Learning to Lead
A student leader’s account of three days of advocacy training in Washington, D.C.
by guest blogger Louie Vital, Youth Leadership Summit 2016
It took me a while to adjust to the fact that I had woken up in our nation’s capital, surrounded by 20 of Asian America’s greatest emerging leaders. It was harder to grasp that I was considered one of them.
Advancing Justice | AAJC and our amazing sponsors, State Farm and Southwest Airlines, had flown me into Washington, D.C. to participate in their annual Youth Leadership Summit. Upon meeting the other students I would be with for the next three days, I was thoroughly impressed. These were truly leaders I would learn from.
At the outset of the conference, I only had the narrow perspective of being an Asian person from the Pacific Northwest; I had no idea what Asian Americans face on the East Coast or in the South. All of us delegates were connected in our beliefs and ideologies for racial equity, but our experiences with race and identity varied greatly across geographical region.
Hearing stories from my new friends of the tumultuous racial climates on their university campuses, I came to realize the privilege I have as a social activist hailing from liberal Seattle. We discussed what has worked at our schools, exchanged advice for ideas to try, and listened to and validated each other’s experiences. We discussed intersectionality, how to talk to our families about anti-blackness and racism, and how Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are affected by the immigration and voting systems.
Those conversations were helpful and healing. Along with workshops about movement building and organizing and leadership led by Advancing Justice | AAJC experts and other D.C. advocates, they helped prepare us for our upcoming Capitol Hill visits, and for the activism we would continue to do as young leaders in our own states.
The next day, we donned our best suits in 90-degree weather and walked from the Advancing Justice | AAJC office down the street, through multiple security checkpoints, and into the Eisenhower Executive Office building in the White House compound. There, we had an hour-long meeting with three Asian American and Pacific Islander women currently working in the White House. We talked more about comprehensive immigration reform, as well as the successes and challenges Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders face at the federal level. We learned that it is much more than policy; rather, it is an entire movement fueled by community advocacy. These women were at the forefront, fighting for our rights.
The summit not only taught us about policy and how to advocate for it, but gave us the space to practice our new skills with visits to our state representatives’ offices. In an hour-long meeting with my representative’s staffer, I articulated how and why my stance was beneficial to the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. I was even able to inform the staffer on perspectives he had not previously known about. My partner and I worked together, and built off each other to advocate for our issues. Ultimately, we felt that we accomplished our goal of making sure that Asian American and Pacific Islander voices were heard and taken seriously — which which I credit to Advancing Justice | AAJC, both for my advocacy toolkit and the new confidence I felt to fight for what I know is right in my community.
At the end of the summit, I was sad to say goodbye to my 20 new friends. Their perspectives, advice, strength, and solidarity were easily my favorite part of this trip. We still talk, sending each other opportunities to further our mutual goals, and share snapshots of our lives in our respective corners of the nation. I am thankful to be a part of the Advancing Justice | AAJC family!
Because of State Farm and Southwest Airlines, I and fellow emerging leaders were able to participate in Asian American Advancing Justice | AAJC’s annual Youth Leadership Summit. Without their support, I wouldn’t have had the chance to learn about myself and my passions, or gain knowledge of and access to a nationwide network of Asian American and Pacific Islander activists. I will never forget the people I met, or what I have learned.
Special thank you to Southwest and State Farm for supporting our Youth Leadership Summit.