[Youth Stories] 10 YEARS STRONG: Why I Stayed At AALEAD

By: Yuanlong “Yung Dragon” D., AALEAD Youth; Yingzhi D., AALEAD Youth; Ellen G., AALEAD Youth; and Charles Kuo, AALEAD DC Programs Manager

Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Youth, Staff, and Parents

This past year, the AALEAD DC Middle and High School program graduated 13 seniors from our program. We are proud of these youth for completing their rigorous school requirements and advancing in their academic journeys.  Several of these youth have been in AALEAD for 10 years or more! Over the past month, I had to chance to interview three of our seniors: Yingzhi D. (YZD), Ellen G. (EG) and Yung Dragon “Yuanlong” D. (YD). I’ve personally been impacted and inspired by their authenticity, strength, wisdom, and enthusiasm. Yung Dragon, Yingzhi, and Ellen have taught me the importance of selflessness and commitment. These three youth participated in our Thomson Elementary School Program and have been in AALEAD since. With so many options, in afterschool programming, I was particularly interested in why they chose to stay in AALEAD. What have they learned? How has AALEAD impacted them? Read below for their thoughtful and personal reflections on their time at AALEAD. 

How long have you been at AALEAD?  

YD: 10 years 

YZD: 10 years

EG: 12 years 

Why have you stayed at AALEAD?    

YD: It was where I made many of my friends and was also a safe space that allowed me to be myself without being judged.

YZD: All of my friends are here and I don’t have many friends outside of AALEAD that I feel like I can be myself without being looked at like I’m crazy.

EG: AALEAD has been a space where I was able to discover and develop my personal identity and passions. In addition to developing myself, AALEAD has also been a place where I can hang out with my friends.

What have you learned at AALEAD and how will use that in your future?  

YD: I learned that even shy youth like me can change and become more outspoken. I will use that in college and in my career to advocate for the issues that I care about and make differences in my community.

YZD: I’ve learned that youth can have a voice where oftentimes only adults are able to. I feel more comfortable speaking about certain sensitive issues that I feel strongly in because there are people at AALEAD that would listen to me and in the future, I would like to be able to do that as well, despite how it may alienate me.

EG: Through AALEAD I have learned to defy stereotypes, advocate for my beliefs, and built up the confidence that I need to make my voice heard. This is useful for me as I have learned that I do not have to fit into a box that society has drawn for me, now I do not have to worry about what others think. AALEAD has made me realize that “fitting into society” and “getting recognition from others” is not something that I really need, I have to be true to myself and my message.

What AALEAD activity/workshop left an impact on you? 

YD: Youth summit has been the most impactful event, especially the one from the last year, because I got the opportunity to be one of the MCs. This event gave me a huge confidence boost and allowed me to interact with youth and adults from all over the DMV area.  

YZD: The kickoff barbecue for this school year was fun!! We hung out at the Malcolm X Park and had bomb food. It was chill and a good way to start off programs this school year. Even though we didn’t have any official activities that day, it left an impression since it brought together the youth and staff and some of us that were in the summer program a few months before the barbecue.

EG: Being able to go to ECAASU with AALEAD was a tremendous experience. Although I was well away from college back then, I was still able to learn and interact with people who are older than me. Being able to interact with them allowed me to understand that struggles and challenges are not one-sided. Time has passed but the problems Asian Americans face are similar, if not the same even today. 

Why do programs like AALEAD matter?   

YD: Programs like AALEAD matter because it gives Asian American youth an opportunity to better themselves. Without AALEAD, many of these youth would be at home playing on their computers and lose out the chance to interact with other people and talk about issues they are concerned with.  

YZD: They matter because there are youth out there that needs support and we can’t simply let them just go home every day and feel that there aren’t any adults that they can talk to or other youth their age to socialize with. I think if AALEAD wasn’t there, I wouldn’t really have any friends because I don’t really live in a community or neighborhood where there are people like me and people I can expose myself to.

EG: Programs like AALEAD matter because they have the potential to be the backbone of raising a new generation, pushing youths to realize that society does not define them. In addition to allowing youths discover and develop their own identity, programs like AALEAD guide and push youths to look at social issues through multiple pairs of lenses. Which allows young people like me to develop our own opinions and stances on the issue.  

Finish the sentence:“Because of AALEAD…”, and explain in more detail   

YD: Because of AALEAD, I became more confident and outspoken. I have been offered so many opportunities that I would never have imagined would be possible, such as attending board meetings, MCing in front of 100 people, and many others. Having these opportunities put me out of my comfort zone, but because of the overwhelming support I had from my peers and AALEAD staff, I was able to embrace the spotlight and use it to say what was on my mind.

YZD: Because of AALEAD, I gained lifelong friends that I wouldn’t mind hanging out with every day. I found a support network outside of home and school where, even though I get roasted every day, there will always be people who would be there to celebrate the joys of living and complain about life to each other. I know that I’m not alone and that when I’m bored I will be able to have a casual conversation with people that I have stuff to talk about with. 

 EG: Because of AALEAD, I am redefined. Through their mission of youth leadership, empowerment and development, in AALEAD I have received the best guidance and support that I could have asked for as a youth. Through programming and developing relationships within AALEAD, I was able to be changed and remade by my experiences.  


Are you a DC Youth that is interested in being a part of an intentional and memorable youth program? Contact our DC Middle and High School Program Coordinator, Stephanie Lim, at slim@aalead.org for more information!

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