asian community, and co-authored a Health Impact Assessment for improving the lives of immigrants and refugees in the community. She believes in the importance of promoting civic engagement in the community because she believes the Asian community is severely underrepresented. Her work in the community also made her realize her interest in working with newly-arrived refugees. Specifically, she volunteered with the Refugee Wellbeing Project, through which she worked with refugee children for two hours every week. This year, she also hopes to get involved with RAICES, the Texas nonprofit that has raised over $20 million to assist separated migrant families. She ultimately hopes to become an attorney so she can become a voice for others.

Othelia Jumapao is a fourth-year English major with an Asian American Studies minor at the University of Florida (UF). She currently serves as the UF Asian Kaleidoscope Month Executive Director 2018–2019. Othelia aims to inject their student programming with advocacy and coalition-building in an effort to mobilize minoritized student populations. As a Pilipina American in the regional south, she hopes to become an Asian American studies professor to bolster research that preserves the oral histories of Pilipino Americans in places like her home state of Florida. Othelia believes that grassroots organizing done well relies on the empowered storytelling of marginalized communities. She is looking forward to sharing these stories of struggle and resistance with her fellow student leaders at the Advancing Justice |s AAJC Youth Leadership Summit. Besides writing and reading, Othelia enjoys curating oddly specific playlists, performing spoken word, and all things grandma-related (long matronly dresses, hot tea, and a myriad of hard candies).

Phát Nguyễn, from University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is a senior majoring in Management with the Entrepreneurship and Innovation track. Born and raised in Vietnam, his family migrated to the U.S. on September 9, 2010, when he was nearly 15 years old. He enlisted in the Army Reserve on September 11, 2013 and will be commissioning as a second lieutenant this December 15, 2018. On campus, beside ROTC, he is also involved in Vietnamese Student Association, Asian Student Union, Define American, Clifton Strengths Institute, Liberty in North Korea, and Lambda Phi Epsilon International Fraternity, Inc. His goals are to retire from the Army and then establish schools and orphanages in poor countries.

Born from the Chinese diaspora, Samantha Ng’s home is New York City’s Chinatown. She is the daughter of Chinese immigrants whose values continue to shape her dedication to public service at a grassroots and national level. Currently a fourth year-student at Binghamton University, Samantha double majors in Asian & Asian American Studies and Human Development and minors in Immigration Studies. As a first-generation college student and Asian American, she supports the visibility and empowerment of students of color through leadership development, civic engagement, and community building in her work as a student organizer. She is also an anti-gentrification activist, seeking to build collective power with low-income communities of color across New York City. Samantha is the Community Partnerships Coordinator to the East Coast Asian American Student Union National Board and the Senior Advisor to Binghamton University’s Asian Student Union. She worked as OCA-NY’s Voter Outreach Coordinator and Coalition for Asian American Children and Families’ Programs Associate this past summer. In her free time, she can be found writing postcards and letters to her friends and family. She is currently reading Lillian Li’s Number One Chinese Restaurant and embarking on Season 2 of Westworld. She knows she’s late to that.

Serene Singh is a Boettcher Scholar majoring in political science and journalism at the University of Colorado. Compelled to give back after interning for the U.S. Senate during a time when suicide rates increased in at-risk women populations, Serene founded The Serenity Project to empower women with skills to persevere through discrimination, trauma, and body dysmorphia. Serene, as a former Miss Colorado Teen, hopes that the project will empower participants to find their voices. At her university, Serene is the Chief Justice of the Student Government Supreme Court. Her Court has broken historical records — including having the most female justices. As a Sikh American, Serene is the Founder of the National Sikh Youth Program, President of Colorado’s Sikh Student Association and Founder of the Colorado Bhangra Team — efforts that aim to challenge stereotypes and promote religious freedom. Her passion for First Amendment rights also inspired her honors thesis studying the roots of hate crimes in North America. Serene’s off-campus activities include being a Speech and Debate Coach, working with immigrant communities to increase opportunity, and creating transformational art. As a 2018 Truman Scholar, Global Changemaker, and Dalai Lama Fellow, Serene hopes to further her passion for public service to serve on the Supreme Court.

Soomin Shin is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. On campus, she serves as Chair of the Asian Pacific Student Coalition, through which she works with others to build coalition with fellow minority groups, create a stronger support system for students, and advocate for administrative change. Working as Chair has made her realize that organizing with intent takes more than simply being able to identify the structural issue, but also requires dismantling the structure where possible, gaining trust and collaboration from diverse stakeholders and working from the bottom up — from the students — to make an impact for a generation of students to come. At Penn, she is also involved with the Spice Collective, a discussion and activism group for API women, and has developed initiatives for sustainability and environmental awareness. She is interested in learning more about the ways structures of power and colonialism are repeated through control of resources and capital. In her free time, Soomin can be found playing the violin and taking leisurely strolls around Philadelphia.

The Youth Leadership Summit is made possible through the generous support of State Farm and Charter Communications.