Young AAPI Leaders Convene to Advance Civil Rights

Advancing Justice – AAJC
16 min readApr 22, 2024

This week, Asian Americans Advancing Justice — AAJC will bring together rising youth leaders for 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. After three years of hosting the summit online, we are excited to bring YLS back in-person in Washington, DC.

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 who span all regions of the country.

We are thrilled to announce this year’s stellar cohort:

Allanah Soriano (She/They) — University of California, Los Angeles

Allanah Soriano (She/They) — University of California, Los Angeles

Allanah is a third-year student at UCLA pursuing double majors in Sociology and Asian American Studies. As a first-generation Filipino-American, she prioritizes community upliftment and grassroots organization. Currently a legal advocacy intern at Thai CDC, she researches labor exploitation in the poultry industry to unionize transnational workers and provide legal referrals for work visas. Allanah actively participates in AAPI advocacy events and assistance programs, including organizing a Health Fair and Vote Center, the Justice for Grandpa Vicha Press Conference, and the 2024 AAPI Policy Summit at UCLA. On campus, she serves as the Outreach Coordinator for the Sociology Student Leadership Committee, working with the Sociology Department to provide resources to undergraduates. Additionally, she works as a Teaching Fellow for Teach For America, providing individualized tutoring to culturally diverse students from low-income backgrounds to promote educational equity. Previously, Allanah founded an initiative that collected over 1500 book donations for the Rebook It Foundation and raised $1600 to send books to schools in the Philippines and Bangladesh, enhancing educational access in these communities. Allanah’s experience and work have encouraged her to pursue law, focusing on immigration and serving marginalized communities.

Anhhuy Do (He/Him) — Emory University

Anhhuy Do (He/Him) — Emory University

Anhhuy is a fourth-year student at Emory University, double majoring in Political Science and History. Born and raised in the South as a Vietnamese American with refugee parents, Anhhuy lacked meaningful representation in local and state politics that uplifted the voices and issues of his community. Being an active community organizer in the Georgia Asian American community, Anhhuy sought to build political power on Emory’s campus and in Asian American and immigrant neighborhoods throughout Atlanta. As the Chief-of-Staff of Emory’s Asian Pacific-Islander Desi American Activists (APIDAA), Anhhuy coordinated voter education, community outreach, and canvassing in predominantly non-English speaking neighborhoods before the 2022 Midterm Elections by recruiting a linguistically diverse cohort of students. Anhhuy is also a Policy Intern with Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Atlanta where he participates in community research, actively collecting testimony about how bills are impacting people’s lives to use in legislative advocacy. Interning with the Atlanta Urban Debate League, Anhhuy works directly with under-resourced schools in Atlanta Public Schools to build debate teams and teach public speaking and critical thinking skills to students. In his post-graduate career, Anhhuy is most interested in how historical research can be actively used in community organizing spaces, bridging academia and activism.

Anusha Kumar (She/Her) — Northwestern University

Anusha Kumar (She/Her) — Northwestern University

Anusha Kumar (she/her) is a sophomore at Northwestern University, majoring in Social Policy and Environmental Policy and Culture. She grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, where she discovered the healing power of culture and community while navigating predominantly white spaces. Central to her identity is the recognition that her experiences as a queer South Asian woman guide her perspectives on liberation and justice.

At Northwestern, Anusha’s love for community draws her to Fossil Free Northwestern, Students Organizing for Labor Rights, and The Jasmine Collective, where she collaborates with fellow students to address South Asian social justice issues. Through her work, Anusha aspires to build solidarity across movements while honoring the legacies of the Black, Brown, and Indigenous activists who have come before her.

Beyond her advocacy, Anusha is an undergraduate fellow at the Center for Civic Engagement, mobilizing students to engage with the histories of Chicago through service-learning. Additionally, she is a leadership team member for Matriculate, a college access program, and a tutor for Books & Breakfast, a before-school program for K-5 students in Evanston. In her free time, Anusha hangs out with her sister and dog and connects with her South Asian roots through classical Indian dance.

Brandon Young-Eleazar (They/Them) — University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Brandon Young-Eleazar (They/Them) — University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

At the heart of Brandon’s identity is education. Nurtured by a Filipino-Chinese mom who would always ensure her children’s educational needs were being met, and led through example by an “achi” (older sister) on a path to an Ed.D, Brandon is now cultivating an educator identity as a fourth year student majoring in Music Education at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Brandon sees music and music education, as a medium to engage with/in, a message of the history (yet-to-be) made, and a method of change that has (yet to be)come. On a journey to (re)form “a (more) perfect union,” Brandon is a Student Director for McKinley Foundation, a social justice-centered non-profit. In this role, Brandon focuses on organizing student outreach initiatives, which includes hosting weekly Friday dinners for any UIUC students, concentrating on fostering community especially for food-insecure populations. Brandon is also the Assistant conductor of AMASONG — CU’s Premier Feminist Chorus, and helps lead the choir during rehearsal and at several community engagements. Brandon’s current musical works in progress as a composer include a Queer Art Song Collection and a song cycle written about the life and legacy of José Rizal, a Philippine National Hero.

Ivy Nguyen (She/Her) — University of California, San Diego

Ivy Nguyen (She/Her) — University of California, San Diego

Ivy is a senior at the University of California, San Diego studying Cognitive Behavioral Neuroscience with a minor in Law and Society. As a first-generation Vietnamese student, Ivy has witnessed the inequities that marginalized groups face. Her passion to uplift minorities drives her to seek roles in advocacy and social justice. On campus, Ivy has served as the Vice President and Social Media Chair of IGNITE UCSD, an organization for empowering female representation in politics. Off campus, she has interned for the Legal Aid Society clinic at the Superior Court of California. In this role, Ivy assisted individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds with completing restraining order court paperwork. Additionally, she has interned at the Washington D.C. Office of the Attorney General to help mediate cases on housing violations and civil rights. Ivy is also the Human & Civil Rights Policy Associate and Lead Legislative Researcher for Dear Asian Youth, a global organization dedicated to promoting intersectional activism. These experiences in policy, law, and community outreach have shaped her motivations to attend law school and continue advocating for underserved groups as an attorney. In her free time, Ivy can be found exploring local cafes, cooking new recipes, or listening to podcasts.

John Bahia (He/Him) — Columbia University

John Bahia (He/Him) — Columbia University

John Bahia is a first-generation Filipino American and son of two former Filipino migrant workers, born and raised in the Pacific island of Saipan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), who has since settled in Queens, New York. Currently, he is a second-year student continuing his undergraduate studies in Urban Studies at Columbia University in the City of New York. He currently works in the New York State Legislature as a Communications Coordinator and sits in several boards including Queens Community Board 2, Filipino American Democratic Club of New York (FADCNY) and the Filipino American National Historical Society — Metro New York (FANHS-MNY).

John brings with him experiences in local community organizing, grassroots advocacy campaigns, youth activism, strategic communication, political campaigns, and more. During his free time, as a “passion project,” John attempts to document — through the utilization of photography, videography, and social media — Queens’ growing Filipino ethnic enclave of “Little Manila”

Kayli Rego (She/Her) — The Ohio State University

Kayli Rego (She/Her) — The Ohio State University

Kayli Rego, a first-year Honors and Morrill Scholar at The Ohio State University, is pursuing a major in Public Management, Leadership, and Policy, with dual minors in Social Justice

Advocacy and Public Policy, and Asian American Studies. As a Chinese American adoptee, Kayli found her strength through the intersectionality of her Chinese and American identities. She is passionate about making her community inclusive and respectful of all people, regardless of identity. At OSU, she participates in the Transracial Adoptee Club and leads the Asian American Advocacy Alliance (A4) as its founder and president. Beyond academia, Kayli contributes as an advocate and new member orientation leader for OPAWL’s H.B. 171: Educating for Ohio’s Future Campaign and serves as the Diversity Officer in the Ohio Democratic Party’s AAPI Caucus. Previously, Kayli founded and led Dear Asian Youth at Hudson High School, mentored international DAY chapters, and lent her voice to Hudson’s Cultural Proficiency and Advisory Committee. Her role as an Advocacy Intern with Asian Services in Action (ASIA Inc.) allowed her to actively engage and empower immigrant and refugee communities in Cleveland and Akron. Outside her professional endeavors, Kayli enjoys listening to Noah Kahan and thrifting.

Keya Shah (she/her) — The University of Texas at Austin

Keya Shah (she/her) — The University of Texas at Austin

Keya is a third year student at the University of Texas at Austin majoring in Psychology and minoring in Social Work and Asian American Studies. She is passionate about mental health care access and advocacy and in the Asian American community. In her time at the university, she conducts community outreach work with the Austin Asian Community Health Initiative, helping to improve accessibility, researching the social impact of Asian festivals and celebrations, and managing an online network of AAPI mental health care practitioners. Through her roles in several AAPI-interest organizations, she has also planned and facilitated several discussions surrounding topics of South Asian mental health, intergenerational trauma, healing, and more. She also volunteers with the Asian Family Support Services of Austin as a trained hotline advocate to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. In the future, she hopes to provide mental health care and counseling in marginalized communities and aims to employ a systems-based perspective in her work. She hopes to understand how systems of oppression, policy, and institutions work together to impact mental health on both a community-based and individual level. In her free time, she enjoys creative and editorial photography and spending time outdoors hiking and swimming.

Leland J. Pan (She/Her) — University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Leland J. Pan (She/Her) — University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Leland J. Pan is a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studying Political Science with concentrations in citizen politics, ethnic studies, and urban planning. Growing up in her mother’s salon, she learned how to build rapport with neighbors from all walks of life. She found value in community care and the reparative practices that bloom into living in permanent resistance to white supremacy culture. Leland took her love of people to community organizing in high school and college, where she served as a student ambassador for Save the Children to work on their mental health parity, nutrition security, and educational equity initiatives from 2018–2022. Capping off her time with them, she was named their Student Ambassador of the Year for her practice in advocating with her community and co-creating her team’s dynamic with radical candor.

Since then, Leland has moved on to create waves in her heart as an Asian American activist and those with whom she finds the pleasure to cross paths. She has served as a Running Start Congressional Fellow and an Elect Her Facilitator to empower young women of color to run for civic leadership while advocating for the systemic development of diversity and inclusion practices in higher education with Young Invincibles. In her new chapter, Leland is diving deeper into the interplay between racial and disability social justice in her newly student-led community health task force on campus.

Leland hopes to attend graduate school and use her degrees to evolve her mission of sharing the wisdom of being in dehumanizing institutions, co-creating a culture rooted in radical love, and building the relationships that foster it. Harmonized with her work, you can find Leland running, kickboxing, or painting.

Lena Rhie (She/Her) — Northwestern University

Lena Rhie (She/Her) — Northwestern University

Lena Rhie is a fourth-year student at Northwestern University majoring in Asian American Studies with a minor in Legal Studies. Shaped by her Korean and Taiwanese American background and upbringing in Boston, MA, she is passionate about how education policy can help address racial inequalities.

Lena has interned and volunteered at several Asian American advocacy organizations, including Kundiman, the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, the Pan Asian Wellness Initiative Network, the Center for Asian Americans United for Self Empowerment, and KAN-WIN, working on initiatives related to Asian American voting access, mental health, and gender, educational, and environmental justice. As co-president of the Asian Pacific American Coalition at Northwestern, she helps create spaces for Asian American students on campus to learn and organize.

Lena is grateful for the opportunity to participate in Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC’s Youth Leadership Summit and looks forward to building on her advocacy skills and collaborating with other cohort members.

Lima Agafili (She/Her) — Southern New Hampshire University

Lima Agafili (She/Her) — Southern New Hampshire University

Lima Agafili, a vibrant 20-year-old proud Samoan Fa’afafine, hailing from the enchanting islands of American Samoa. She embraces the she/her pronouns with grace and dignity, embodying the essence of a resilient transgender woman of color. Currently serving as the MANA Youth Program Coordinator for UTOPIA Washington, Lima passionately dedicates herself to social justice initiatives for queer, trans, and nonbinary youth, advocating tirelessly for inclusivity and empowerment. Alongside her advocacy, she embarks on her academic journey as a freshman at Southern New Hampshire University, fervently pursuing a major in Psychology with a focus on Mental Health. With aspirations of becoming an in-house psychologist for queer, trans, and nonbinary students, Lima’s unwavering commitment to providing compassionate care and support shines brightly. In moments of leisure, she finds solace in the simple joys of shopping for clothes, indulging in the art of makeup, and serenading the world with her melodious voice. Lima Agafili epitomizes resilience, compassion, and the unyielding spirit of inclusivity.

Mariam Siddiqui (she/her) — Hunter College

Mariam Siddiqui (she/her) — Hunter College

Mariam is a first-generation Pakistani-American student at Hunter College in New York City majoring in Political Science with a double minor in Legal Studies and Asian American Studies. Her passion for law and Asian American Studies stems from her diverse upbringing and her passion to advocate for people whose voices aren’t heard. Ultimately, she aspires to become a litigation attorney to support minority communities like hers and access a just legal system. On campus, Mariam helped start up Pre-Law Society Club as Vice President, to help students learn more about law and explore it as a possible career path. She was also a part of the Hunter College AANAPISI Project (HCAP) as a Cohort 2 Transfer Pipeline Peer Mentor where she helped transfer students feel connected and supported on campus. Currently, Mariam is a College Intern at the New York District Attorney’s Office working in the Trial Bureau where she works closely with Assistant District Attorneys. Looking ahead, she hopes to attend law school in New York City to continue her education in law. When she is not busy, Mariam enjoys baking, reading, creative journaling, and going out with her friends.

Nathania Adhisty (she/her) — Oglethorpe University

Nathania Adhisty (she/her) — Oglethorpe University

Nathania Adhisty (she/her) immigrated to Atlanta, Georgia, at the age of 3 from Jakarta, Indonesia. She currently attends Oglethorpe University as a junior majoring in Political Science with a minor in Psychology and Philosophy, hoping to attend law school post-undergraduate. She co-founded Oglethorpe’s first AAPI organization (ASIA — AAPI Students In Association) and serves her second year as Co-President. In 2023, Oglethorpe’s ASIA hosted their university’s first intercultural fair in hopes of sparking collaborative efforts among their religious, cultural, and ethnic clubs to promote intersectionality and diversity amongst the student body. Out of academia, Nathania has worked with organizations, such as Asian Americans Advancing Justice- Atlanta, Asian American Advocacy Fund, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, UCLA Labor Center, and Common Power, to advocate for voting rights, language equity, and racial justice. This past summer, she, along with 3 colleagues, hosted a Cross Racial Solidarity Symposium at UCLA, bringing together activists and leaders to hold conversations about racial justice, immigrant rights, and intersectionality. She has also worked on campaigns for local and state-wide elections to promote a more progressive Georgia, as her passion lies in labor and immigration rights with the belief that change starts locally.

Ria Babaria (She/Her) — University of California, Los Angeles

Ria Babaria (She/Her) — University of California, Los Angeles

Ria Babaria, a first-year student at UCLA, pursuing a major in Public Affairs and Environmental Systems and Society, driven by her commitment to advocate for her community as a passionate second-generation Asian American. She holds positions serving as the Chief of Policy and Legislative Director at Generation Up, Director of Policy at Voters of Tomorrow, and Environmental and Mental Health Policy Specialist at Youth Power Project. Ria’s advocacy involves writing policies that tackle critical issues related to education, identity equity, the environment, and civic engagement, significantly impacting students across the United States and California. Ria actively collaborates with state and federal representatives, amplifying the voices of young people and working collaboratively on legislative initiatives. She hopes to address racial injustices while championing environmental protection and sustainability, and aspires to delve deeper into the intersection of environmental issues and health policy. Acknowledging the harm inflicted on communities of color, Ria endeavors to tackle these injustices through comprehensive policy solutions, addressing the issues head-on and implementing programs and measures to mitigate their impact.

Sandy Phan (She/Her) — Las Positas College

Sandy Phan (She/Her) — Las Positas College

Sandy is a third-year student at Las Positas College majoring in Sociology with a concentration in Social Policy and Public Service. Her passion for her major is rooted in her personal experiences within the education system. Growing up as a first-generation Vietnamese American, she has witnessed the underrepresentation in her community, and she has taken action by being actively involved in her Asian Pacific Islander (API) community on campus. Her drive to support her community led her to become an ambassador of the Asian American Pacific Islander Interest Group and eventually develop an Asian Pacific Islander Association club. As club president, she encourages other API students to take on leadership roles by partaking in events and creating ideas for club meetings. She has participated in and organized campus-wide events, such as a multicultural event called One Love and Lunar New Year, to showcase diversity on campus. Additionally, she plays a key role in supporting the development of the API Movement Learning Community on campus. As she transfers to a four-year university in the Fall of 2024, she is determined to continue her journey in advocating for the API community by bringing awareness to the educational needs of API students.

Sanjana Rajesh (She/Her) — Northwestern University

Sanjana Rajesh (She/Her) — Northwestern University

Sanjana Rajesh (She/Her) is a Junior at Northwestern University majoring in Legal Studies and Asian American Studies. She is passionate about multiracial coalition building, gender justice, and human rights. On campus, she is the Community Relations Co-Chair for the Asian Pacific American Coalition (APAC). She also co-founded and was Co-President of The Jasmine Collective, which is focused on South Asian political organizing, and was Co-Director of Northwestern University Community for Human Rights. In these roles, she coordinated teach-ins reaching hundreds of students and planned the largest undergraduate human rights conference in the country. Currently, she’s involved in the Future Justice Lawyers of Chicago program and hopes to work in community organizing and as a movement lawyer in the future. In her free time, she loves to read, sing songs with her piano, and make crafts.

Xandro Xu (He/They) — University of Pennsylvania

Xandro Xu (He/They) — University of Pennsylvania

Xandro is a third-year student at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Neuroscience with minors in Data Science and Chemistry. He is dedicated to advocating for the AAPI and LGBTQ+ communities, using his voice to promote inclusivity and awareness. On campus, he plays an active role in organizations like the Asian Pacific American Leadership Initiative (APALI) and Sangam, leading discussions on important topics such as intergenerational trauma and sexual health within the AAPI community. Xandro also chairs the Diversity and Inclusion Committee of the Undergraduate Assembly and leads the Lambda Alliance, where he focuses on initiatives to enhance mental health resources for LGBTQ+ students. In the future, Xandro aims to blend his passions by becoming a physician-researcher, addressing public health issues affecting marginalized groups and providing personalized clinical care to reduce health disparities.

Zoe Pampilo Harris (She/Her) — DePaul University

Zoe Pampilo Harris (She/Her) — DePaul University

Zoe Pampilo Harris is a sophomore at DePaul University in Chicago, and is double majoring in Public Policy and Community Psychology. As a Black, Filipino, and Indigenous woman, Zoe is dedicated to leading transformation centering social justice, racial equity and decolonization. On campus, she has experience in leadership and supporting fellow students, working as a Mentor and teacher assistant. Zoe provides support in helping new students be welcomed and creating a sense of belonging to the university community. This includes connecting them and providing them with education about the many local nonprofits and social organizations in the city of Chicago that they can be engaged with. Zoe has been involved in many political projects, including the Poll Hero Project, where she led and managed outreach and engagement of college students to volunteer at polling booths during the 2020 election. Zoe is dedicated to dismantling systems of patriarchy, white supremacy, colonization, and capitalism, and wants to promote and uphold policies and legislation that advances these efforts

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

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Advancing Justice – AAJC

Fighting for civil rights for all and working to empower #AsianAmericans to participate in our democracy.