Push the Limits of Possibility

By Keo Xiong, AALEAD Staff

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

You have probably been asked, and have answered, this question many times. Was your answer always the same? Did it change with each ask? If I were to ask you, right now, what you want to be when you grow up (we are always growing up, even when we think we’re grown up!), what would you say?

AALEAD youth at Argyle recently participated in multiple career exploration workshops to learn about their dream careers, as well as careers they might not have considered or known about before. We kicked off the workshops with guest speaker Dr. Hweyon Lee, U.S. Public Health Service Dental Officer, who taught youth about oral health, careers in dentistry, and how she found her path to dentistry. Youth practiced proper teeth brushing with models and won toothpaste prizes by answering questions posed by Dr. Lee. Through Dr. Lee’s workshop, youth learned about the importance of oral health as an integral part of one’s overall health and well-being.

In other workshops, youth learned about themselves and how their personalities and interests inform their career choices. After taking the Holland Personality Survey, youth explored a variety of careers that match their personality. They also discovered new career possibilities they had not considered before, such as botany, landscape architecture, and genetics. AALEADers are a talented bunch and their answers to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” truly reflect that. During a free-write session following the workshops, youth wrote about their dreams for their future 25-year-old self. Youth were encouraged to push the limits of possibility and to share information about their jobs, place of residence, family, and anything else they wanted to include. AALEADers’ career interests are not only a reflection of their talents, but also of their interests, family, and friends. I learned so much about each of these youth through this activity and am inspired by their dreams and goals. Below are some excerpts from their entries.

“Today is my 25th birthday and I just got the greatest job as a veterinarian. I live in California with my family in a single house. I like to play on my tablet and read.”

“Today is my 25th birthday. I got the greatest job in the TCS [The Capitol Symphonic Youth] Orchestra playing an English folksong and all the songs from my youth. I drove my flying car to work today.”

“When I become 25 I will work at a job that works with athletes. Here are some jobs: coach, head coach, GM [general manager of a team], physical therapist.”

“I got offered the greatest job: film editing a zombie movie. Zombie movies make a lot of money so I’ll get more money than my other offers.”

“Currently in Korea with Vicky. I’m currently a back-up dancer for K-artists. From nine years ago, I knew I would never really “sing” but dance stuck with me. It’s fun because I get to meet all these talented people. If I ever get tired of this job, perhaps I’ll go back to the U.S. and do biology. Maybe I’ll get married too…maybe.”

“Today is my 25th birthday and I just got the greatest job as a research specialist. I get to work all day with a subject I love. I also get to see my dad at work as he is now a historian. It doesn’t feel like work. I live in my own apartment in College Park [MD] and I hang out with my friends Rinn (champion horse rider), Ellie (gold medalist gymnast), Cameron (famous quarterback), and Christian (famous soccer player).

P.S. I actually think all of this WILL happen.”

“Today is my 25th birthday and I just got the greatest job, a K-Pop [Korean Pop] artist. I practice vocal and dance every day and I also improve too. And my family supports my dream, after a thousand times of convinces and tries. It is blessed and wonderful to see my new albums selling; to perform around the world; and meet my idols and fans.”

“I come home for my birthday and meet up with my family. My cousins invite me to play basketball outside. We see a shiny Ferrari pulling in after me and my team won [the game]. He [person in the car] asks to talk to me and says ‘Happy Birthday.’ He gives me an invitation to the NBA Rookie Showcase.”

I hope these youth and their dreams have inspired you! Like them, don’t be afraid to push the limits of possibility! So, let me ask you again, what do you want to be when you grow up?

Thank you Dr. Lee for coming to AALEAD at Argyle Middle School!

What a wonderful celebration of more than 15 years of AALEAD!  On Wednesday, we had an amazing group of 300 AALEAD supporters join us for our 15th Annual Dinner.  It was so fantastic to have a full room to celebrate AALEAD’s successes and hear from our wonderful speakers.

Those of you who attended know that we made an exciting announcement . . .  AALEAD has now officially launched in Northern Virginia!  Our staff have been meeting with students over the past many weeks at Annandale High School in Fairfax County and we received our first grant to partially support this new work from CareFirst!  Thank you, CareFirst!

While planning events like the Annual Dinner take a considerable amount of work, our staff and Board also get re-energized by sharing the stories of our AALEAD youth with the community.  Last night was no exception.  I personally left last night’s event so grateful for the AALEAD family and all we have been able to accomplish together and am excited to take on new challenges to expand and serve more youth who deserve every opportunity.

Thank you for continuing the journey with us!

Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) hosted our 15th Annual Dinner at the Silver Spring Civic Building in downtown Silver Spring from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m with 300 guests in attendance yesterday. The evening was empowering and a reminder of what a passionate and strong community is doing and can do together for our young people today and in the future!

We kicked off the night with a reception, with hors d’oeuvres provided by our friends at Hollywood East, and networking. Our Youth Ambassadors did an amazing job confidently representing their programs and AALEAD peers!

It was truly an evening of celebrating community and AALEAD’s accomplishments in serving our youth!

During the program part of the event, hosted by anchor and reporter Kathy Park, guests had the opportunity to hear testimonials from current AALEAD youth Jessa Martinez, AALEAD alumnus Dr. Tu-Anh Vu, and AALEAD Board Member Will Choi.

We ended the evening with a buffet dinner provided by our friends at Szechuan Delight, more networking, and two drawings for iPad Air raffle! Congratulations to our two raffle winners from last night! Jesse Chong, winner of an iPad, AALEAD Board Member Siu Cheung from Siu’s Asian Bistro; and Alicia Cutler, winner of an iPad, donated by our Board. Special thanks to Bread Corner (Dessert Sponsor), Coca-Cola (Beverage Sponsor), Marriott (Print Sponsor), and Asian Fortune (Media Sponsor). A huge thank you to our friend and former staff, Don Kim (, for this wonderful video we were able to show at the dinner! Check it out:

Thank you to all who joined us for AALEAD’s 15th Annual Dinner! We truly hope it was a night to remember and that you have been inspired to stay connected to the work we do in the community. We thank our elected officials who took time to attend our event: Montgomery County Executive Isaiah “Ike” Leggett, Council President Craig Rice, Councilmember Nancy Floreen, Councilmember George Leventhal, Councilmember Hans Riemer, and Virginia Delegate Mark Keam.

We also thank all our Individual Supporters, Table Sponsors and Donors for your generosity and commitment to supporting our community’s youth.

Lastly, a very big and special thank you to our Sponsors for this year’s Annual Dinner:

Annie E. Casey Foundation

Catholic University of America,  School of Engineering
Latham & Watkins LLP
McLean Asset Management

For more on our supporters, please visit this link.

Thank you from AALEAD!

More photos to come on our our Facebook, so please stay tuned!

Want more? Stay connected with us on Facebook (Asian American LEAD) and Twitter/Instagram (@aalead).

By My Nguyen, DC Program Coordinator
Photos courtesy of AALEAD Staff

The DC Middle & High School Program offers students a unique opportunity to connect with their fellow Asian American peers in a fun and challenging environment, with events and activities that allow them to learn more about themselves and develop the confidence and skills needed to be successful academically and socially.

Students have been meeting at Bancroft Elementary School biweekly to discuss program goals and opportunities they could take part in as an AALEADer. On Saturday, March 22, students visited The George Washington University called Humans of South Asia: An ExploreAsian. Besides learning about the various flags of South Asian countries and participating in cultural activities, students were also able to explore the GWU campus. The momentum of the weekend carried into Monday as the students gathered together for a semi adventure-based outdoor team building activity which included a game of kickball!

See below for a few pictures of the students in the program!

By Keo Xiong, AALEAD Staff

Photos courtesy of AALEAD Staff

Youth at Argyle and Parkland Middle Schools have begun their fourth Asian country exploration of the academic year, this month focusing on Vietnam and Vietnamese culture. AALEAD youth tested their knowledge of all things Vietnam by competing against one another in a trivia game during programs. Among the various facts and information youth learned from the trivia competition, they learned that the national sport of Vietnam is jianzi, or Chinese shuttlecock.

The game of jianzi is played on a court much like that used for badminton, and with similar rules. Two teams, each on opposite sides of the net, attempt to score by hitting the shuttlecock playing piece over the net and making the opposing team miss the return. The biggest difference? Players cannot use their hands. Instead, players use mainly their feet and other body parts, which requires a lot of skills! Another way to play is to pass the shuttlecock around like you would with a hacky sack, adding tricks and other creative moves.

AALEAD youth learned about the game and made their own shuttlecock pieces. Using a variety of materials, including beans, cloth, and brightly colored feathers, each youth made their own unique shuttlecock to play with and bring home. They enjoyed the game and were enthusiastic about teaching their family members how to play. You can join in on the fun and learn how to play this great sport by making your own shuttlecock!

Here’s what you will need:

1 piece of cloth, cut into 6”x6” square

1 small handful of beans

1 metal washer

2-3 feathers with a quill base

1 rubber band

Yarn or ribbon

Hot glue gun and glue


1. Arrange feathers by inserting the quills into the washer’s center.

2. Apply a generous amount of hot glue around the quills on both sides of the washer. Allow glue to fully dry. Trim the quills if necessary.

3. Place a handful of dry beans onto the back side of the cloth, centered.

4. Place the feathers and washer on top of the beans.

5. Begin folding up the sides of the cloth towards the top of the washer and around the feathers.

6. Tie the cloth securely with a rubber band. Pull up every side of the cloth tips to ensure no beans will have an opening to fall out.

7. Finish by tying a ribbon or yarn around the rubber band.

Now that you have your very own shuttlecock, find an empty space and start kicking away! Tell us how you did and share pictures of your jianzi piece with us!

By Antwoine Johnson, AALEAD Staff

Merriam Webster defines trust as the “belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc.” It is something that is difficultly obtained but so easily lost. It may take months or years to obtain.

AALEAD staff have been meeting with our youth at Wheaton High School, once a week, for a lunch program. Although our time with them has been short, we’ve been able to work on trust through team building activities.  Last week, we decided to do an exercise including objects, blindfolds and voices. The students were asked to pair up. One member of the pair was then blindfolded and had to listen to the voice and direction of their partner in order to obtain objects that held point values. The winner of the competition was rewarded with a prize.

Students were able to learn what it means to really build a stronger relationship based off trust with a friend and to rely on them to guide them through the tough situations, especially when you see no end in sight or, in this case, when you do not see anything at all.

Please stay tuned for more Wheaton updates!

By Francine Gorres, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff and Students, Chris Gamboa, CAAM Staff, and friendly residents and tourists of San Francisco

This past weekend AALEAD participated in a program called “Young Historians, Living Histories” organized by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Smithsonian Affiliations and Center for Asian American Media (CAAM). This project allowed underserved middle and high school youth across the country to deepen their understanding of the Asian Pacific American experience and enabled them to use the foundations of community storytelling and digital technologies to unearth the histories in their community.  AALEAD was one of many Smithsonian Affiliates that participated in this project last summer and had the opportunity to fly out one staff member and one student representative to San Francisco, California to screen the projects at the 32nd Annual CAAM Film Festival!

Scene 1 – The Golden Gate Bridge

For Liza and I, this was our first time to travel to the West Coast and to get a “taste” of sunny California. From the minute we got off of the 8 hour flight, we commuted everywhere we went. We rode the BART and the Muni buses through the city and headed straight to the Golden Gate Bridge. For a brief moment, Liza and I soaked it all in. We were just amazed that we were standing in front of the iconic bridge. It was truly breath taking!

After spending some time at the Bridge, we took the Muni bus to Ghirardelli Square and visited the famous Boudin’s at the Fisherman’s Wharf to meet our sourdough friends.  We ended our first day with a celebratory Ghirardelli ice cream!

Scene 2 – The Screening

Rise and shine! Saturday was our big day…The Screening. Before meeting guests at the New People Cinema for the screening, Liza and I gathered with other Smithsonian Affiliates for breakfast. From Ohio to North Carolina to Arkansas, youth gathered from different parts of the country to meet one another and to talk about their videos and projects. It was amazing to see the youth engaged in dialogues about Asian American history and to share how this project made an impact on themselves as Asian Americans.

Shortly after, we walked over to the New People Cinema to view the different projects and then went to a nice reception for the young filmmakers. At the reception, all of the Smithsonian Affiliates and organizations received a “Certificate of Appreciation”. Woohoo! Go AALEAD!

After the reception, Liza and I decided to change and explore the city via trolley! When we boarded the trolley, it seemed a bit intimidating to be riding on the side of the trolley, but also such an adventure. Liza decided to stand inside of the trolley, while I rode on the side to get the “real” San Francisco experience. We went up and down the hills, passed streets overlooking marinas and boats, and even saw people gathered outside for a St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It was super fun! Our final stop was at the Fisherman’s Wharf to visit the sea lions.

Scene 3 – Meeting the Brahmin Bulls

After a full day, Liza and I decided to immerse ourselves into the CAAMFest experience and bought tickets to see Brahmin Bulls. In this film about an Indian father and son, we see the complexities that exist in their relationship. From living up to high expectations, seeking love, and learning how to talk to parents, it featured a lot of different South Asian American experiences that exist today. The film even featured the story of the widowed father that is often unseen or unheard. It was such a great film, and Liza noticed that the main character, Sid also known as Sendhil Ramamurthy, was a star in one of her favorite TV shows “Beauty and the Beast” on CW.  Sendhil plays the role of Gabriel Lowen, an assistant district attorney. She was excited to meet him and even got a picture with him!

Scene 4 – Epilogue

Throughout the whole trip, Liza and I were able to see so many new things together and had some very special conversations about life, career, school, and some of her favorite TV shows.  I asked her what she thought of the trip and what she liked the most. Here is what she had to say, “The trip was life-changing. I had a fun time going everywhere in San Francisco and participating in CAAMFest.  I even learned a few geography lessons flying over different states. When we got up in front of everyone to speak at the screening, I was really nervous at first. I had been at other speaking opportunities with AALEAD before, but not like this. After we shared our films it was just..awesome to feel like wow, they bought tickets to see our films. It felt good to see that people actually cared to come. And then when I saw producers and actors stand up to talk about Brahmin Bulls, it was like man..I was just up there like them earlier today! Amazing. There’s not one moment that was my favorite. I really liked everything. Who knows maybe I’ll get into film one day!” And I…could not have said it better myself. As a coordinator, it was a special moment to watch it all click and make sense.  I was grateful to just be there to hear and see it happen.

Credits and Special Thank You’s

Special thank you to Konrad Ng, Robert Johnson, Caroline Mah, Gina Inocencio, and all of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center representatives for helping to coordinate this project! Thank you to Stephen Gong, Donald Young, Hardeep Jandu, and CAAM for helping to make this trip and project possible! Thank you to Southwest Airlines for your kind generosity in getting students to San Francisco. Thank you to Wyman Lee and Amy Hosseinnian from DC APA Film for all of your help and film-making guidance you gave to students during the project. Thank you to Surjeet and the AALEAD Board for all of your support.  It has truly been an honor to witness the success of all of our incredible youth from around the country and to share this special experience with Liza.

Staff Spotlight: And-One is in the House!

By David Oh, AALEAD Development & Communications Intern
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Today, we bring you the latest Staff Spotlight on one of our MD Middle School Program Coordinators, Antwoine Johnson!  We have all the juicy details that will keep you on your toes. Read the Q&A below to get the scoop on Antwoine! :)

Q: How has AALEAD impacted your life?
A: AALEAD has definitely allowed me to stretch myself and add to my character by forcing me to interact with people of different backgrounds, stories, and religions. It has broadened my view of the world, which is a consequence of it being my first full time job. In addition, it has increased my passion for youth and the Asian American community as a whole.

Q: What impact does your role as a Coordinator have on our youth?
A: I think that, first, it shows that there are people outside there demographic that care for them.  Also, that there are adults that can relate to them and show that they care for them. I also like to think I have had a hand in refining them as people, giving them pointers on life at times, school, character, and leadership that will last long after AALEAD is over for them.

Q:What are some things that have surprised you about AALEAD?
A: The atmosphere of AALEAD as a whole, employees, students and parents. It has a very warm, family environment. It is very comforting to go into a place where there is no sense of tension.  That is surprising because I always hear my friends talk about their jobs and it seems my job is unique.

Q:What are some highlights you can point out while working with AALEAD?
A: So many!  The first day I came in, Keo and Melor [our two other MD Middle School Program Coordinators] decorated my desk, and that was awesome!  Starting my program at Newport Mill Middle School was very good as well as starting the once-a-week lunch program at Wheaton High School and being able to get to know and help out the students are Argyle Middle School and Loiederman Middle School.  I found it a great experience to have the chance to meet Parkland Middle School, Eastern Middle School and Einstein High School kids during larger events and field trips. Basically, every day at AALEAD is a highlight. Even our Staff m=Meetings are highlights because I get to see my coworkers! That is saying a lot because some people do not like meetings–but I love them!

Q:If you could choose a song that best describes your work at AALEAD, what would it be?
A: Hmm, let me think.  ”Call Me Maybe”–especially the first line of the chorus, because that is how I started relationships with my students! “Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy.  So here’s my number.  Call me maybe.”

Q:What was your childhood nickname?
A: Wow, I have so many.  My step dad use to call me Johnson and in college they use to call me Ha’san.  But then when I started going to my church they called me, And-One, Taewon, and Scantron.  And-one was given to me because my friend’s pastor, who was Korean, could not say my name correctly called me that and so everyone at my friend’s church called me that.  Taewon is short for Ahn Taewon. My friend’s mom told me my first name sounded like a Korean name so she began calling me Taewon.  Scantron was simply because my name sounded like it. My friend at church likes to give me names that rhyme with my original first name and this one was the most popular.

Q:PC or Apple?
A: PC!  It is hard to play “League of Legends” on an Apple!
Thanks for reading! Remember to check back on our blog weekly for program and staff updates. Follow us: Twitter and Instagram (@aalead). Like us on Facebook (Asian American LEAD)!

MS Youth Council Meeting

By Antwoine Johnson, AALEAD Staff
Photos by Youth Council Member

This past Saturday, the Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) Middle School Youth Council came together to represent their peers in the organization and planning for Fiesta Asia and the Youth Media Project.

Fiesta Asia is an annual street festival where different Asian organizations come and celebrate Asian and Asian American cultures, increasing the awareness and knowledge of the people who come to the event. AALEAD will have a booth at the event, where our youth decided to have trivia questions and prices in order to teach people facts and to motivate them to answer questions about the countries being represented by AALEAD such as Sir Lanka and the Phillipines. Each middle school will be coming up with questions to assist in this trivia game.

For the Youth Media Project, the students  ironed out a script for the short video about identity and then hashed out a storyboard, using the skills and techniques given to them by Amy and Wyman from DC APA Film, Inc..  Stay tuned for more updates on the video project!


AALEADers Participate in a Media Workshop!

By Antwoine Johnson, AALEAD Staff
Photos by Melor Suhaimi, AALEAD Staff

This past Tuesday, the AALEAD Middle School Youth Council and some of our high school youth had the chance to participate in a film making workshop with  Amy and Wyman, videographers from the DC Asian Pacific American Film, Inc.  Middle and high school AALEAD students came to the MD Office and were taught how to take different angles, use lighting for different effects and create different emotions in a scene.  AALEADers then had a chance to play around with the cameras and lights, putting what they just learned to practice.

Our workshop hosts also addressed the art of creating a scene that is visually appealing in such a way that it does not shock the eye. For example, Amy stressed the importance of not going from a wide shot straight into a tight shot. It was an informative time for both the Council and AALEAD staff.

Our Middle School Youth Council reconvened after the workshop and began to plan how they would begin to create their videos for their projects.  Our youth are able to participate in the video project thanks to support provided by the Gandhi Brigade. We are using media to discuss Asian American issues with our youth. The project will be made up of several short 3-minute videos to address topics as stereotypes, Asian American identity, and living as a person, outside the stereotype. Our youth are enjoying engaging in some hard hitting introspection and conveying who they are to a world that may not always understand them as a person. Stay tuned for our video projects!

A huge shout out and thank you to Amy and Wyman from DC APA Film!