Tag Archive: AALEAD

By Victor Romos, DC Middle & High School Summer Program Intern
Photos Courtesy of Victor Romos

Greetings! My name is Victor Romos, and I am this year’s DC Middle & High School Summer Program Intern. I am a Communications student at the University of California, Davis. I am originally from Santa Rosa, California, but I love Washington, DC, so I am thrilled to be working with the community in the area.

In high school, I played football, wrestled for a few years, and ran cross country. I love spending time talking to people, getting to know them, and making them smile. I also enjoy acting and singing. You can always find me either trying to make someone laugh or singing musical theater songs!

One of my biggest inspirations in life is my high school mentor who helped me develop a love for leadership and personal development, especially through public speaking. I hope to bring that same experience to all the youth that I will be working with this summer. I am very excited to get to know all the youth and help them get to know themselves! I believe that knowing yourself and being confident is key to developing the strong leadership skills everyone is capable of. I’m looking forward to an unforgettable and incredible summer with Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) youth and staff!

**Learn more about our other Summer 2015 Interns here: Hiba and Pallavi!**

By Pallavi Rudraraju, DC Elementary School Summer Program Intern
Photos Courtesy of Pallavi Rudraraju, DC Elementary School Summer Program Intern

Hi, all!

I’m Pallavi Rudraraju, a rising junior at the College of William and Mary. I have self-designed an Asian American Studies major and am considering double majoring in South Asian Studies as well. As important as studies are to me, I consider my extracurricular activities to be an integral aspect of my college experience. As president of the Hindu, Sikh, and Jain Students Association and an active member of many of my school’s student and administrative organizations geared toward cultural, religious, racial, and gender and sexuality diversity, I hope to bring my personal leadership experience as well as diverse background to the Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) DC Elementary School Summer Program.

Here are some fun facts about me:

1.  I am actually part rainbow. Just kidding! Here’s a picture of me from my university’s annual Holi celebration, which we at the Hindu, Sikh, and Jain Students Association organized this past spring. I love any opportunity to celebrate South Asian traditions, whether they’re familiar to me or brand new!

2. I absolutely love dancing! I don’t think I’ve gone a day without dancing over the past fifteen years. I’ve been dancing Bharatanatyam, a Tamil form of classical Hindu dance, since age five and just recently picked up Bhangra, a Punjabi folk dance, during my sophomore year of college. Here’s a glimpse of my Bhangra team and me right before one of our competitions last semester!

3. I am very passionate about racial and social justice, particularly as they pertain to the Asian American, South Asian American, and LGBTIQA* communities. Ever since high school, I’ve wanted to find a career that allows me to work toward comprehensive and intersectional justice in any of these areas. I hope that my work with AALEAD this summer will help turn these passions and dreams into tangible realities!

While it’s evident from these pictures that I am incredibly happy with many aspects of my identity, there have been countless times throughout my childhood that I was not as happy and was even ashamed of parts of myself. Looking back, I feel regret that I ever felt shame over the identities which I now revel in and embrace. What I hope to accomplish at AALEAD is to allow the youth to associate positivity with all aspects of their identities and to instill a sense of pride toward their unique identities within them. I know that once they are comfortable with their identities, they can move on to become the inspirational and productive young leaders they all have the potential to be.

I cannot wait for the DC Elementary School Summer Program to begin! I know that I am in good hands with the wonderful people working at AALEAD and am so thrilled to be working with everyone for the next few months.

**Learn more about our other Summer 2015 Interns here: Hiba and Victor!**

By Hiba Ahmed, MD Summer Program Intern
Photo Courtesy of Hiba Ahmed, MD Summer Program Intern


My name is Hiba Ahmed, and I am the new MD Summer Program Intern! Already feeling very welcomed and excited to join the team, I cannot wait to learn and make progress in such a strong team environment in the upcoming months.

I am currently a junior at the University of Maryland, College Park working to complete my double undergraduate degrees in English Language and Literature and Family Science.

Youth development has always been an extremely important focus and interest of mine since I was in middle school. Often, I was involved with various volunteer and after school activities growing up that allowed me to interact with youth as they reached major milestones of their lives. As youth grow and develop, they are exposed to a variety of environmental, societal, and cultural influences. While they learn to adapt to these factors of life and become successful and productive members of society, it is crucial that each and every member of the newer generations is exposed to the best opportunities available to reach their highest potential.

Among the youth, the Asian American community certainly has a special place in my heart. Coming from an Asian American background myself, I often found myself feeling unrecognized – not in my achievements – but in my need for help as I navigated my way through transitioning periods of my life.  Through this internship, I hope to gain an abundance of leadership experience that will help me develop and strengthen my voice for my future aspirations and also overall movement into adulthood. I also look forward to gaining exposure to the workings of non-profit organizations and all of the work, values, and planning involved with organizing events and promoting a mission that serves to improve the community. Above all else, I look forward to helping the youth of the Asian American community find their way as they transition into other phases of their lives while building their confidence and encouraging their strengths along the way.

I am thrilled to be working with the brilliant youth of our current generation and an amazing team that fights for these necessities. I cannot wait to get started to absorb and learn everything that I can along the way. Let the summer festivities begin!

**Learn more about our other Summer 2015 Interns here: Pallavi and Victor!**

The Art of Painting and Mentoring

By Christina L., Current AALEAD Youth
Photos Courtesy of Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff

A couple of weeks ago, I had the wonderful chance to go to the Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) DC Office on the Metro and do therapeutic painting with my mentor and other mentee/mentor pairs. We had pizza, which was SO good, and other snacks.

Painting was a lot of fun and very relaxing for me considering all the testing that I had going on. We sat in a comfortable silence, and I decided to paint something related to my identity. I did a blend of colors on a rainbow. It represented all of my different shades of personality such as sass, humor, friendship, charisma, loyalty, charm, etc. My mentor and I did paintings for each other where we picked our own quotes for each other’s paintings and gave it to one another. In the future, when we do this again, I would like to personally choose a quote that I think represents my mentor well and give that to her as a gift.

Having a mentor has been really great so far. My mentor, Ha, is really helpful, and she really understands me. We talk all the time, and we have so much in common! Since she is older and also went to the same high school as I do, it helps that she understands and knows about what I have learned. I can share everything that’s going on at school with Ha, and she helps me focus on my studies. We also watch a lot of the same TV shows and are into the same hobbies, such as movies and music. Since I’ve gotten to know her, I’ve really benefited from everything she has taught me, and I’m excited to participate in more activities with her this year.

Overall, we had a successful afternoon that helped me to calm and ready myself for my exams and breathe. I had a great time and am even buying my own painting supplies so that I can paint on my own. I can’t wait for the next art event!

This Is How It’s Done!

By Shaima Ahmad, VA High School Program Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of Shaima Ahmad

Brainstorming, planning, voting, and most of all, listening to their peers, is what went into throwing an awesome Va High School Program End of the Year Party. For the past few weeks our youth have been working together and within their individual committees to party plan.  The youth divided into food, entertainment, and decorations committees and delegated a group leaders for each group. In this whole process, I provided a budget for my youth who in turn allocated how much would be needed by each committee and gave me a list of items they wanted me to purchase.  The day before the party the group came together and transformed our space from drab to fab!

Highlights of the party consisted of karaoke, the whisper challenge, yummy food – especially a beautiful AALEAD cake baked by our very own Christina L. – and the piece de resistance, a photo booth equipped with creative props. But for me the real highlight of this event was seeing our youth work together showing immense responsibility and initiative. The Annandale crew has truly earned this awesome celebration… Job well done!

By Antwoine Johnson, MD Middle School Program Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of Chelsea Iorlano, Development & Communications Associate

All good things must come to an end and that is exactly what this year was…..a good thing.

Filled with memories, trials, ups and downs, strengthened friendships, amazing food, and a plethora of events, AALEAD bid farewell to the 2014-2015 school year and wrapped it up with the End of the Year BBQ.

80 youth, parents and staff attended this past Friday’s event, which was riddled with games, laughter, and tears as we began the transition from one year to the next.

The youth and adults started off with some group activities that loosened them up, creating a dance that mimicked the action of creating some favored foods like sushi, pho, hallo hallo, and fried rice. Combining their wit, talent, and killer dance moves, AALEADers came up with awesome ways to display how to create their food using their bodies, sense of rhythm and imaginations.

Then, as the evening went on, it came time to share and bid farewell to the 8th and 12th grades as they began the next stages of their lives. The eighth graders are moving on to high school and finishing off the final chapters of their public schools lives, with some going to Blair, some Einstein, some Wheaton, and some into other schools. The 12th graders are closing up that same chapter, ready to tackle the world in college or in the workforce, boldly moving forward and taking what AALEAD had taught them in regards to education, leadership, and identity, and applying it to where they are going.

It was a heartfelt ceremony as each 8th and 12th grader came up and shared a moment with their coordinator and reflected on the past they have shared with them. Each received words of encouragement or, for the seniors, a scrapbook, but all received precious moments that would follow them until then end.

While the year is over, there is still much to be done as AALEAD looks forward to summer and making memories there as well. Tune in next time to see what surprises await us in AALEAD summer programs!

By Mylynh Nguyen, Program Director
Photos courtesy of Mylynh Nguyen

Dear Friends and Families of AALEAD,
I am delighted to join the AALEAD team to serve as the new Program Director. I started in this new role on June 9th, and just within a few short days, I have had the honor of witnessing the sincere dedication of the AALEAD staff and the exuberance of our some of our youngest elementary school youth. I have also already had the great pleasure of meeting some AALEAD parents and guardians. I am excited to have the opportunity to meet many more of you in the coming weeks.

This position of Program Director attracted me for many reasons. The mission of AALEAD is very aligned with my own passion to carry out work that contributes toward social justice and improving the lives of others. In particular, I have a deep interest in programs that empower youth through education and leadership, while also allowing them to develop their own identities so that they feel more comfortable sharing knowledge and ideas among individuals of similar and of diverse backgrounds. My entire professional career has been dedicated to youth development, education, and multicultural understanding, and I am grateful for the opportunity to expand upon this through my work managing programs and teams at AALEAD.

As the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, I faced similar challenges and share in many of the same experiences of our AALEAD youth. My family arrived to the United States in 1979 as Vietnamese refugees and settled in a small suburban town in western Maryland, called Hagerstown, where my parents still currently live. Growing up in a low-income and Vietnamese-speaking household, I had to quickly adapt to the challenges of being one of very few Asian Americans living in a predominately white community. The conundrum of balancing how much I was willing to assimilate to my surrounding environment versus how much I wanted to embrace my own cultural identity was something I faced often. Early on, I learned about the value that I could contribute to the global understanding of others by sharing my family’s story, but unfortunately, I also experienced the close-mindedness of individuals who were unwilling to understand why I chose to be different. Throughout it all, I had the support of a great family and great mentors who injected me with the confidence to be proud of who I am and to continue working toward my personal goals.

The community in which I grew up had a low college-going culture, which became increasingly apparent while I was trying to navigate the college application process as a first-generation college student. Few students in my community were choosing to attend colleges and universities, but I knew that the opportunity to continue my education beyond high school would greatly benefit me and my family. My parents, having little experience with the American education system, were unable to advise me through this process, so I relied primarily on my own research and conversations with friends who came from more privileged backgrounds. Due to these struggles I personally faced with higher education equity, I knew I would eventually want to return to my home community to give back. I attended the University of Maryland, College Park which proved to be a very trans-formative experience for me, as it allowed me to more deeply investigate my own cultural heritage and learn from others. After completing my undergraduate studies, I returned to Hagerstown to serve an eight year career at the local community college where I worked with many first-generation college students to assist them in successfully completing their degrees. I taught college-level biology courses, advised students interested in STEM disciplines, and directed a pre-college program called TRIO Upward Bound. These wonderful experiences allowed me to transition my skills to a new professional opportunity at Georgetown University, where I most recently served as Assistant Director at the Center for Multicultural Equity & Access and Program Manager for the Institute for College Preparation. I worked very closely with Washington D.C. area middle and high school students to inspire interest and hope in higher education, which blends so beautifully with some of the work that I will be doing with AALEAD.

I am very excited to join the AALEAD family, and look forward to getting to know many of you through many upcoming visits to AALEAD programs. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to reach out to me if I can support you in any way. During my free time, I enjoy going to concerts, trying new foods, exploring museums in the city, and spending time outside. In particular, I like taking part in outdoor adventures, such as hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, and even hang-gliding!

Back at AALEAD!

By Neel Saxena, Development & Communications Director
Photos Courtesy of Neel Saxena

Hello AALEAD family, I am excited to be back after a ten year stint in the DC Mayor’s Office, rejoining as the Development & Communications Director. I have seen AALEAD grow and thrive during my time away and will bring my energy and experience to continue the wonderful work.

I am the son of two immigrant parents who came to the US to study in the 1960s and went back to India to have me in 1978. We came back to the US shortly after I was born and spent a few years in upstate New York before settling locally in Montgomery County, MD. I went to undergrad at the University of Maryland, College Park where I also gained a better sense of what it was to be Asian American and the struggles faced by people of color. I was involved in many advocacy initiatives at UMD and served as an AALEAD mentor during my senior year. After college, I went on to work at the Gates Millennium Scholars, followed by a brief stint at AALEAD, and then ten years with the DC Mayor’s Office.

Through my personal and professional experiences I developed a belief in and witnessed that building capacity leads to long term success. As AALEAD builds the capacity of young people, I look to contribute by building the organizational capacity of AALEAD to expand and improve the programs. I approach work and life by looking at big picture and filling it in as I go along, seeking support and guidance from those around me. I bring this philosophy to AALEAD in my role to build upon the great work that has already been done.

I am excited to join AALEAD not only because of the work but because of the people. I believe the people who make up an organization are where its key strength lies. The AALEAD family has welcomed me with open arms and I believe we will accomplish great things together. I can’t wait to share what people have told me is a boisterous laugh with the youth, staff, and board – if you’re going to laugh and enjoy life I think you must do it 110%. I also subscribe to the idea Pablo Neruda once said that “laughter is the language of the soul”.

In my time away from work, I love spending time with my wife, two boys, and dog. I also fashion myself as a weekend mechanic and handyman, although some in my family think otherwise. You can probably find me with grease or paint on my hands come Monday from a weekend full of projects.  Currently, I’m finishing a second story addition to our house which I am super excited to finish!

By Madeline Sumida, Elementary Program Teacher & Site Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of Madeline Sumida

The Kindergarten through second grade AALEAD team earned artistic accolades for the class submission to the 15th Annual Mt. Pleasant Youth Arts Fair. At a special reception held at the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Library, judges announced that the AALEAD artwork had earned 15 out of 15 possible points and a prominent display in the children’s section of the library.

This year’s theme encouraged young artists from seven different local schools or school-based organizations to find inspiration in the heroes of Mt. Pleasant. Participants had the freedom to define how to accomplish this mission. Real-life heroes such as police officers, nurses, and principals entered the contest alongside fantastic superheroes with special powers.

The AALEAD team chose to make a comic strip with a twist: their hero story took the form of an Asian-style scroll measuring several feet in length.  Youth learned the value of taking time and care to make a public exhibit. The process had several stages: planning the story, sketching each scene in pencil, inking and erasing the pencil marks, coloring, and gluing together the components of the scroll. Kindergarteners, first graders, and second graders conceptualized and drew themselves as regular students by day who transform into nocturnal warriors in order to save Bancroft Elementary School. Together, they fight the nefarious Zack the Electro-Elephant, a bad apple second-grader who wants to steal the smartness of Bancroft’s best. Each superhero persona reflects qualities of the actual AALEAD youth. Want to find out what happens? Take a trip to the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Library—the scroll will be on display through May 31!

By Sharon Choi, Development & Communications Manager

Aaannd, AALEADers are back with their second youth media project!

We partnered again with the Gandhi Brigade to mobilize youth to create film projects around cyber civility. Last year, our youth created two videos around stereotypes and identity. This year, our middle and high school youth from AALEAD’s MD Middle School and MD High School Programs planned, directed, and produced a video around cyber bullying: Upstanding Upload.

Youth had the opportunity to reflect, discuss, and brainstorm around how they could relay a message important to them around cyber bullying. This video is a result of a project being led by youth from beginning to end with support from staff. We are so blown away by the work put into this project by our AALEADers. Go AALEAD!

Our video, along with youth-produced videos from all Gandhi Brigade partners and the community, will be showcased at the 8th Annual Youth Media Festival at the Civic Center in Downtown Silver Spring on Sunday, May 31. All youth videos around cyber bullying, including ours, will be shown at 12:15 pm. We hope to see you there!

Thank you to our MD Programs Manager, Melor Suhaimi, for providing support, encouragement, and love to our youth as they worked to complete this project. A huge thank you to the Gandhi Brigade for their commitment to empowering youth to express themselves through media. And most importantly, shout outs to our amazing young people who led to the awesome end result of their video: Airah S., Anna M., Dana O., Dzaky H., Fucheng L., Katherine H., Mae S., Pearl T., Rachel K., Sevin H., Sophia Y., Thanh N., Zach D.

We hope that you will continue to stay connected with AALEAD! For more photos and updates, please make sure to visit our Facebook pageTwitterYouTube and Instagram accounts for the latest updates.