By Francine Gorres & Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff and Students

Over the past two years, AALEAD youth have been hosting the Annual APA Youth Summit to empower their peers to learn more about culture, identity, advocacy, and leadership. Each year, the Student Planning Committee works very hard to think of relevant, interesting, and engaging topics for their peers.  One thing our youth really wanted was something…DIFFERENT, something that moved the bar a little bit in regards to their personal growth and understanding of diverse peoples, particularly around the topic of stereotypes, racism, and cross-cultural collaboration.

This work is never easy, and can often be challenging..but our students were ready to open the doors for these tough conversations!

Opening Ceremony!

As students began to take their seats and finish breakfast, AALEAD staff and students welcomed all students from different schools, backgrounds and ethnicities to the 3rd Annual APA Youth Summit.

Surjeet Ahluwalia gave the opening keynote speech to our youth and congratulated our youth on choosing such a relevant and important topic for the day! She shared parts of her own bi-racial identity with youth and how important it is for everyone to understand that we are all different and unique, yet similar in our experiences.  She encouraged the youth to step out of their comfort zones and to get to know youth they didn’t already know.

Shortly after Surjeet’s speech, students from AALEAD took the lead in splitting up 60+ students for icebreakers and team-building. As students began to introduce themselves and participate in team-building activities, bursts of cheers, laughter, and clapping began to echo through the DC streets and into the empty halls. Could it be? It’s only 10:30am! There was incredible energy being shared among all of the youth and students had not even attended one workshop yet! Amazing.

As students came in for their first workshop, students broke out in their groups and attended a workshop around cross-cultural collaboration. One workshop focused on the cross-cultural work of Yuri Kochiyama and how her leadership impacted many different communities. The other two workshops focused on personal identity and the impact of stereotypes. Students started to have fruitful discussions about cultural identity and had great pride about who they were individually. As we got deeper and deeper into tougher conversations about stereotypes, students began to realize that there’s a lot they have in common when it comes to feeling misunderstood and misrepresented. Here are a few sentences from an activity that tried to dispel stereotypes about their individual identities:

“I am a woman, but that doesn’t mean I am weak.”

“I am quiet, but that does not mean that I don’t have a voice.”

“I am Asian, but that does not mean I’m Chinese.”

“I am Black, but that does not mean I can’t swim.”

“I am a male cheerleader, but that does not mean I am gay.”

“I am Black, but that does not mean that I am ghetto.”

“I am Asian, but that does not mean that I am a genius.”

Each student, contributed something to the discussion that made everyone think about how they interact with one another, and brought each of them a little closer. A student even said, “We go around thinking about how different we are…but we don’t even stop to realize how similar our lives can be.” Throughout the day students continued to build on their relationships, but also had the opportunity to reflect on themselves as leaders by attending workshops around goal setting, leadership behaviors, as well as a mock trial!

Students then had the chance to explore their voice in a different way, through performing arts workshops.

Some students had the opportunity to incorporate the arts and their individual histories into one by participating in a workshop on poetry and fluidity; they read poems and expressed them physically, then had some time to write their own pieces and share them with the group. Others explored their self-confidence and love for music through a dance workshop, a DJ sampling workshop, as well an audio production workshop! To say the least…..these youth are talented!

To close the day, Simone Jacobson, shared her story with the youth and expressed how important it is to share your individual voice, especially if it is not being heard.  She also encouraged youth to explore their own identities and values in order to find out what it is they want to do. You are your own compass that points north. These words resonated with all of the youth and helped students to realize their own individual agency in this world.

No words can really describe the energy throughout the day, nor the kind of connection students created amongst themselves and guest speakers. It was truly a special day and some students even expressed that this was the BEST Youth Summit to date because it was different, fun, relevant, and engaging. AALEAD students are raising the bar every year and stepped up to the challenge to make this space safe for everyone to participate. The work is not over…there is still much that needs to be done in regards to cross-cultural work…but for their first swing at it, I’d say it was a home run! Congratulations to all of the youth that participated in the AALEAD APA Youth Summit!

Special thank you to:

Chipotle – Thank you for your kind generosity and for donating food for our youth!

Jude Dizon and Neha Singhal (UMD), Jessica Lee, Elizabeth Lee (OCA), Tip Fallon, Ryan Chan & Enoch Chang (APALRC), Stan Robinson, DJ AAROCK, Desmond (Kaution Dance Kru), and  Simone Jacobson….without you this would not have been possible. Thank you for being an inspiration to our youth and for sharing your words of wisdom, love and time with us!

AALEAD Staff -  Thank you to all of the staff who helped to support youth and helped to make this Youth Summit possible. The future of our youth is boundless and whenever we set the always seems they go above and beyond. Truly an inspiration to see all of you at work!

What happened to July??  I can’t believe that the summer is going by so quickly and that it is already the last week of summer programs at AALEAD!

I have been so inspired by the work our staff have been doing on behalf of our youth.  Our blog has been very active the past few weeks – you can see many of the activities there.  This has been a record year for AALEAD with over 150 elementary, middle, and high school youth as active participants throughout the summer!

Just this past weekend, our high school youth held the 3rd Annual APA Youth Summit.  I was so impressed to see that our youth leaders got 60 of their peers – both AALEAD youth and not – to attend the youth summit beginning at 10 am on a Saturday AND that there were such sophisticated conversations about cross-cultural understanding, identity, and leadership.

After we conclude summer programs, we have a staff retreat next week to review our performance management data from this past year and develop goals for our next year of programming.  We are also continuing our strategic planning work.  In the fall, we will share highlights of our strategic plan for the next three years of AALEAD.

It’s an exciting time for us at AALEAD.  Thanks for being part of it!


By Laura Ma, DC Elementary School Program Intern
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

The summer is truly flying by at our DC Elementary School Summer Program and it is such a treat to see our youth growing both as students and individuals. In Week 4 of the summer program, all of the classes are gearing up for the August 1st party and performances. Whether it is artwork or a play they have scripted and directed, every class will display something to their parents and guests at our closing ceremony. The older students have taken on many responsibilities including: taking charge of the newspaper, writing and performing their own play, and performing a dance. Dancing is a common theme as our little Pandas have also been dancing during their Health and Wellness workshop. There is just something about Katy Perry that gets them excited! While the Dragon Class is not particularly interested in pop stars, they will be utilizing their love for Pokemon to put on a play. All of the performances and art displays are well on their way toward completion. The summer has proved to be a great time for our youth to explore different methods of expression. We are very excited to see their performances next Friday!

By Heein Choi, Development & Communications Intern
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

Yesterday, our Summer Kinect Program youth met at Wheaton Forest Park for our weekly field trip. AALEAD staff and high school youth leaders set up a competition to see who could win the most games at the park. Our youth competed in tug-of-war, a water balloon toss, basketball shootout, and more! Each team was led by a high school AALEADer who provided support whenever there was a need. After the games, everyone sat down for lunch and quality bonding time.

On the surface, the field trip seemed like a normal day—AALEADers having fun and working together. However, during one of the relay racing events, AALEAD youth demonstrated just how much they learned over the course of the summer about each other and what it means to be: family.

One of the final events prior to lunch was a relay race between high school students and middle school students. At a physical disadvantage, some slack was cut for middle school youth in that each student had less of a distance to travel relative to high school youth. After nearly 30 students ran from each side, the high school students won by a narrow margin. Rather than celebrating with their peers, I saw some of the high school students take aside disappointed middle school youth and congratulate them on their effort and resiliency. I distinctly remember one of the high school AALEADers applauding the middle school students and remarking on how they competed very well.

Those five minutes after the race, I feel embodies AALEAD staff in a single moment—role models pushing their youth to their full potential. However, when youth feel that they have fallen short, their leaders are there to support and encourage them. For me to see the high school students emulating this confirms the enormous impact that AALEAD staff and programming are having on our youth. What seemed to be an ordinary trip, turned into something really special.

By David Ma, MD Program Intern
Photos courtesy of AALEAD Staff

With closing up on our nutrition and fitness week, we have finished up our 5th week of Summer Kinect. This week, Habitat for Humanity’s Volunteer Coordinator, Caitlin, came in to lead a workshop of more details about her organization.  She also came to thank our youth for raising funds for Habitat for Humanity during our car wash a couple of weeks ago!  Maryland Middle School Youth Council members taught the group how to dress professionally for future purposes such as job interviews. For the rest of the week, youth taught AALEADers about nutrition and fitness.  I even led a workshop on circuit training which allowed students to work out their entire body through different types of exercises. We went through upper and lower body exercises such as push-ups, dips, squats, and burpees.

Youth also led workshops about the six basic nutrients required for good health.  They went over each nutrient thoroughly and students prepared their own healthy meal through a scavenger hunt.  Anaerobic and aerobic exercises were also taught to the youth. But before going through vigorous exercises, they were taught to stretch and relax their muscles with tennis balls and a muscle roller.

To finish off the nutrition and physical health week, staff decided to host a field day for AALEADers at Wheaton Forest Park, where we had many activities that required teamwork, communication and strength. Check out Heein’s post for more on our Field Day!  Although this was a challenging week for AALEADers, we managed to pull through and show perseverance!

By Bhadon Shalakin, Mentoring Program Intern
Photos Courtesy of Surjeet Ahluwalia, AALEAD Executive Director

**Check out the video on this White House link at 38:29 to see Bhadon ask his question to the President!

Bhadon is a former student and current Mentoring Program Intern. We are so proud of him and hope you enjoy hearing about his experience at President Obama’s Town Hall on the “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative!

Yesterday, I had the honor of attending the President’s Town Hall on the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative. The day started off with warm welcomes and introductions between my fellow AALEADers and me. We made our way towards the Walker-Jones Education Campus, where the event was held. With everyone looking their best, it definitely was a fashionable event. After a brief wait in the security line, we made our way to our seats.

The first part of the event included a panel discussion between a student, a Board of Education member, Randall L. Stephenson (the CEO of AT&T), and James H. Shelton, III (the Deputy Secretary of Education). The panel was very insightful and focused on issues which are currently plaguing students from California to DC. After the endorsement of the initiative from NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, we took a brief break. After the intermission, Chris Paul, an NBA player for the Los Angeles Clippers, came out to introduce President Obama. The President then talked about his plans for success for men of color and also shared his hopes that this initiative would be adopted across the country.

When the President was done with his speech, he opened up the floor for questions from the audience. I thought about asking him a question, but was very nervous. After a few questions were asked, I worked up enough courage to raise my hand. He turned around, looked me in my eyes, and pointed to me while saying, “The young man in the corner with the glasses.” I was in disbelief and had a million thoughts running through my head. As a proud Washingtonian, I asked him a question about a topic that means a lot to me: statehood for the District of Columbia. He immediately smiled his iconic smile and responded with: “I’m in DC. So I am for it.”

With a smile on my face for the rest of the event, I was greeted by strangers that thanked me for asking my question and for representing DC. It truly was one of my best and favorite moments as an AALEADer, and I am so thankful that I was able to attend this great event.

Staff Spotlight: Get to Know My!

By Heein Choi, Development & Communications Intern
Photos courtesy of AALEAD Staff

Check out our spotlight with our DC Middle & High School Program Coordinator—My Nguyen!

Q: What is your role at AALEAD and how long have you been working with this organization for?
A: I am the DC Middle & High School Program Coordinator. I have been with the organization for 5 months.

Q: What is a typical day like in your program?
A: A typical day in my program: students would come in, they have 5 minutes to unwind and catch up while we wait for the rest of the students to arrive. Then we open with an ice breaker, followed by announcements/shout outs. After that, we have a fun team building game or a “get to know you” activity because there’s always something new to learn about someone! Then we transition into the day’s curriculum or lesson as the last part of our program.

Q: What has been your best experience working with AALEAD?
A: My best experience working with AALEAD is seeing the students grow into their abilities and transform into leaders.

Q: What do you think is the most important aspect of AALEAD?
A: A sense of belonging.

Q: Outside of working for AALEAD, what are your hobbies?
A: I enjoy reading in my spare time if I’m not indulging in a marathon on Netflix. I also like to explore the various museums DC has to offer.

Q: What goals do you set for yourself daily?
A: Let the busyness of work stay at work and just take some time at the end of the day to relax and meditate, getting adequate sleep, and working out.

Q: If I wasn’t afraid…I would _____.
A: I would be a rapper, ready to drop a mix tape!

Q: What are you most passionate about?
A: Being the agent of change, making a difference in the world.

Q: If you could describe your time at AALEAD in one word it would be what, and why did you pick that word?
A: Active. All the coordinators are always in constant motion going to programs and being vigilant with students.
Affable. We have a friendly staff where anyone can approach us for questions.

Q: If you could give one sentence on advice on how to live life, what would it be?
A: Keep your courage up and it will keep you up.

It was a pleasure to get to know My better! Like us on Facebook (AALEAD) and follow us on Instagram (@AALEAD) and Twitter (@AALEAD) for daily updates!

By Alex Neeley, DC Elementary School Program Intern
Photos Courtesy of Alex Neeley

With Week 3 in the books, we are already halfway through at the DC Elementary School Summer Program. This week, the 5th and 6th graders of the Tiger Class continued to develop and format their first issue of the AALEAD newspaper.  With the help of Miss Paulina, the class divided their newspaper duties into two groups. While Team One reviewed and voted on drawing and writing submissions from all of our summer students, Team Two worked diligently on Publisher to format the newspaper for its final print. Expect the first edition of the “Summer with AALEAD” newspaper to hit stands in the coming days!

Also this week, our teaching assistant, Mr. Dustin, led a Culture workshop on the Maori war dance known as the Haka. The Lion and Tiger classes pounded on their chests and stomped their feet as they learned new intimidation tactics to strike fear in opponents.

The week concluded with field trips for everybody! On Thursday, the Tiger Class went to the Harry Thomas Sr. Pool for a much needed cool down. On Friday, the Lion and Tiger classes attended to the Newseum, while the younger Dragon and Pandas classes went to the National Building Museum. At the Newseum, our AALEADers were tasked with a scavenger hunt that helped them learn about important events in world history and how the journalists of the day presented these events. In addition, the scavenger hunt involved several photo challenges, including selfies with Summer Interns Laura and Alex!

Remember to check back next week, as our young AALEADers prepare their final projects for the summer and take a trip to Six Flags!

By Keo Xiong, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

When you are feeling down, extremely excited, or any range of emotions in-between, who do you immediately share your feelings with? Best friends? Parents? Siblings? Coaches? This week in Summer Kinect, AALEAD middle and high school youth focused on strengthening support groups through various activities and events.

To kick off the week’s activities, Brad Becker, a professional therapist, led an introductory workshop about mental health and therapy. In both small and large groups, AALEADers talked about important people in their lives who make up their support groups, including childhood friends, parents, counselors, teachers, significant others, and siblings.

We followed up Brad’s workshop with youth-led activities. One group of AALEADers, Team Fierce, focused on a problem common among their peers: stress. To deal with stress, this group taught their peers how to make their own stress balls using balloons and flour. AALEAD youth had a great time making and proudly showed off their stress balls to staff and friends.

Another group of AALEADers taught their peers about troublesome feelings and explored how to cope with and express these feelings in healthy and nondestructive ways. They practiced breathing exercises; wrote a letter expressing not-so-great feelings, which they then tore up in an act of relief; and participated in teambuilding activities through music and dance.

To close out the week’s activities, AALEADers travelled to Arlington to see an improv comedy show and engage in team- and self-building workshops led by staff at The Comedy Spot. Improv, short for improvisation, is a live theatrical performance where actors create scenes and play games on the spot, often engaging audience members. Actors in improv groups must rely on their group members to make their shows successful. By knowing each other’s habits, personalities, sense of humor, abilities, and strengths, improv actors feed off of and build upon one another’s energies, storylines, and ideas to create a seamless story or scene. The skills of comedy improvisation include teamwork, trust, listening, focus, communication, overcoming obstacles, and creative solutions to problems, which actors at The Comedy Spot helped AALEADers explore and improve upon within their small groups and as individuals. Almost every youth had the opportunity to be on stage and play improv games in front of their peers, and everyone had a great time laughing with one another.

We had a fantastic week at Summer Kinect and look forward to spending the next and final two weeks together. Special thanks to The Comedy Spot and Brad for facilitating thoughtful, engaging workshops for AALEAD youth, and to the youth in Teams Fierce and Hungry8s for leading informative activities for their peers.

To learn more about The Comedy Spot, please visit

By Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

Every Wednesday, the middle and high school youth in Asian American LEAD’s (AALEAD) Mentoring Advisory Council (MAC) meet with our rising 6th graders to discuss various topics and issues that they may encounter as they transition into middle school. Two weeks ago, AALEADers met for the very first time and participated in fun team-building activities while learning more about leadership. Read more about the first MAC Transition workshop here!

Last week, AALEADers came together to learn more about the various academic resources offered in middle school. After getting together in small groups, they shared what they think it means to be successful in school and in life. Each group was then given a scenario about a student who was dealing with different challenges in school. They all had to make up a skit about what resources the student should use and how the student could actively participate in finding a solution for his/her problems. The creativity was definitely flowing as AALEADers worked together on their scripts and eventually performed their imaginative, yet pragmatic plays! Youth then reconvened as a larger group to discuss strategies for time management and having more independence in middle school. Our younger students really look up to their older peers who have been doing a great job mentoring them and answering all of their questions.

Yesterday, AALEAD youth talked about what diversity means to them. Students shared insightful thoughts and began to open up as they discussed different qualities that make people unique and why it’s important to be accepting of others, regardless of their backgrounds. Youth were then given a scenario about a new student at school who was made fun of because he/she was different, and all of the groups had to come up with skits and solutions. As each group performed their plays, they all touched on different resources that were discussed last week. When it came time for the group discussion, all of the younger students understood why diversity is important in our world today and knew exactly who they should go to for help. The older AALEAD youth were especially proud of the younger students as they have already learned so much since the first session!

The AALEAD MAC Transition workshops have played a significant role in encouraging our youth to step up to the plate and become leaders not only within AALEAD, but their own lives as well. The workshops have served as a safe space for youth to express their opinions and learn from their peers in a meaningful way. We look forward to spending more time with the MAC students over the rest of the summer and can’t wait to see them grow even more!