By Charles Kuo, DC Programs Manager
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff
18 youth. 3 program staff. 2 vans. 1 life-changing experience.
On February 17, 2017, 18 of our AALEAD High School youth embarked on a great adventure and attended the East Coast Asian American Student Union Conference. ECAASU (also known as East Coast Asian American Student Union) is a nonprofit whose mission is to inspire, educate, and empower those interested in Asian American and Pacific Islander issues. ECAASU is the nation’s first intercollegiate Asian American student conference. This year, ECAASU centered around the theme of “Atmosphere” with hopes “to provide a space to understand the social climate around us and the impact that we can have on society.” and “explore our current context, focusing on ideas of identity and intersectionality, especially in regards to underrepresented voices in our communities.” After ECAASU, youth had the opportunity to visit Duke University and University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill. “Our youth got the special chance to compare large research institutions with liberal arts colleges, private and public, and city versus rural settings to find the college that feels right for their next steps as young scholars. Our youth also got to connect with current college students to learn about what college life is like (even going to a college dining hall!), allowing them to prepare for applying and attending college.” shares Ari P.
For Ari P. , Maryland High School Program Coordinator, this is their third time supporting youth at this conference. “ Year 1 was up in Boston, MA and last year was in New Brunskwick, NJ” says Ari. Ari shares that “this experience allows our high school youth to explore all three areas of AALEAD’s focus areas: leadership development and opportunities, identity development, and educational empowerment. Our AALEADers get to practice professionalism and networking skills throughout the conference weekend. They attend a networking fair where they learn about other organizations and share about AALEAD and their interests; they attend three professional workshops on current events and issues; and work with their college peers on contemporary issues and collaborative topics.” ECAASU also offers a unique perspective for youth, they are surrounded by folks who share a lot of similar experiences; ” workshops all include a special Asian American lens, allowing our AALEAD youth to explore how their API identities relate directly to current events, policies, and topics.”
Additionally, Ari felt that the theme “Atmosphere” became very relevant through conversations at programs since 2016 elections.” Youth are affected by what happens around them: laws, policies, beliefs, and actions. Many times, they are receiving the fallout of policies without having any say over what gets put into place. Many of our youth are low income, people of color, immigrants, Muslim, and many more identities that have experienced fear, challenges and targeting over the past few months. AALEADers had the opportunity at the ECAASU conference to have their voices heard. They have much to say about their current world, and found a place where their voices were welcomed and valued. Through this conference, youth were able to show just how much their atmosphere means to them and how much it affects them.” Ari says. Despite this being their third trip with the youth, Ari used “expand” to describe their experience.
” This year, I saw our AALEAD youth expand in every direction. They built strong relationships with AALEAD youth from different regions who they had just met a few weeks before. They expanded what they think it means to be Asian American. They expanded their knowledge of college access and their dreams of where they want to attend. They expanded their comfort zones; networking with strangers and professionals; learning about new concepts like anti-Blackness and Islamophobia and Solidarity. Expanding their horizons of their role in the world and how important their voice really is.”
To understand how youth were inspired by their atmosphere, we interviewed three high school youth from our respective regions. Check out their insightful answers!:
What were some memorable experiences or feelings at ECAASU 2017?
“The most memorable experience for me would be the ECAASU conference itself. I was able to meet a lot of new people. While we were outside eating lunch, I met Christine and her friends. At that moment something clicked in me, and I thought to myself: “This IS my type of people.” I’m usually shy around people and was able to overcome that shyness, which was quite an experience for me. We bonded over fashion; she said she loved the cape/vest I was wearing that day. It made me feel a lot less anxious while talking or at very least it wasn’t written on my forehead. “- Han L., AALEAD VA Youth Leader
“Hearing all the talks in the workshop and trying to network with the person giving it made me feel useful. Also listening and watching all the performances such as the ones by the spoken word artists was really inspiring. Hanging out and getting to know my group and the other youth council members was also really enjoyable.” – Simon T., AALEAD DC Youth Council Leader
“The most memorable experience of ECAASU 2017 was being able to bond with other people of my race and make new friends. Also being able to share my experiences and learn about their experiences in America.” – Sherry C., AALEAD MD Youth Council Leader
Why is someone’s atmosphere important to them?
“Someone’s atmosphere is important to them because the atmosphere can shape one’s beliefs and what they see as relevant or important to them.” – Simon T., AALEAD DC Youth Council Leader
“Someone’s atmosphere is important to them because their atmosphere can affect their mood, happiness, mental/ physical state and affect if they feel safe or not.” “– Sherry C., AALEAD MD Youth Council Leader
“My take on it would be that a person’s atmosphere has a lot to say about who they are as a person. It is almost like vibe; it is a subtle hint to their personalities and characteristics. One’s atmosphere can influence the people around them, so it has an essential impact on themselves and the people around them. The atmosphere is an area we the people, all share, no matter where on earth the air travels. And being that one small damage can lead to bigger damages not to just the individual but to those that are peaceful or harmful around them.“- Han L., AALEAD VA Youth Leader
What will take-away from attending this conference?
“I will be more aware of how the Asian community and the LGBTQ+ community are treated in my everyday life because I have learned during ECAASU that both communities are not treated the greatest at the moment. “– Sherry C., AALEAD MD Youth Council Leader
“Out of all the workshops, I got some of the most invaluable advice from “Are You a Doctor Yet?” Some of the advice was to go travel, see the world and study hard but don’t forget to have fun. I myself, want to go into the medical field, but I still want to maintain a substantive, quality life, so I will try to live by that rule from now on. So now on that is my approach and rule in life.” “- Han L., AALEAD VA Youth Leader
How could this opportunity benefit other youth in our programs?
“For those who went to ECAASU, I can’t speak for everyone, but it’s safe to say it was a blast. A single most purposeful weekend so far in 2017. And who those who didn’t get to go, we can share our experiences with them and hopefully, they get to go on next ECAASU trip.” – Han L., AALEAD VA Youth Leader
“This opportunity can benefit other youth in our program by helping them learn more about what is happening to the APA and LGBTQ+ community in the social today and how we can improve what both communities are going through.” “– Sherry C., AALEAD MD Youth Council Leader
“ECAASU can benefit other youth in our program as everyone gains something from it. Being able to be surrounded by people who have career goals similar to yours and have experienced similar struggles due to their identity is really beneficial to a youth’s development.” – Simon T., AALEAD DC Youth Council Leader
Moving forward, we are excited to see how youth will continue to “expand themselves”. AALEAD believes in positive youth development and building our youth up by highlighting their strengths. Through AALEAD, youth will continue to seek opportunities and use their strengths to expand. Youth leaders have already begun to plan for our 6th Annual Youth Summit. We hope that this experience will help the youth decide what kind of atmosphere they would like to shape at Youth Summit 2017. Without their contributions, AALEAD would not be the program that it is. We will continue to provide youth a safe space to express themselves and become the “atmosphere” that they need to grow and learn.
To learn more about ECAASU, please visit http://www.ecaasu.org/. Special thanks to Ari P., Shaima A. Keo X. Sherry C. Han L., and Simon T. for your stories and contributions. Thanks to all of our supporters online via GoFundMe, the ECAASU 2017 Conference Team, the ECAASU Board of Directors, Amber L., Austin W., and UNC-CH Dining Services for making this experience possible! To learn more about our Annual Youth Summit or DC Programs, please contact Charles Kuo at firstname.lastname@example.org.